On the 4th of July, the United States celebrates its Independence Day, a national holiday full of joy, light and color. Citizens in general revel in the holiday, dressing in the colors of the flag and hosting a range of celebrations, walks, barbecues, outdoor concerts, festivals, fairs and colorful parades, all marked by a traditional fireworks display.
While many major cities across the nation are caught up in the holiday, it remains a festive celebration without any touch of militarism or demonstrations of military power. Gatherings are composed of ordinary families and friends. While films have been created to evoke a patriotic sense of this significant date, most observations take the form of a simple but meaningful celebration of freedom.
The following day, on July 5th, Venezuela commemorates its Independence Day. Historically this celebration has been framed by a military parade in Caracas, the capital of the country. This is not a modest display – the four military components, or branches, of the military forces participate in a televised parade in which they show off all their military technology and warfare materiel.
The military parade is carried out on the Paseo de Los Próceres in Caracas. It is announced by the media and broadcast live so every Venezuelan can watch it on TV in real time. Although it has never been as colorful as the American Independence Day celebrations, with the fireworks and all, it is considered a national celebration focused on relaxation, with many retailers taking the day off.
In the past, the parade was beautiful both for the people and the invited diplomatic corps who joined the president and ministers to pay homage to Liberator Simon Bolivar. But during the last 18 years of the Chavez presidency, paramilitary commando groups have been added to the parade. These irregular, ill-trained armed civilians are given national importance.
Today, Venezuela is facing a dangerous scenario. Its people are immersed in poverty, with severe shortages of basic food products, medicines and staples in general. Crime now fills the streets and countryside of this country, renowned for its rich natural and mineral resources and striking geographic features. Many hospital services are suspended or undersupplied, and entire families are leaving the country in search of better life options abroad.
This year’s Independence celebration will feature another group: mostly college students, but also people of all ages, including the elderly. These protesters are risking their lives to demand food, better living conditions and even the resignation of the current president.
Fears are that the warfare arsenal, once so proudly shown in the traditional Independence Parade, will be used against these innocent and unarmed people. They are being used now to attack the people. And while it is a struggle to live in freedom, these people can’t stand by as a country with vast underground oil resources has a population dramatically poor and adrift. This year’s event might not be a celebration, but certainly it will be one that recalls the long-held hope for liberty and independence.
Two countries in the same hemisphere will celebrate their independence days so differently … one with its bright, joyful festivities, the other with tears of pain for the fallen, hunger, injustice and the red color of so much blood shed by fallen youth and so many others who continue to risk their lives clamoring for the right to return to the past of abundance and national pride, without ruthless governmental control.
Venezuelans were once considered among the luckiest of people living in a country full of great opportunities that was open to all immigrants ready to work hard and build a great future for their families.
Now the United States of America, as well as many other countries around the world, represent that future hope for so many desperate Venezuelans looking for a place to settle and live freely.