Making repression backfire, but is it ethical?

RIP Genesis
RIP Genesis
RIP Genesis

Over at Foreign Policy, Srdja Popovic (of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies, or CANVAS) and Mladen Joksic discuss how to turn repression into a strength, something Gene Sharp has called “political ju-jitsu.” Here is the money quote:

Finally, a movement should be ready to capitalize on oppression. Following a repressive act, it’s vital that activists keep the public aware of what has happened and take sustained measures to ensure that they don’t forget. Circulating pictures, leaflets, and using social media are good ways to keep the memory of oppression present. One clever way to achieve this is to turn members of the movement who have faced particular scrutiny by a regime into martyrs. As we’ve seen across the Middle East and more recently in Ukraine — where Dmytro Bulatov’s tortured image has become the symbol of state repression — giving oppression a face is absolutely critical if activists hope to mobilize people to the streets.

Can we therefore conclude that protests are looking for martyrs? Can we say that every Genesis we get, every Bassil Da Costa is an advancement of the cause? If true, how is that even ethical?

We’re on a slippery moral slope here, folks. Still, the article contains some interesting links for all of you out there doing the dirty work.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


    • Ethical. Pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.
      Collective unconscious. The part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious.

      Ethics has nothing to do with the collective unconscious that automatically develops when the public gets drawn to a conflict like moths to a flame, as soon as brutal and repressive actions are taken against a member of that public.

      As such, the efforts to publicize that brutality and to enshrine the martyr that may result from those repressive actions, is more of a group preservation tactic, an SOS, and a call to stop, by the besieged public, against any further brutalities.

      I find absolutely nothing wrong in reminding the world-at-large of the martyrs who have been killed by those who have blood on their hands, and their leaders who repeatedly break the laws of a nation, while finding every means possible to break the will of its people.

      • P.S. I very much doubt that the activists against the current Venezuelan regime began with an agenda to look for martyrs. However, when people started getting killed, their deaths were recorded, thanks to the proliferation of cell phone cameras, as well as presence of photojournalists. Their raw captures of the deaths began a wave of public focus, which in the process and thanks to social media, has given way to martyrdom.

  1. I think the slippery slope comes entirely from your interpretation. Giving visibility to the martyrs we have unfortunately gotten, is not the same as trying to create them. No one has goaded the regime into attacking. Conspiracy theories aside, over the past month no one has been trying to put people into dangerous situations or trying to turn up casualties.
    Trying to make the best for the most in the face of a tragedy has nothing to do with causing one.
    Some people may be thinking in the terms you suggest. Some have talked about “buscar un muerto” since 2002. But I don’t see any of that thinking in the quote you posted.

    • Hmm … that’s certainly the optimistic point of view. But are we sure some of the boosters of the protests are not “trying to create them”? We need to be vigilant.

      • The one to create the martyr is the evil one; not the one to publicize the martyr’s existence. If someone, on top of being guilty of creating a martyr, is trying to pin the blame on someone else, then that’s doubly evil.

  2. Not only is this a slippery-slope, I don’t think this necessarily works within the Venezuelan context.

    What separates Venezuela from, say, Libya or Syria is that the level of intimidation and repression in the latter make Venezuela look like child’s play. One of the reasons Qadhafi and Assad had to resort to extreme levels of violence was because their institutions were not stable. Once their core foundations were exposed to be vulnerable, they had no choice but to try to establish a Carthaginian peace. In contrast, taking into consideration how the PSUV controls all of Venezuela’s institutions, Maduro has no reason to feel insecure and, thus, does not have to be bloody. And since the scale of repression is small, especially from a comparative perspective, they can easily dismiss claims of repression as mere exaggeration, which is what all of the (intellectual) defenders of the Revolution are doing right now, and instead shift the focus of violence towards the protesters themselves. But that’s the reality of institutional tyranny, it does not have to be bloody if it is secure.

    I think Venezuela today is more comparable to Egypt in 2010 where someone like Bassil Da Costa can function in a similar role to Khaled Said (a victim of police brutality). His death generated protests, Egyptians started a FB group called “we are all Khaled Said,” and his image was prevalent throughout the 17 days of protests back in Jan-Feb 2011.

    But more importantly, if this protest movement is going to gain momentum and incorporate other sectors, it has to do more than just highlight repression. It has to not only speak the chavista language, but it actually has to deliver on it. Democracy is not just voting to them, democracy also equals food,vivienda, a job, economic justice and participation as it should be!! Right-wing politics are discredited by the majority. The game from here-on-out should be centrist or center-left.

    Just my two cents…

    • Excellent two cents! So far, little ignition of the D-E sectors, due to intimidation by large-scale Government dependence plus fear of armed colectivo groups. Institutionally the Government is secure so far, although some in the armed forces may surprise. The economic erosion proceeds rapidly, with transportation disruption exacerbating. Although perhaps somewhat pre-mature, the current uprisings are important because time could also work on the oppressive Castro-Communist side by resulting in even more Government dependence (e.g., the introduction of freer food vs. Mercal rationing, already happening to some extent via a once-a-month distribution of a family Bs. 400 food parcel worth 4-6x more to those signed up in selected Consejos Comunales, etc. ).

  3. While it is not wrong to honor the memories of those who have fallen, wanting for people to die to advance a cause is obviously not good in any ethical stand. Not only that, but the prospect of only thinking that way would make a chavista salivate with thousands of counter-arguments to the protests. However, one could argue that MAYBE someone wants dead people so that martyrs emerge and the cause advances further. Then again, let’s not forget WHO is responsible for the numerous deaths.

    • Well, the Chavistas learned this lesson well with the image of Chavez and take advantage of it. Not a day goes by where you don’t see his picture; hear his voice; of someone quotes him. Heck, even Christians make a point (specially during lent season) that Jesus died for the greatest of causes. Assuming the fallen are victims, why would this be any different?

  4. The protesters are not seeking to become martyrs , they are brave and bold but they have a normal persons respect for the integrity of their own hides!!, if shot at they run like hell! . Now if the govt decides to repress them using overbearing force and armed violence and some protesters become victims to such violence , whose blame is it if those protestors are martyred ?? the whole ethical dilemma seems a bit overwrought !! As gnral Gomez used to say ” Si el sapo salta y se ensarta en la estaca , la culpa es del sapo o de la estaca.??” The govt can easily avoid serious injury to the protesters by simply disarming its colectivo gangs and instructing the GNB to moderate its reponse to the protests !!

  5. “Capitalize on oppression”. Make political capital out of dead people. Or make dead people out of capital. Make dead people to capitalize. Capital-Capital’ (M-C…P…C’-M’). Others just put in M for M’, others are stripped bare, made into C. The goal is always that little prime next to the M. “Capitalize on oppression” means “Oppress and capitalize”.

  6. “Can we therefore conclude that protests are looking for martyrs?”

    I think this is absurd and has been the base for many false accusations from the government against Lopez and Capriles, and the opposition in general, for years since April 2002.
    The people have a right to protest peacefully and the government has a duty to protect and also control the protesters so that there are no excesses. If the government fails in that duty then it must be denounced in the strongest terms possible and not forgotten easily. If there are deaths then they must be made to pay a heavy price, otherwise the right to protest can be easily curtailed by the government.

    The fact that there are martyrs is a shame but the blame belongs squarely on those with the weapons never on the protesters. That doesn’t mean that the opposition, and the protesters, can be oblivious to the many dangers that exist. They should take all measures possible to protect themselves. What they should never do is stop the peaceful protests, that would only incite more violence on future demonstrations.

  7. Making repression backfire, but is it ethical?
    It is not only ethical but it is a moral obligation. The only way to stop repression is to make the government pay a high price for it.

    Can we therefore conclude that protests are looking for martyrs?
    Protests are manifestations of discontent and everyone’s right. If they are peaceful there should be no reason for violence and no casualties.

    Can we say that every Genesis we get, every Bassil Da Costa is an advancement of the cause?
    On the contrary, every death produces fear in some preventing them from protesting, and anger in others turning peaceful protests into violent ones which is damaging for the opposition.

    If true, how is that even ethical?
    It is true only for those calling for violence, not for protests.

  8. If someone looked for martyrs it was the govmnt, probably to shade economic measures but they didn’t expect this would escalate. 12F was pacific and with the proper govmt permission. SEBIN killed 3 while colectivos confronted the people leaving the demonstration. After that, the rest of the deaths happened while protesting against the repression from 12F and the following days.

  9. This argument sounds so similar to Jose Vicente Rangel’s claims that the opposition was using people as cannon fodder, doesn’t it?. He insisted on this in the early 2000’s to shift the blame over repression victims to the opposition, and it worked. But, in order to have cannon fodder, or repression martyrs, I believe you first need the cannons, and the repression, right?. If the government weren’t abusing human rights and repressing protests savagely there would not be any victims or martyrs. If the “colectivos” (a polite moniker for “armed bands of criminals” if I ever heard one) were not armed and shooting at protesters, and if the National Guard and the political police (SEBIN) were not shooting at protesters, there would not be any “cannons” and there wouldn’t be any martyrs. Let’s not forget who is at fault here. It is the government and its accomplices who are killing people indiscriminately, not the other way around (even if a “motorizado” died tragically at a barricade by the stupidity of a few protestors). Students have a legitimate right to protest without coming to any harm whatsoever. Doesn’t the argument lead to justifying murder and rape because “they asked for it”?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here