The Venezuelan Referendum Comes to

Montreal: Opposition Violence on the


- by Macdonald Stainsby

Even for those of us who are in North America, have not been to Venezuela and who have yet even to see "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", it is not much of a secret that the Venezuelan Opposition is fanatical in its vehement hatred of anything Chavista (in support of Hugo Chavez). This rabid behaviour has been on display even in the world press, as the mostly white, upper class opposition have attempted to use provocateur murders to create the stage for a (48 hour) coup, they have used the most bizarre lies on their near monopolized media to convince wealthy Venezuelans that nothing good is coming of the Bolivarian Revolution, they even used managers in PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) state-owned oil factories to attempt a lockout/production freeze in oil to bring down the government. They shout about what a "killer" is El Presidente, how his lover is Fidel Castro, how he wants to take away all private property and he trains Al Qaeda and narco terrorists in Colombia.

Such is the fare for those who cannot stand a government that has won (as of Sunday) 8 mandates in a row; built the most democratic constitution on the planet (in direct consultation with the population); allows the press the right to continually slander the government with the most base lies while provoking fear in those who listen to them; has been able to dramatically increase literacy, reduce curable diseases and has redistributed the wealth from oil to all the people in Venezuela. Nonetheless (or perhaps because of this), the wealthy oppositionists want to do anything possible to stop the poorest masses from the barrios and the landless peasants from the countryside, their President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias and the Bolivarian Revolution that brings them all together.

Such ferocity is not limited to inside Venezuela. Just weeks before the referendum on the presidency, former president Carlos Andres Perez stated from Miami that he no longer believed a peaceful alternative to the Movement for a Fifth Republic could be cobbled together. In order to "save" his own and others' class privilege, Perez stated:

"Violence will allow us to remove him. That's the only way we have," and also remarked that Chavez "must die like a dog, because he deserves it," which would lead to another militarily controlled government in Latin America, because "We can't just get rid of Chavez and immediately have a democracy... we will need a transition period of two or three years to lay the foundations for a state where the rule of law prevails..." which one can imagine, would mean hunting down dissidents, purging every single public office, sector and position in the country while suppressing any of the social programs and providers that are the glue of the revolution. Still, such violent opposition wouldn't spill over onto the streets of a Quebecois city like Montreal, now would it? That's what I thought, in any case.

Having called what was to be a fairly small picket of support for the Bolivarian Revolution on Sunday August 15, I did something I normally don't: I made up several placards for myself and several comrades to hold, making us easily identifiable to one another. There were only six: My favourite being "Chavez, NO se va!" among others. We headed for the Venezuelan Consulate after learning that each Consulate and Embassy around the world was also a polling station. Upon arrival, I was merely holding my placards and walking towards the lineup of people queued to vote. This crowd was primarily made up of wealthy and light-skinned Venezuelans who could afford to travel to a place like Montreal, so the fact that the line-up was mostly opposition supporters was of no surprise at all. Within 20 seconds I personally was surrounded, as several people began to yell, boo and hiss at me in the most ballistic fashion.

Getting me used to a red-herring question I would hear repeatedly all day, angry people "asked" if I had been to Venezuela. When I was told to "go away" I was immediately defiant and held up the placards, whereupon a man twice my size gave me a running football tackle, knocking me to the ground in between two cars onto the street. Another grabbed for our placards, at which point I was surrounded by several men all severely larger than I. I turtled, and held onto the placards as tightly as I could. At this point, the Gusanos with some more sense in their brains managed to get the others off me, and I looked around to see one of my comrades frantically snapping pictures of the commotion, which really set off a couple of people into a panic. One woman started to yell that she was going to call the police on me, and I was almost glad to hear this; we were outnumbered by several hundred to a half-dozen. Before the police arrived, several behemoth Gusanos came over to try and "help" me.

"You have to leave here now, you don't understand," I was told. "What don't I understand?" I asked.

"You have to go-- these people will kill you, they'll kill you man. You need to get out of here while you still can, or you are gonna die!" came the courteous opposition supporter's advice. He was quite serious, and you could tell in his eyes that he thought this "fair warning" was an act of kindness on his part. Really though, we weren't going anywhere, we went to support the Bolivarian process and nothing more. But now, it had also become nothing less, as well.

My comrade snapping and clicking away with the camera most likely saved me from something worse, and the police were there probably a minute and a half later-- that is, they arrived perhaps three whole minutes since we first had arrived at the consulate to show solidarity with the legitimate and legal government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. It really wasn't supposed to be a big deal. Police are predictable creatures in any country at any time-- when they know who they are supposed to serve, they are quick to do it. I don't believe for a minute that any of the officers who came to the consulate had a clue who was what in the demonstration or lineup, nor did they know what was going on in Venezuela. However, when they see a lot of jewelery on one side of a dispute and torn jackets on the other, thing are easy for the Montreal police. We were told that we were "inciting and provoking" things and told that we should go to the other side of the street. When I asked if this was a request or an order, order it was, and across we went.

At this point, one of the Gusanos was trying to get away from his friends and come after my cameraman friend. I now was feeling snarky and mischevious, so I told him to go "back where you belong, on the other side of the street" and waved a placard at him. At this point, the football player-sized gent came over and rammed me with his chest, called me a "bitch", then a "communist" before trying to deck me with his bodyweight behind him. Thank God for those placards! They can block punches as well as they can make a point. When a third comrade pointed the cop to the punch, he was looking at it and stated "I don't care", which, after all, is refreshingly honest. The man making the punch, however, was really upset at being photographed and got into a yelling match with my friend and now amateur photographer.

For some time not much happened: a couple of other supporters came along, and people yelled, fingered and generally were much like how we have come to know and love the opposition in Caracas. Then the police decided to mess with us, and they threatened to arrest us for "loitering". This police tactic, apparently a Montreal cop favourite, meant we then had to walk up and down the sidewalk holding our placards. The threat to arrest us didn't mean that myself or my other comrades left, but they did manage to chase off a couple of retired supporters, making all safer no doubt. The police continued to watch and threaten, making me wonder if they really had decided to target either myself or any of the others. At this point, around 30 or so Bolivarian supporters, wearing deep red t-shirts and red Chavista berets, showed up. These men and women simply made their presence known and the police seriously backed off from us (though the Gusano abuse only got louder).

My friend remarked "talk about sending in the cavalry", a description I must concur with. I am new to this city, so I was surprised and greatly invigorated by the whole event, happily shaking hands, exchanging warm smiles and (eventually) joining their rally in Dorchester Square, called simultaneously by local FMLN supporters, Cuba defenders and other Latin Americans. Much later in the day, my friend the cameraman and I were sitting down on the edge of the area where giant posters of El Presidente, Cuban flags and various little Trotskyist organizations were all set up for easy viewing. A woman I had seen earlier in front of the consulate came over and stood in front of me. She had a small Venezuelan bandana and a red beret on her head, and a Chavista slogan emblazoned across her red T-Shirt. She seemed to be searching for words. She then simply extended her hand to me, and I graciously took it. She only said "merci beaucoup", to which I replied "de rien." She smiled and walked away, whereupon I looked at my cameraman comrade.

"Wow," he said, smiling warmly. "I really felt that."

Such an event made it ten times easier to answer people when they ask why we bothered with all of this. The Bolivarian Revolution may not be "smashing the state" or some such ideological fancy for some. However, as the elderly illiterate learn to read, the poorest attend university and all see a government that not only listens to them, but is wholly dependent on them, the most important thing that could ever be brought about by a revolution is being built across Venezuela: Dignity. Defending this government means defending themselves, and defending their right to a future. And that is in all of our interests-- in every international arena, and on every battlefield. The people of Venezuela have spoken, and as the President himself stated upon winning the referendum: "The voice of the people is the voice of God!". Let me add, what a dignified voice it is.

Macdonald Stainsby is a 28 year-old freelance writer, student and social justice activist originally from Vancouver, Canada currently living in Montreal, Quebec. He can be reached at

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