When the last tanks rumbled past and the massive civil-military parade with display of state of the art missile launchers had come to an end in early Friday night of Caracas, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro could sigh in relief because his last twenty four hours had been really hectic.
The night before he had flown to Lima where his South American peers, holding a Unasur extraordinary meeting gave him, and last Sunday’s electoral results, their full blessing and support.
This was particularly significant coming from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Peru.
Earlier in the day the National Electoral Council had agreed to a full 100% count of ballots as had requested opposition candidate Henrique Capriles who questioned Sunday’s victory alleging irregularities and a “too tight too call” result (265.000 votes in 15 million ballots), 50.7% to 48.9% with a turnout of 79%.
Capriles described Maduro as an ‘illegitimate president’ and called on his followers to peaceful protest marches but this ended with government militants in the streets of Caracas which left at least eight people dead, tens injured and arrested and a dangerous confrontation atmosphere that could turn really ugly any moment as leaders from both sides exchanged accusations and threats.
Friday was not less dramatic: when Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor was sworn in as Venezuela's president before the National Assembly, a man in a red jacket rushed toward the podium, grabbed the microphone and shouted: Nicolas, I am Yohendri. Help me, please.
They could have shot me right here. Security has failed, Maduro said after the man was taken away.
Nevertheless he was quick to regain the floor and spoke for more than an hour, vowing to crack down on any coup attempts to remove him from the presidency and slamming political opponents for waging what he called a dirty election campaign against him.
Nevertheless he also expressed openness to dialogue with his opponents, yet he likened Capriles to Pedro Carmona, the businessman who led a short-lived junta during the abortive April 2002 coup against Chavez.
I am willing to talk even to the devil, may God forgive me, even with the new Carmona if it is necessary in order for him to cease his hatred against me, against the people, the new president said in his inaugural address.
I extend my hand to you, I want to work with you Maduro said addressing those who voted for Capriles, though he branded a portion of the opposition as racist and fascist.
In a similar spirit sixty-five opposition lawmakers boycotted the ceremony in the National Assembly and Capriles called on his people to play ‘salsa’ and bang pots and pans so as not to listen to Maduro’s speech.
Maduro’s oath of office was taken by the president of the National Assembly and a former military officer, Diosdado Cabello, a powerful man with control over the Armed Forces and the militias and who also aspired to the job given to the ‘son of Chavez’.
Maduro's inauguration drew heads of state from Cuba’s Raul Castro and Brazil's Dilma Rousseff to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, along with leaders of Chavez-era allies such as Bolivia, Uruguay and Nicaragua, plus representatives of over sixty countries.
Ahmadinejad paid tribute to the spirit and the soul of Commander Chavez, who had only love for all the peoples of the world in comments to state television as he arrived at Congress, where the inauguration was held.
Russia and China, both involved in defence sales and oil projects in Venezuela's vast Orinoco belt region, sent delegations.
Thousands of government sympathizers surrounded Congress in downtown Caracas, dancing to upbeat music and clad in the Socialist Party's signature red T-shirts.
The last chapter of Maduro’s day was the massive display of military equipment and a two-hour parade along the impressive Avenue of the National Heroes (Proceres), where the military swore allegiance to the new Commander of the forces, and exalted the memory of Liberator Simon Bolivar, the ‘eternal Commander’ Hugo Chavez, Socialism and the Bolivarian revolution.
Almost 12.000 soldiers from the three services, plus militias, Special Forces and National Guard, and modern equipment of Russian and Chinese origin displayed for the first time marched before Maduro, foreign dignitaries and guests.
By the time it was over the tanks and trucks had their lights on and Maduro looking at this watch said “it is 07:30, time to celebrate, take out all your musical instruments and dance, sing and enjoy”.
April 19 is a national holiday which recalls the final defeat of the Spaniards and Venezuela’s independence in 1810.