Hugo Chávez's foes across the globe are expected to congregate today in parks and plazas from Colombia to Canada to voice discontent over what organizers call Mr. Chávez's insults, hypocrisy, and meddling in their internal affairs.
Chávez, who is on a worldwide tour that includes stops in Iran and Syria, dismissed the movement as "stupid." His followers are planning countermarches in his support. But it points to momentum throughout the region among those who see a chance to unwind some of the gains that leftist leaders like Chávez have made in Latin America over the past decade.
"There is a sense that this leftward direction in Latin America is now being seriously challenged," says Steve Ellner, a Venezuela-based political analyst and author of "Rethinking Venezuelan Politics." From the ouster of Chávez ally Manuel Zelaya in Honduras June 28, to challenges the left faces in upcoming elections, such as in Chile, he says some perceive a political opportunity.
"The opposition is starting to think maybe the left will take some defeats," he notes. "People get mobilized when they are optimistic."
Colombia pushes back
The "No More Chávez" march was initiated after the latest spate between Chávez and Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe over plans to allow the US to use Colombian military bases. Chávez has called it a provocation of war and called Mr. Uribe a "traitor."
This is not the first time that mass marches along ideological lines have grown with the help of social-networking sites. Last year, protesters across the globe marched against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
But this is the first time that global marches specifically against Chávez have been planned simultaneously, says Mr. Ellner. At the webpage, www.nomaschavez.org, planners of the event say they have mobilized in some 30 countries.
In Mexico City, organizers sent out a press release urging protesters to congregate in the middle of the city: "We are tired of President Hugo Chávez insulting us, insulting Latin America and the world," the statement says. "We are tired of so much hypocrisy from Chávez, who on one hand talks of interventionism but on the other is the most interventionist president that has ever existed."
Chávez will exploit the marches
While his opponents in the region might see space to gain a foothold, the marches are likely to do little to the president's political influence in Venezuela.
"I don't think it's going to hurt him unless there is a really attractive alternative candidate that emerges," says Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "He'll exploit this…. He'll say the people [internationally] who are organizing these marches, they don't live here, they don't understand all that I'm doing for poor people, that we are trying to do things differently to achieve greater social justice."
Any time an opposition march is called in Venezuela, Chávez supporters amass in parallel. Now, the same scenario could present itself internationally.
His supporters are trying to rally people across the globe to counter the "No More Chávez" protests. On their Facebook page, called "Latin America on the Path to Peace," protesters are urged to gather at Venezuelan embassies and consulates around the world today to declare "Latin America as a zone of peace, free of US military bases and intervention," the Facebook page states.
The end result today could be more of the same: polarization. "The net effect is that it just exacerbates the polarization that already exists in Venezuela and internationally," says Mr. Ellner. "There is not much in the way of a middle ground."
•Read more about how Chávez stirred up regional concern about Colombia's plan to allow US use of military bases.
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