EDITOR'S NOTE: FNC's Adam Housley has been on the scene in Caracas, Venezuela from the beginning of the protests; stay tuned to FOX Fan as Adam continues to update continuously throughout the upcoming days.
CARACAS, Venezuela — The lights spill from the hillsides in thick speckled necklaces of yellow and twinkling gold. Even in the darkness, I can make out jagged peaks and sharp mountains that are enveloped by Caracas.
It is about 10 p.m. local time and we are on our way from the airport to our hotel; our driver is traversing through canyons and dodging through traffic on impressive roadways. We're here to investigate the latest antics by strongman Hugo Chavez, and to look into the possibility that he may once again incite violence as he systematically takes over every facet of this country.
Once we check into our hotel, we meet with our “fixer” (a local insider) to get a plan in place for tomorrow. Our crew consists of producer Nora Zimmett, photographer Keith Railey, technician Mike Amor, and myself. Mike has been here many times before, and brings with him a new ability to go live anywhere. The device is called a “Stream Box” and looks like a nice video phone. Basically, it's an Apple computer that connects to our Panasonic video camera, and then to a small antenna. Our signal will be sent from the front steps of a TV station to homes around the globe, with a quality superior to the video phones of yesterday.
Our fixer Jose looks a bit like a 60s Latin American revolutionary. He has a scruffy black beard, wears loose cotton clothing, and has a knotted bag slung over his shoulder. Jose exudes a quiet confidence and mysterious way about him; he's come to know the unrest and turmoil in Venezuela like any native. Jose once called Chicago home, but when he came here to teach English five years ago, he quickly become a local.
After getting his feedback of the situation, we know we'll need an early rise. We've decided that the first stop should be RCTV, the television station that's being shut down by Chavez. In recent years, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) has been the only consistent opposition to Chavez. Now, the hard-line leader has found a loophole to take away its license — an event that has become the center of this report.
In recent days there have been massive peaceful protests about the shutdown, and even Chavez himself has admitted that 80 percent of his country watches and supports RCTV. However, the station that has been openly opposed to him and his so-called reforms has learned that the Venezuelan president decided that their license is up and will not be renewed.
8:50 a.m.: We arrive at RCTV in the Quinta Crespo neighborhood of Caracas. A crowd has already formed around the front entrance of the station, and signs and banners seem to be hung from every rooftop and eave. Whistles, chants, songs and cheers echo off buildings and through dense trees.
Throughout the morning we are welcomed and people are surprised that our crew can speak Spanish … well, some more than others. Stars from RCTV telenovellas (prime-time soap operas) are gradually hurried through the crowd to loud applause; they too have come to offer support. The inside of the RCTV studio is now full of Venezuelan TV stars, from old and new programs.
10:15 a.m.: We finished our last interview with a newly hired technician from Canada. His family has moved back and forth from Venezuela as conditions either improve or become unstable. He speaks English well enough to express the concern that so many others have told us in Spanish — people are worried that freedom of expression will end when the RCTV signal goes down at midnight. These people are the fair and peaceful opposition to Chavez, and are worried that their livelihood, and possibly their security, may be in jeopardy.
2:35 p.m.: Periodic clouds are not dampening the sweltering heat, and the crowd continues to swell. RCTV employees bring water outside to pass out to women and children. They have been crammed together for so long that it's hard to believe that more haven't fainted from the heat. Our first live shot, via Stream Box, goes well and the video piece we edited airs great. Unfortunately, right before our live shot, things got so crowded and loud that it caused it to go down; thank goodness for cell phones.
3:15 p.m.: We grab our cameras and head down the street. Socialists supported by Chavez are starting to march and a huge crowd, draped in red, begins to follow. At the back of the march, men send bottle rockets into the air; m-80 firecrackers rattle the windows and even the nerves of some in this neighborhood. We are only a few blocks from the peaceful rally at RCTV, but I sense that these two groups could eventually clash and things could get ugly.
The socialist rally has a very different feel than the one nearby at the popuñar TV station. There are more men with the socialists and the women are more aggressive, and thus more radical with their actions and words. For example, four men carry a coffin with a dummy dressed like President Bush inside. The women yell anti-American slogans, and one put it plainly to me: "I hate white people!"
As the march passes street after street, “taggers” spray paint clean walls with pro-government and socialist jargon. One woman tells me that when Hugo Chavez controls all of the TV stations in the country, Venezuela will have the most open media in the world. It's tough to waste time debating that claim, and as we move along I sense our rude welcome has become even less friendly.
We decide to head back to the station and toward the more peaceful RCTV rally. In the distance, pops of fireworks can still be heard and the crowd continues to march on. As we approach the station, I notice police officers have filled every side street; riot gear is at their side and photographers are now carrying gas masks along with their cameras.
Countdown to Shutdown
11:00 p.m.: Reality has set in, both inside RCTV and on the streets of Caracas. A once peaceful march by supporters of the private TV station has turned violent in front of the office of Venezuelan Federal Communications. Troops backed by Chavez fired water cannons and tear gas. A few miles away, I sense a fear in the crowd; both outside and inside, the problems could be coming our way.
11:15 p.m.: My photographer Keith Railey and I were outside. We walked out of a building filled with Latino actors and actresses that were intent on staying until the end. All wore shirts of solidarity, that when translated into English said, "Don't close us down," and, "We are always a friend of the people." Tears drip down faces as reality begins to set in and memories of 53 successful and free years on the air flow throughout the crowd.
On the street, the crowd begins to swell; people who had participated in the march a few miles away now join those who continue to hold a vigil on the front steps of RCTV.
11:50 p.m.: Men holding a massive Venezuelan flag race up and down the street, nearly knocking over fellow supporters. I feel the energy of the crowd and people are becoming frustrated. Outside, massive speakers and a large television play the final moments of RCTV. The crowd is getting louder and larger. Venezuelan motorcycle commandos have now blocked off all streets and formed human walls with riot gear in place.
11:56 p.m.: On the TV, stars of RCTV sing their national anthem, and the crowd outside joins in. The men carrying the massive flag are now holding it steady. People grab me and Keith. They tell me in Spanish that they are losing their Democracy and they are worried about their future. One man asserts, "Go tell America and tell Europe what is being done to freedom in Colombia!"
11:58 p.m.: Like clockwork, the channel goes off the air. The music stops; the TV now features a spinning “TVes” logo, which stands for the new socialist, Chavez controlled TV station.
People are crying and screaming. Grown men have tears spreading down their cheeks. The night is steamy and tempers begin the flare. People seem to understand that they have lost more than their favorite Venezuelan network; they are continuing to lose their country to a man intent on becoming a dictator.
12:15 a.m. : The crowd begins to run in all directions. The police nudge forward and within seconds I see a bottle fly over my head. A few seconds later garbage cans are dumped and bottles are flying with so much frequency that the night air is pierced by the continual sounds of glass hitting pavement.
The police respond with shotgun blasts in the air and the police commandoes begin to run toward the crowds. In what seems like seconds, people rush the station and try to get inside, but the massive metal doors have been closed. People are running in every direction and the police are beating random people with batons.
We follow the action and watch as the street empties and the military force controlled by Chavez takes control. It's somewhat symbolic that it all happens in front of the now closed RCTV.
4:16 p.m.: My throat is burning like someone has taken sandpaper to it. My eyes feel like a gallon of shampoo has poured into them. In the distance, there is consistent gunfire, as police officers — loyal to strongman President Hugo Chavez — fire shotguns into the air and rubber bullets into the crowd.
Thousands have gathered into the Caracas main square; mostly college age students chant and sing as they protest the shut down of RCTV, a station critical of the Chavez socialist reforms. Problem is RCTV is supported by an estimated 80 percent of the country and that has resulted in unrest on the streets of Caracas.
With each shot into the air, people begin to run in every direction. Many have taken off their shirts to cover their faces; others carry handkerchiefs, and one woman stops as I prepare to go live. She hands me a bottle of Vicks Vapor Rub and tells me, in Spanish, to put it around my eyes and under my nose. (It is a blessing.)
After about 15 minutes of chaos, the crowd settles, the tear gas dissipates and now a larger crowd has gathered. People of all ages are coming out of their homes and high-rises. I see many older people and some of the employees from RCTV have now joined us in the city square.
4:45 p.m.: The Venezuelan National Guard, led by Hugo Chavez has completely surrounded the national square. I can see hundreds of soldiers dressed in full riot gear and they are armed with shotguns and gas masks. Periodically more gunfire and tear gas is thrown or shot into the air. It is a strong gas that causes our eyes and throats burn.
Through all the chaos, which includes students fighting with the federal police on the outskirts of downtown, the crowd continues to grow. Above, helicopters from Chavez-backed troops hover and video the crowd below.
The hard-line tactics may be backfiring; the crowd in the national square continues to grow. Students who started the rally are now joined by businessmen and women, even doctors and nurses from local hospitals. Children are also in tow.
I am told not one local TV station in Venezuela now covers these events. That spot was once occupied by RCTV and taken away at midnight by President Chavez. That's exactly what these people were worried about.
6:15 p.m.: I have never been tear gassed, and I can now safely say that it is no fun. Our crew has been brushed several times today as the rally/protest/unrest battles on with the federal police. Each time we're gassed, our throats tear ... or so it seems. Our eyes sting with such viciousness that it seems the pain will never end. And ... it only got worse.
6:18 p.m.: A massive thunderstorm drenches us. The crowd of thousands quickly takes cover. Many march toward a local cable station; they are now the only media covering the unrest since President Chavez has suppressed the media here.
6:20 p.m.: Two canisters of tear gas fly over Keith's head and hit the wall near where I am standing. Before I know it, the smoke has enveloped us; the pain from before is nothing like now. We quickly stuff our gear into our cases and dash towards the nearest side street, but to no avail. We are overcome and we pile our gear together. The neighborhood police force, sympathetic to the protesters, grabs us and pulls us into their one room precinct. Fresh air eases the pain and I regain my sight. Out the windows I see more clashes — the federal police retreat and so do the students. This won't be the clash tonight.
6:45 p.m.: More tear gas and gunshots. Two motorcycle commandoes came barreling into the square and the crowd responded with taunts and gestures. They leave and are followed by the canisters of gas. Once again, we are on the run; we still haven't gotten the time to get our gear fully into the cases. Once again, the nearby police hut provides cover, and thankfully, only minor burning to our throats and eyes.
7:10 p.m.: We have our gear packed and our two drivers are on the way. So many streets are closed or filled with so many people that it will take a while for them to circumnavigate the chaos. I walk into the crowd and see some fires that have been set. In the background, there's more shots, and I see the lights reflect off of the riot gear of the police. My live shot is via phone, because it's the only safe way. As soon as the SUVs arrive, we are gone!
7:20 p.m.: We quickly move through the crowd. We now have a crew of nine. Four locals have become an essential part of our team and media survival. As we move, the rioting, tear gas and gunshots increase. We reach the street two blocks away and see our drivers; above us, people have come out onto their balconies by the hundreds, banging pots and pans in support of the protesters. The buildings are modern, like the central part of this city. These people are likely professionals.
8:00 p.m.: We're now back at our hotel. We carry the gear inside, and while heading back down to the lobby for dinner, a massive amount of gunfire echoes through the Caracas center. Out the window, I see what seems like hundreds of motorcycle commandoes dressed in blue, and riding in twos on dirt motorcycles. They fire their shotguns continually into the air as they race down city streets. I am told they are trying to intimidate the protesters who are one street away.
8:15 p.m.: As we sit on the terrace waiting for dinner, we hear periodic gunfire in the distance; the hotel guests speak of the marches planned for tomorrow. President Chavez may have started something he wasn't expecting.
8:00 a.m.: We heard gunfire and sirens throughout the night. We had gotten little sleep in recent days, so six hours was a blessing. As I left my hotel this morning, I glanced a bit at the TV and the only coverage of the unrest here in Venezuela was on international channels, nothing of significance on Venezuelan TV. That's what el Presidente wanted.
A continual cycle of pro-government advertisements now run on Channel 2 (RCTV), which has been closed now for more than a day. Many of the ads show Chavez helping people, or show him in another positive light. On the screen runs a sign that reads, "now TV is for everyone."
Over the course of our time here, our crew has grown — there's four of us from the States and our local friend/fixer Jose, who grew up in Chicago. A new member is Mario, a tall, slender and dark Venezuelan who has only a few teeth — and that's not due to a lack of hygiene. Apparently, he was once a political prisoner here and had his teeth yanked as a form of torture. We also are periodically joined by Francisco, a young TV technician who speaks great English and has family in the States.
10:40 a.m.: Students are starting to arrive, and like yesterday, they are joined by professionals. I speak to a doctor who tells me these rallies are different, because so many people, from so many walks of life are protesting. Jose tells me, “President Chavez and his government couldn't have expected this response to shutting down the last free national TV station in the country.”
10:50 a.m.: I am seeing more police on motorcycles, and unlike yesterday, this march/protest was not sanctioned … and that one was fired on by the police force supported by Chavez. I am also hearing reports that socialists call “Chavistas” have infiltrated the crowd in order to stir violence … we'll see.
11:40 a.m.: Papers are flying out of high rise windows, people are crammed onto to every balcony and rooftop, and the streets are filling with thousands upon thousands of people. Many carry signs and blow whistles, cars on the exterior of the square honk their horns, and groups of people chant and sing.
12:00 p.m.: During our live shot, students crowd around us, singing and chanting for liberty; most carry signs and banners. Like yesterday, this begins as a peaceful march and crowd, yet I am curious how the president and his troops will react, simply because the people seem more emboldened — every walk of life, coming from every direction. This rally and march dwarfs what we've seen so far.
12:10 p.m.: We walk with the marchers; there's thousands upon thousands of them. The streets are also lined with countless protesters that line the streets in support.
For close to a mile, people march; out of office windows, and in front of restaurants, people hold signs of support and clap in response to the whistles and songs.
1:05 p.m.: We quickly pack the cases and move down to an area of Caracas called Las Mercedes. Here, the crowd of thousands have formed to express their concerns and delivered letters of concern to the local office of the Organization of American States.
1:45 p.m.: President Chavez just finished his address to the country. In his cynical tone, he claims that the government sponsored media, now currently the case, is the fairest coverage for Venezuela. He claims these protesters are violent and a dangerous element here in Venezuela. He calls on the poor people from the barrios (outlying neighborhoods) to come into the city of Caracas and stop the massive protests.
2:30.: After being back at the square, my photographer Keith and I just walked down Avenue Marti. The streets have been shut down, and it's begun to rain heavily. In the distance, there are at least 300 to 400 federal police officers and Venezuelan National Guard; all are fully dressed in riot gear, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder, three to four deep. The rain is coming down harder; the water is now ankle-deep. This bad weather just seems to embolden the protesters more. They jump up and down, in one large mass of thousands, chanting, "Libertad , Libertad."
Behind the police, in the distance, a small group of socialists have gathered. They were called by President Chavez to fight the protests; the reason some have come to support Chavez is because the president has focused a lot of his social reforms on the poor neighborhoods. You might say, in a basic sense, that he's taking money from the middle and upper classes and giving it to the poor. But still, many of the protesters are for themselves. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty in the crowd, about what the police will do next. At this point, they have not fired tear gas like yesterday and the day before. However, it's not out of the question that with this crowd, stubborn enough not to move, the police can become aggressive again.
6:13 p.m.: We have now moved yet again, our fifth location today. We are now live, the only network in the world, on the street between protesters and the police. Thousands are amassed on the streets to me; to my left, they're chanting and singing, faced off with police; to my right, the police are shoulder-to-shoulder, standing under a major overpass. An armored car is wedged within the line.
6:22 p.m.: Shots ... SHOTS FIRED! I grab a bag and slam it against a cement wall. It's as if I am standing on the banks of a roaring river. I'm close to danger, but safely on the bank.
Rocks and bottles fly. The crowd scatters as the police lunge forward. I'm staying close to the ground and behind their shields. They open rapid fire with shotguns armed with rubber bullets. Some turn their heads as the blasts continue.
Pop, pop, pop, pop ... we are against the wall. I sneak out, just a bit, to get our remaining piece of gear. My mask is covering my nose and mouth, in case of tear gas. I have goggles over my eyes. Some students have their own military-style gas masks.
The police lunge further; the students have stopped about 100 yards away ... more rocks, more bottles.
I grab my microphone with the FOX News logo and hold it up yelling, "PRENSA, PRENSA!" (Press, Press!) I duck in behind the police to get my photographer shooting video of the clash. Together, we dash back to safety.
6:25 p.m.: The shooting stops and so does the rock throwing. The crowd chants again and the police retreat. Once again, there is a 20-yard space between the two. We are at an impasse. Periodically, over the next 30 minutes, students approach the officers with their hands in the air.
Both sides talk, at least for a short bit and the standoff continues.
6:50 p.m.: The students are still singing, but now they're sitting by the thousands. They will not move, and neither will the police. I also get a call; apparently the same types of clashes are taking place near the American embassy, and I am told that a local cable station will be shut down by the government tonight.
Globovision is a local cable channel, like RCTV, and it's critical of the Chavez reforms. Rumor has it that the owners and main anchor will be arrested.
7:15 p.m.: Today was a day of massive protests, but less clashes with police. President Chavez has decided to stir the pot yet again this time, his police force has arrested major opposition leader Oscar Perez. We are told Perez and his sister were beaten up a bit, but I have not seen the pictures to confirm.
Reports are now coming in that the main news anchor and owner of Globovision are being summoned to speak to government ministers. Apparently, there is some concern about the video they have been showing on the air, and the station could be charged with inciting violence. Globovision has nowhere near the coverage of RCTV, but as a cable outlet it holds the last criticism of any kind in this country on television airwaves. If Globovision goes down, I believe the situation could become more violent.
Today, we also heard a statement from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She urged Venezuelan leaders to change their minds and allow freedom of expression by re-opening RCTV. Before her comments were e-mailed to me, the Chavez government has a response of its own claiming that RCTV was not shut down, but that their license was just not renewed. It's typical semantics and responses we have been hearing now for four days.
7:45 a.m.: I awake again to a military helicopter flying 100-feet, or so, above my hotel. The protesters have said they will begin early today, after heavy rains scattered the crowds in the late afternoons. After all, it is rainy season here, and at times the drops seem larger than my hands.
As I look out the window, I can see a city of Caracas that dramatically dives into lush green mountains of jungle; the city is also more advanced architecturally than I expected. But, in the city center at Plaza Brion, the opposition brews.
Yesterday, the crowds were at their largest and the clashes were at a minimum. At one point, thousands of protesters marched through the streets headed for a neighborhood loyal to President Chavez. Their aim is to deliver letters to a Chavez official, urging the release of 180 people arrested for opposing the view of the president. As the masses approached, the street was blocked by more than 1,000 police officers and National Guard troops. They are shoulder to shoulder, and four to six deep.
For once, both sides showed incredible restraint. The protesters turned and began to march back to the square about a mile away. The police escorted the students on either side and from behind, since there was a fear that Chavez loyalists would instigate a fight.
As the thousands returned to the plaza, another rally would ensue and the night would end with only a few canisters of tear gas and a couple shots into the air. The students would make their way back to Avenue Las Mercedes, a main artery into the city center, and about 500 or so would sit down and block traffic; the police would serve as minders.
8:45 a.m.: The helicopter has passed by several times as I recount the last day. Now, I hear the honk of horns and the screech of traffic the same sounds that could be found in any American city. However, now, the sounds are being pierced by sirens, and I wonder if the protesters are rolling in again.
10:15 a.m.: The streets, in parts, are steep as we make our way with our two drivers toward Globovision. The area reminds me of San Salvador, and the way the city pours over small mountains into crevices with sharp peaks sprouting from the skyline is a bit like Hong Kong.
You can see the neighborhood we traverse was once an upscale thriving part of town in the late 1960s and early 1970s; in fact, much of Caracas is this way now. Locals call the 1980s the lost decade, because a few years of fantastic growth and prosperity were lost. Sometimes it feels like we are driving back in time, but only a few years.
11:00 a.m.: We arrive at Globovision, a small cable station; they are the last voice of independence in this country. Our interview is with Alberto Revelle, the leader of Globovision, who is not willing to back down. He says Chavez has told him in the past he should conform and not talk about the news of the day. Revelle rejects that notion and says while nervous about the immediate future, they'll go about their everyday business and not become yet another government controlled media.
As our interview continues, the Chavez government released a statement claiming that Globovision, and thus Revelle, a very welcoming and educated man, are "enemies of the motherland." The statement may foretell the next action, which would be to seize the Globolvision airwaves, just like Chavez did on Sunday night with RCTV.
You can tell that Revelle, like many we've met, has concerns about how this change will take place or if it will at all. He tells me that Globovision employees need to watch for their safety. While the great majority of the country backs their independence, Chavistas continue to be a threat.
12:15 p.m.: Keith, a driver, and I stop on the outskirts of Caracas. We have come here to get video of the slums, the so-called "barrios." The whole hillside has grown with red bricks haphazardly thrown together with a spoonful of cement. There is some running water, and apparently a few sewer lines, but the area is beyond poor. I feel like one small earthquake or bad storm and these shacks will crush upon themselves.
Much of this country remains poor outside the massive city of Caracas, and it's within these shanty barrios that Chavez remains popular. In some cases it's because he gives them just enough to survive, and in other cases it's because he threatens their lives. But with the shutdown of RCTV, the support from these slums has not come.
4:40 p.m.: The vice president of the Venezuelan national assembly, Desiree Santos Amaral, and a former pro-Chavez journalist, I might add, claims that the unrest/protests are all caused by the United States. This tactic has been used before; in fact, the Chavez government uses these claims all the time.
Amaral is defiant, belligerent and claims that the U.S. State Department and the CIA are financing all the protests. She says the students are being used to try and overthrow the president.
8:15 a.m.: It's amazing how technology continues to circumnavigate attempts at suppression. Even after being shut down at 11:58 Sunday night by President Chavez, and after the Venezuelan authorities blocked their website, RCTV continues to cover this story and get the word out.
Newscasts from RCTV are now posted on YouTube, and a popular station in Colombia (which borders Venezuela on the west side) also airs the broadcasts late at night. I am told nearly one million Venezuelans can pick up its signal.
9:40 a.m.: We are live at the Plaza de Indios in an area of Caracas mostly loyal to Chavez. In the middle of the bustling intersection, choked with the horns of busses and taxis, stands a monument to indigenous people. Around its base and climbing its arms are 'Chavistas,' or socialists loyal to President Chavez.
There are only 30 or so loyalists right now, but they are standing on and around a flatbed truck. Massive fireworks are shot into the bright blue sky; the boom rattles windows and nerves. Police have also come in force and are already forming a line around the Chavistas. We wait for the arrival of the student protesters.
11:25 a.m.: As fireworks continue to rocket skyward, the fizzle of the fuze is replaced by the bang of the explosion. Around the square there are about 500 Chavistas singing pro-Chavez songs and chanting "Viva Chavez."
They are separated from the students who are now arriving in streams, with signs and banners. The Chavez protestors are much younger for the most part and already greater in numbers. .
1:04 p.m.: Protestors now number about 10,000 as compared to the 500 or so Chavistas. Still, the Chavistas taunt the massive crowd. They play pro-Chavez music loud and some ride scooters and motorcycles carrying red flags, that we were told are the "dangerous ones," as they try to find a pathway towards the protestors.
The police show incredible restraint and organization. The students are warned by police officials about their failure to get a permit for assembly. The student protestors contend that the mayor denied their repeated requests.
After an hour and a half stalemate or so, the march heads towards the Catholic University in Caracas. Here the 10,000 protestors gather and close a major street. In the meantime, the Chavistas are left in a square where traffic has been reopened. Their support rally dwindles quickly in fear of getting run over.
10:25 a.m.: As thousands pack the East Park in downtown Caracas, it seems like a sea of apathetic red. The government sponsored rally is in response to the RCTV protests last week throughout Venezuela.
I see all sorts of government vans and trucks, with paintings on the side with sayings like "Socialism or Die." There are pictures of Chavez and Che everywhere. Most people are wearing red shirts with the logo of their government employer.
There are busses everywhere and some have been taken to a place across the city, as if to hide the fact that most people here were bussed and given a free shirt, hat and lunch. I am also told by several here that they were paid 50,000 bolívar’s to attend. That's roughly 25 dollars plus a free lunch, not a bad day for many that were brought here free from the countryside.
10:58 a.m.: Music blares and slender red flags are mounted on black pvc pipe systems in the welcome breeze. The clouds are coming this way and it looks very likely there will be more tropical rain.
In every direction you see red flags and all sets of speakers and the music steps on each other. People dance and socialist speakers yell over various loudspeakers. The party is not a bad one, but very different from the protest rally's this last week. For one thing, it feels like Chavez’s government and the socialists have to throw a party and pay people just to get them here. It's an obvious false energy, but an energy none the less.
Above more loud fireworks explode and one thing is clear, the Chavista rally will do its best to be the loudest so far.
11:15 a.m.: Below our live location, I can see a small, bright red, new Chevy SUV. A big “PRENSA” sign sits in the car’s front window, and two red socialist flags are attached to the roof’s rack. I’m unsure which "unbiased" state-run media owns the vehicle, but I notice a man and woman with cameras, red shirts, and red berets get into the car’s front seats.
There is one thing that’s clear Chavez does have some strong support in this country, some of it legitimate … but much of it paid for or threatened.
12:45 p.m.: The Chavista rally has a flatbed truck with large speakers blaring music every 20-yards or so. In between, people are draped in red, carrying signs, banners and fliers which support socialism, Chavez, and denounce President Bush. Some fliers call the American president the biggest terrorist in the world and others claim he supports genocide. It is clear that these fliers and this rally/march is 100 percent paid for by Chavez and his government; spontaneity is void.
1:10 p.m.: As we walk with the marchers, my photographer Keith captures video of a red Toyota pick-up driving through the parade with a two-story tall Chavez blow up doll. A woman asks our technician Mike Amor in Spanish, "Who are the gringos?" Those words contain a strong rudeness in Latin America.
Mike tells her that we are American, and that we are at the rally to cover both sides … and that she didn't have to use the word "gringo" because it is rude and uncalled for.
My Spanish is OK, Nora’s is fast approaching, and Mike is fluent, and of Cuban heritage. The woman looks at him and says in Spanish, "You are right."
Wouldn't it be nice if everything was that easy?
2:05 p.m.: I am pulled aside by a flag dealer. He’s about six-feet tall, with a dark complexion and a thin build; he tells me that people are being paid 50,000 bolivares (about 25 U.S. dollars) to come to march in this rally. Our crews have seen the buses that brought many of the Chavez supporters from around the countryside. There are at least 120 by our count and likely more.
Meanwhile, as the massive march continues through central Caracas, we are told by others that these “supporters” work for various government agencies … and that they had no choice but to attend the rally if they wanted to keep their jobs. They are likely telling the truth, because in the time I have been watching this rally and march, I have seen numerous Venezuelan agencies handing out red shirts with logos of the agencies and words of support for the Chavez government.
6:20 p.m.: With periodic shouting and full of fire, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rallies the crowd of thousands. He touts his socialist reforms and his socialism ideas for governments. Throughout the hour and a half speech, Chavez claims the United States has been the one to finance and encourage the protests against him in recent days. The president also claims that socialism allows for the true freedom of expression, and that RCTV and others are out to get him, and thus the people of Venezuela. At one point, he says even though Globovision's license isn't up for renewal, he could still pull it. Globovision is the final voice of opposition on the airwaves in this country, but they are a smaller cable outlet as compared to the widespread popularity of RCTV.
The massive pro-Chavez (Chavista) rally ends with Chavez reminding the people of his revolution. The bombastic leader even denounced other various Latin American countries for questioning his closure of RCTV and throws in a few comments about so-called American and European imperialism.
3:45 p.m.: We arrive at Mira Flores, part of the presidential complex here in Caracas. Tonight, there will be an official press conference with President Chavez and his close ally, President Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua.
I spoke with Ortega last year, and he spoke glowingly of Chavez at the time, referring to the strongman as his "brother." Chavez provided essential support to Ortega in his quest to return to power in Nicaragua by giving tanker loads of free diesel and fertilizer to the Nicaraguan people. He also provided helicopters and tons of cash to help Ortega wage his campaign. It's safe to say they both are anti-United States and would love to spread this sentiment across the region.
4:25 p.m.: Still waiting at Mira Flores. I have gone through this annoyance in seemingly every region. There's always a reason, a loophole that the American media can't be let it. In this case, the first excuse is that we didn't get the request into the media representative before 10 p.m. the night before. Of course, it's tough to put in a request when the press conference isn't announced until the next morning. We e-mailed within minutes of finding out.
Mike Amor, our technician who speaks fluent Spanish, does his best to change minds. He is extremely calm and composed. We've all dealt with this before, in countries like Kuwait, Pakistan, Bahrain and Korea. This time we get denied and we were so close. We actually got inside the gate before being told, "Sorry, come back tomorrow." Tough to do since tomorrow there is no press conference. Ortega will be on his way to U.S. favorites Iran and Algeria.
4:40 p.m.: We are now back outside the gates to Mira Flores. The afternoon sun bakes us, while the humidity compresses around our bodies. This is a poorer area of town with an architectural Spanish influence. As we await our driver Roque, we can hear the march of the red trucks.
They are bright fire, engine red flatbeds, with makeshift shells built on the back with holes for large speakers on both sides. About 10 march parallel down the street next to the presidential palace. There aren't many on board, but those who ride are dressed in red and flamboyant with their Chavez support. Not as impressive as the massive impromptu protest march earlier in the day.
12:02 a.m.: A three-hour press conference between Daniel Ortega and Chavez ends. It rambled for the most part, but in a country with Chavez's alleged freedom of the press, it was a requirement for all Venezuelan channels to carry the conference. Also an interesting note, since the Saturday Chavista march was required coverage, the Sunday massive protest was ignored.
During this presser, Ortega blames "Yankee intervention," a reference to the United States. Both leaders maintain the protests are financed by the U.S. Chavez also says he will shut down any media at any time if they oppose his so called "revolution" and that he will eliminate those who are against him.
11:40 a.m.: One week ago, La Plaza Brion was full of tear gas. Clashes between protesters and police were at their highest. Now, the plaza has once again filled with students and protesters, still upset with Chavez and his forced shutdown of RCTV. The last couple of days have seen two massive marches; on Saturday a government sponsored rally and yesterday, the spontaneous protest. Both were without tear gas and rubber bullets and that is a welcome.
Here in the plaza students paint their hands white. They tell us they will kneel and show their hands to any police or Chavistas who show any aggression. As one student explains, it's their way of remaining non violent.
1:21 p.m.: We arrive in the neighborhood La Pastora. One of the oldest areas of Caracas, some buildings of adobe have begun to crumble. This area climbs a moderate hillside with an old, but beautiful Catholic Church perched amongst colorful, but peeling two-story buildings.
A creek void of vegetation runs through this neighborhood, the thin banks lined with massive piles of trash. A small enclave of poor brick homes also piles alongside the creek, the slightly more affluent neighborhood enveloping the rickety homes.
We are told by several locals who cross our path that this was once a Chavez stronghold, but with the closure of RCTV, most here are now against their president.
One woman with great English offers us a safe haven within her iron fenced walls. In her 70s, 'Maria' once lived in New York, her mother a British journalist who eventually moved here to Caracas.
The main road that flows down from the mountains in front of Maria's complex is blocked in both directions. Police and National Guard troops are out in force with gas masks attached to their respective hips. The students and protesters are on their way here because the Venezuelan Supreme Court also calls this area home.
3:50 p.m.: The student march reaches the Venezuelan Supreme Court and after a hike up the street, our team gets through a military checkpoint/barrier. Several student leaders are on their way inside the court, followed by a mass of cameras, including ours. While producer Nora remains at the Supreme Court side door with the masses, Keith and I head down the street. As we round the corner we see two massive lines of barriers. The first has four lines of Venezuelan National Guard, dressed in green and dripping with riot gear and tear gas canisters. Between them are four lines of Caracas Police Officers, dressed in blue, about 40 yards of no-man's land. It is clear the Venezuelan government will allow no one to get close.
The students are in the distance and thousands wind down the street and around yet another slight corner. As Keith and I walk, we agree the return to the Supreme Court side door will be a bit tougher uphill, while sporting our flak jackets and camera gear. Both the national guards and the police are calm; we are allowed through both lines and into the mass of students. At the head of the student/protest line, the familiar truck with a two-story bed on the back. Of course, speakers are mounted at every angle and a student is standing on the top floor plastering the crowd with questions about the RCTV shutdown.
We climb aboard just to get a view from above. We see thousands of people all, welcoming and a bit exhausted from the long walk uphill. We can also see the soldiers and police. This is the first time in a week that I am happy, because I see the two sides face to face without tear gas and without rubber bullets.
7:42 a.m.: As I read the morning paper and get the latest information from my contacts, I learn that while more marches and protests are planned across the country today, all the universities in Caracas (there are many) led by professors and students, will walk out in a massive protest planned for Wednesday.
Since the Chavista rally on Saturday, the protesters in Venezuela have stepped up the pressure, with Sunday being the most impressive day. At some point, something has to give. Either the protests will begin to fade without the one strong leader they are lacking, or President Chavez will become even more impatient and crack down on the rallies and marches.
Over the weekend, Chavez did threaten to shut down any media that opposed his so-called revolution. He also insinuated that anyone who challenges his socialist reforms would be "dealt with." Is this a thinly-veiled threat to the protestors?
8:21 a.m.: As we drive through Caracas, I notice the many areas that are thriving, but on the hillsides around the city in various points, the poverty is clear. Rickety red brick shanties cling to the vegetation and steep hillsides with what seems like string. Many people argue the Socialist reforms in recent years have actually increased the "pobre" in Venezuela. Seeing these "barrios," that claim seems very plausible.
10:24 a.m.: Through a press release, I learn that “Reporters without Borders,” a freedom of the press organization, found that the decisions to close RCTV and transfer its terrestrial broadcast channel to a new Chavez controlled public TV station, was considered illegal and in defiance of the Organization of American States, to which Venezuela belongs.
Reporters Without Borders plans on referring the RCTV issue intends to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
11:05 a.m.: Through a source I learn that, La Verdad, the Maracaibo paper here in Venezuela, is reporting that the Chavez government has taken away some of the equipment that RCTV needed to broadcast on cable, so now they can't do it.
This once again goes against what President Chavez has claimed. Originally, the potential dictator said he just pulled the RCTV license because the renewal was up and it had promoted a coup attempt against him in 2002 (a claim which can be debated). Now he has authorized privately purchased equipment and broadcast towers be confiscated by his government.
So much for the claim that Chavez Socialism is "true freedom of expression."
11:28 a.m.: In a confirmation of what we reported at the massive pro-Chavez rally on Saturday, a source provides me with an official letter from the Venezuelan Health Ministry ordering all local health councils to get their people out for the big march on Saturday June 2.
We were told that many at the march were either paid, or forced to attend. Some Chavez supporters in the U.S. questioned that report.
Adam Housley joined FOX News Channel in 2001 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent. Most recently, Housley reported from President Ford's funeral. He also reported from Nicaragua and El Salvador on the war against drugs and scored an exclusive interview with Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega. You can read his full bio here.
Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.