Struggling to Breathe



by Alberto Barrera Tyszka,

Gonzo translation by Francisco Toro

“No shit-eating little bourgeois is going to come tell the majority of Venezuela’s youth what path our homeland should take! The path our homeland should take was settled by Hugo Chávez on February 4th [1992 – date of his failed coup]”

This is what minister Víctor Clark shouted out in Yaracuy a few days ahead of the February 12th [demonstrations]. With a flash of anger and a subtle inflection in his tone of voice, as though he had studied his oratory in Havana. In his speech, he denounced terrorism and accused the students – who have won virtually every university election in the country – of coup-plotting. But the best part was his argument: history is already defined. We had our coup first. Go fuck yourselves.

The perverse mechanism that turns the victims of aggression into the culprits of aggression goes beyond the criminalization of protest. Its roots go deeper, to the government’s promotion of a concept: to the powerful, the opposition is not a part of “the people” (el pueblo). You can only be pueblo from a baseline of blind loyalty to the government. The rest is illegitimate. It amounts to a crime against your nationality: to be in the opposition is to reject your identity. That’s why any protest is condemned a priori. Because to be someone that protests is to be at loggerheads with your homeland.

To this we must certainly add the blunder of rallying people under a banner that generates only confusion and mirages: “la salida”. The exit. Leopoldo López, skillfully taking advantage of a variety of social discontents, imposed his agenda on the rest of the opposition. Through some effective stagecraft, he launched a radical call that set out to bring the country to a halt. None of that, however, amounts to a coup. It may be a political blunder, but not a crime. When Chávez was released from jail, in 1994, he went around tirelessly calling for mobilization and demanding the immediate resignation of then president Caldera. And he was no longer coup-plotting. He was doing politics.

The crime lies elsewhere. But the powerful refuse to discuss it. The ombudsman remains silent. They decry conspiracies without ever showing any proof. The government always puts slogans ahead of evidence.

It’s surprising how the government has taken to invoking the free-for-all on the internet. And it’s true: there are false images, images from earlier times, from other places…but those are not all the images. They’re rather a minority. And that can’t be used to cover up the rest of reality. Power clutches at the slightest distortion to dismiss the testimony and the denunciations of the real victims. To hide what does happen, and justify their brutal aggression.

For [Prosecutor General] Luisa Ortega Diaz to dismiss government violence saying it targets a group of Venezuelans “who don’t love their country” is not merely terrifying but criminal. It legitimizes repression. It infuses, even, with a certain sentimental value.

The Coup d’Etat thesis, trotted out by the government in the face of virtually any action proposed by anyone who opposes them, is very useful: it turns the blame on those who protest and in the process sanctifies their punishment. But that attitude leaves dead bodies in its wake, wounded, scenes of unforgettable terror…consequences that cannot be erased. Bloodstains cannot be washed away with rhetoric.

The origins of the violence are in a state that’s out of control, opaque, bent on imposing its project. A persecuting state, an anxious state determined to invade and occupy all spaces. It does not recognize the other, and cornering it is just another form of violence.

The creation of parallel powers is violence. Flouting the outcome of the 2007 referendum and implementing what was rejected by the people is violence. The media black-out and the denial of newsprint to newspaper publishers is violence. For the Defense Minister to proudly call herself “chavista” is violence. The list could go on forever.

There is no conspiracy at play here, there’s a defense of our lives. So long as smothering us is a governing plan, there will always be a part of the country struggling to breathe.

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  1. The article is completely true. The government not only is hypocrite, it’s also criminal. And it has been for a long time; it’s just that now their mask has completely fallen.

  2. The remarkable thing to do me is that this is the way leftist or progressive or socialist governments always go. People say “it will be different this time,” but it’s always the same result. When the government alone decides what is for the general good, or what is for “the people,” you are on the road to tyranny. Sometimes it comes fast, sometimes slow, but it always ends up the same. I’m proud to see the students standing up for freedom. The government must be constrained if there is any hope for people to be free.

    • Let’s not make overly broad statements. Not all progressive governments are dictatorships in waiting; look at all the democratic, open, and free countries that have been governed by Social Democrats in Europe.

      This regime is simply a corrupt authoritarian state cloaked in demagogical far left and nationalist slogans, and (initially) armed with massive amounts of petrodollars .

      • Well put. It would not be good if people drew the wrong lessons from the abject failures and abuses of the current regime, only to embrace other extreme doctrines and forms of absolutism.

      • Yes, let’s look at the social democracies in Europe. Most of them are going broke, some quicker than others. In Britain, people die in the hallways of National Health Service hospitals waiting for care. In Germany, families can’t choose to homeschool their children lest they deviate from state curriculum.

        “There is no justification for the belief, that, so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; the contrast suggested by this statement is altogether false; it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from being arbitrary. Democratic control may prevent power from becoming arbitrary, but it does not do so by its mere existence. If democracy resolves on a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules, it must become arbitrary power.” — F.A. Hayek

          • No, I get it. You’re saying that Venezuela is a special case, because the government is corrupt, authoritarian, and only pretending to be for the people. I’m saying that any government, when given too much power to decide the affairs of ordinary people, becomes corrupt and authoritarian. Governments are made up of men, and men are not angels. So unless the government is strictly limited so that it cannot infringe on the people’s rights, by and by, it will become overbearing and repressive. At least, that’s what history has shown over and over again.

  3. The so-called ideological borders no longer apply; the Tupamaros in Merida are strategically “branded” for nostalgic leftist intellectuals, trying to associate them to past tortured victims in Uruguay; the hopeful Obama has not shut down Guantanamo and turbo-charged drone programs.

    We are clearly entering a new (maybe not-so-new) definition of the grand divide: tyranny and justice. The rest is political form. I think the student protests can succeed if they do not bite the bait of this. It should be about corruption, about the generals that run the coke lines (God, I wish “El Chapo” would start singing), and an infinitely long etc….

    Have you read this one letter, “Solos”?

  4. Alberto Barrera is today the best writing, most lucid journalist in Venezuela , barr none , reading him is always an inspiration and an intellectual joy despite the many sad things he often has to write about. Francisco is to be commended for both putting him in this blog and for the excellent translation !! Of course his writing is even more impressive and bitting in the original spanish but if you dont read spanish this is the best next thing !! thank you francisco , keep it up.!!

    • I agree with every word. Barrera Tyszka is today one of the best, if not the best writer in Venezuela. Not only is his prose and form incredible, but the depth of his analysis is equally outstanding.

  5. i got la guinda de la torta… a contribution article by a time mag & you tube journalist in which this so called journalist says that since the protestest started, get this: maduros
    government has organized its own marches,
    which, in number, dwarf those of the
    you all are the blind dwarf… i wonder what are all of you doing here… working for the enemy ’cause almost noone check this blog except the yo estoy mucho mas arriba q estos guarimberos q los guarimberos and the “international” press… please


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