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.