Mourning Venezuelans filled the streets of Caracas Tuesday night following the death of President Hugo Chavez and gunshots rang out in the western Chavista barrios, while cars, trucks and motorcycles, all with blaring horns, jammed the city’s main arteries for kilometres.
“My mother called me from western Caracas where I live to tell me not to come home tonight,” said Oriana Gonzalez, who commutes daily to her office job in the safer east. “People over there have been firing guns in the air; my mother said people are expecting riots.”
In the Plaza Bolivar in the city centre, red-shirted crowds filled the huge area, waving banners with personal messages to Mr. Chavez’s family, his socialist colleagues in government and their fellow countrymen.
“I feel awful, really awful,” said Rogelio Enfrador, speaking with tears in his eyes from the Plaza Bolivar. “We were all waiting for this in the back of our minds, but I can’t believe it’s actually happened.”
“He’s all of our father,” he added. “He’s the father of this country. None of us expected to have to go through all of this.”
Soldiers, not an unusual sight in Caracas, were out in force, with infantry clad in riot gear stationed on the crowded streets. Many people said they feared demonstrations and possibly violence.
“Everything is spinning in uncertainty at the moment,” said Felix Ramon Pinero, another resident of central Caracas. “The problem at the moment is the government’s secrecy; we know he’s dead, but we have to look beyond that. How will people react now? They have handled his absence extremely badly and I have no confidence in what they tell me now.”
In other parts of the city, such as opposition stronghold Altamira, the scene was quieter. David Lopez, a businessman who was walking his dogs through the Plaza de Los Palos Grandes, said: “It’s the end of socialism in Venezuela. It’s that simple. Without Chavez, there is no socialism.”
“I didn’t expect this, we knew he was close to death but somehow I always expected a recovery,” he added. “We will have to take our time over the coming weeks as new presidential elections will be upcoming.”
In Chacao, the ubiquitous food stands had long queues as people stood in the streets to discuss the news. Beside the burger stands, traffic jams that ran for kilometres through the city’s main road blared horns while Chavez supporters on motorbikes weaved through the traffic, their passengers on the back waving enormous red flags as they went.
“This isn’t the end of our story,” said a tearful Marlenys Vanegas, a Chavez supporter dressed in red and waving a banner from her late-leader’s October re-election campaign. “We must be strong, very strong, like Chavez taught us. Chavez may be dead, but we are still strong.”
“Chavez opened Venezuela’s eyes to the world,” she added. “His legacy will stay with us and join his own inspiration, Simon Bolívar. We will follow their example into tomorrow.”