Venezuela kicked off celebrations marking 200 years of struggle for independence with an impressive several hour long military parade. Recently-acquired Chinese K-8 planes and Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft swooped through the sky during a lavish military parade in Caracas, as soldiers from Algeria, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Libya, Nicaragua and Russia joined those on the ground.
The parade also included the so called Bolivarian militias, militarized groups that have sworn loyalty to Chavez and the so-called “truth guerrillas” organized to harass and intimidate Venezuela’s media which is not aligned with the Venezuelan president.
Flanked by his top ally Cuban President Raul Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales and Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, --who was the only foreign leader to speak during the celebrations--, Chavez, wearing a paratrooper uniform and red beret, joined generals in lauding his Bolivarian revolution.
None of Venezuela's opposition leaders was invited to the ceremony. The opposition claims that the Chavez regime is becoming increasingly authoritarian.
More than ever, Venezuela will not be a Yankee colony, or a colony of anyone. The time for our true independence has come, 200 years on, said the Venezuelan leader renowned for his anti-US rhetoric.
Chavez earlier laid a wreath on the tomb of independence hero Simon Bolivar, in a ceremony before sympathetic regional leaders at the National Pantheon in Caracas. Bolivar helped liberate several South American nations from Spanish colonial rule after declaring his country a free and sovereign state.
Chavez worships Bolivar and even renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela after he took power in 1999.
The lavish celebrations commemorated April 19, 1810, when the municipal council of Caracas first led a successful movement to depose the Spanish governor. Venezuela achieved independence on 5 July 1811.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan opposition groups -- gathered under the political coalition Table of Democratic Unity (MUD) -- warned that Chavez's 11-year rule had promoted separation and confrontation in Venezuelan society, and cast a long shadow over the country's ideals.
Chavez has systematically reduced our democratic abilities, and compromised our future and our progress, the coalition said in a statement Sunday.
Earlier this year Chavez celebrated his time in office by vowing to govern for 11 more years, after winning a referendum to scrap term limits last year. He said he would cleanse Venezuela of a century of domination by oligarchs and the United States, which is a key importer of Venezuela's abundant oil.
The military parade was followed by a solemn session of the Venezuelan National Assembly with Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner as the honour speaker.
Later the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) group celebrated its ninth extraordinary summit. The group brain-child of Chavez brings together several counties with two main conditions: their strong anti US position and/or their desperate need for Venezuela’s abundant oil and financial resources.
ALBA members present included Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales; Cuban president Raúl Castro; Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and prime ministers Ralph Goncalves from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Roosevelt Skerrit from Dominica and Baldwin Spencer from Antigua and Barbuda.
ALBA leaders reaffirmed the group’s unity as the instrument to achieve definitive independence for a “new America”, free from all imperialisms and en route to Socialism.