#17M: Altamira in Olive Green

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National Guards cool off with a snow cone.
National Guards cool off with a snow cone.

I wake up to the soothing sounds of a chopper; like a giant mosquito that you just can’t swat. Check my phone: Monday, 6:45 am. Insane tweets from people I’ve been meaning to delete from my timeline warn of a looming suspension of constitutional guarantees. Others, more grounded, point towards the military takeover of Plaza Altamira, the focal point of student barricades (guarimbas) and Playstation-like combat with the National Guard for the past month. At 3:00 a.m. the military took control of Avenida Francisco de Miranda and, with great pride, conquered Altamira.

It’s mid morning and  I can’t resist the temptation to walk down a couple of blocks to Altamira Square and watch the occupation process, or whatever is left of it. As I approach, I notice a tweet. A man went by himself at 9:30 a.m. to protest the military takeover. This guy just showed up, amidst a bunch of government employees, Maduro supportes, and the National Guard, and held a banner that read: #SOSVenezuela.

I get there, and the SOS guy is nowhere to be seen. At the center of the square the National Guard has set up a display of the subversive material used in the protests. Shirts, bottles, barbed wire, light bulbs, hoses, nails, cloth, your regular insurgent army stuff. “A Museum of Violence,” a tall guy with a red shirt calls it.

IMG_20140317_111842As I walk among the National Guard they don’t seem to mind my presence much. Obviously I don’t pose a threat to the heavily equipped Guardsmen (or to the Guardsladies), however, a few feet away, three of them search a high school student’s bookbag. One holds a shotgun, remaining alert and resting his finger just next to the trigger. Meanwhile, an inflatable castle for kids is being set on the north side of the square.

Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez is reporting that public employees of Libertador Municipality —where her brother is Mayor— cleaned up the surroundings of Plaza Altamira. I’m sure the taxpayers of Libertador are happy that their Mayor used public resources to clean up a square on what is already the city’s already cleanest municipality. [Wasn’t a President taken out of office for a similar scheme?]

And yes, there’s Libertador’s cleaning crew, singing the national anthem as they scrub the floor. Another import from downtown Caracas is the good people of Bolivar Square’s Esquina Caliente (Hot Corner). A group of government supporters —from the beginning of the Chavez era— whose only purpose and occupation is to stand on the street praising the revolution and ranting against the opposition. And, of course, there she is, Caperucita herself. A longtime Chávez propaganda agent, Caperucita is an eighty-something-looking woman, with no teeth and died red hair who has been used in several campaigns as a poster girl for the future of Venezuela.

For a couple of hours the (now) madurista ranters have been trying to provoke pedestrians. To me, having spent several years walking by Esquina Caliente day in and day out, this is an all too familiar scene. I just watch. Those who actually engage these people end up frustrated, angry, and surrounded by all 30 of them screaming like crazy: “Chucky! Chucky! Chuck!” Yes, Chucky. The evil doll from your 80’s nightmares. That’s what they call guarimberos. Another insult courtesy of President Maduro.

Other comments spewed by the ranters: “Chucky, look at your face you are a gringa!;” “This is a clash of the classes!;” “Chuckylucky go fuck an ape!;” “Tupamaros are peaceful;” and my personal favorite “You should be humble, like Diosdado Cabello, who is powerful but remains a poor man.” All of them —especially that last one— incendiary comments looking for some sort of violent response.

Ernesto Villegas, the former Information Minister, former government candidate for the Metropolitan Mayor, and current Minister for the Transformation of Caracas (¿?), makes an appearance. He rescues a lady who is being swarmed by the ranters and engages in sincere and courteous dialogue. Cameras and reporters appear from nowhere and immortalize the moment. A guy standing beside me, who identifies himself as a radical opponent to this government —using those words exactly— says: “but que arrecho es Ernesto, this is the type of dialogue that we need.”

Villegas, Caperucita, the ranters of Esquina Caliente, Tupamaros, the National Guard, and inflatable castles. Disneyland for maduristas.

IMG_20140317_124026Lunch break.

It’s 4:30 p.m., around the time when the guarimberos usually takeover and start to skirmish with the military. Instead, a group of Doñas arrive at the square. “I left my Chucky at home but I’m here.” I don’t think that using words and phrases coined by President Maduro (who bashes the Spanish language as a matter of principle) is a good idea, but what the hell. Most of them are driving the National Guards crazy with peace-n-love talk.

I head down to the southeast corner of the square and find an old friend holding a rolled up banner: #SOSVenezuela. Yep, he was the crazy guy from the morning. He tells me that he stood there with the banner and his ID card in his mouth (because the ranters started shouting that he wasn’t Venezuelan) and was detained for an hour by the National Guard. Now, he led a large group of stubborn protesters —mainly people who joined while walking by— who insisted on winning the argument against the ranters. In a way, this is more civilized than the National Assembly.

A little-understood fact about the guarimbero movement in Altamira is that most of the students are not locals. I know this sounds like “fascist” talk, but anyone who dared get close to the battle/playground in Plaza Altamira these days can see it. Many neighbors have provided food and shelter (for several days) to the protesters, but most of them did not participate in guarimbas.

This afternoon, however, the guarimberos didn’t show up. The government ranters have been easily outnumbered by the neighbors who gathered to protest the presence of the National Guard. The Avenue is partially blocked. When the light changes the demonstrators open one lane to let the cars pass. Drivers don’t seem angry, most of them cheer upon them. Many busses stop and let the passengers off and they join in. Thousands fill the streets. It’s overwhelming.

image-18:00 p.m., the National Guard starts leaving the premises discretely. But the people who notice go apeshit. First time in the past month, hell, in the past year, I see a group of Venezuelans truly celebrate something. All the proud Doñas enjoy the victory as they bid goodbye to the National Guard. Some of them, with positive messages towards the men in green in an effort to, you know, have them join this peaceful flowerpower insurrection. A young couple in front of me shares a long deep kiss. The joyous atmosphere is infatuating. The war is over, and we won.

Well, not really. Not even close. But for all the crap Altamira has been taking for their “middle class” guarimbas, this is a good example of a different approach to the protests that is appealing to all sides of the opposition and actually reaches out to new people. This is not the end of anything, it’s just a good start.

And then, the thought strikes me. Just a thought. When the going gets tough, Chavez used to walk three steps forward, and then he would take one step back. A strategy that allowed him to retain power for 14 years.

Just think about it: What would Chavez do?

1 COMMENT

        • BTW, Quico is the dude who had retired from CC just 3 days before the storm because he “believed that anything new would happen”. Quico “The Prophet” Toro is his name, hahahhaha!

          • Actually, I think he said HE didn’t feel he had anything new to say, after X thousand posts. But he was wrong, he still does have a lot to contribute.

          • Moggie, this is what Quico said 9 days before the mass protests.

            “Francisco Toro said that his decision to cut ties with the Caracas Chronicles blog he co-founded reflects the STAGNATION that has overtaken his homeland since former President Hugo Chavez’s death last year and which makes the country LESS INTERESTING to write about.”

            There’s no NO REAL HEMISFERIC DIMENSION ANYMORE. It’s just a LOCAL STORY of a country gone crazy.”

            Again, he said that on 02/03/2014.

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/03/francisco-toro-venezuela_n_4718249.html

          • Marc, seriously:
            I might be in Europe, Quico in North America but we are Venezuelans and we know the country, like most people who visit this site. Most of us actually have lots of relatives and friends in the country.

            You are a Brazilian who has no idea of Venezuela and you write like a 15 year old brat…or someone younger. Please: stop trolling in this blog.

            Go and look for blogs about Brazil. There must be blogs about Brazil written in English so that you can practice.

          • Kepler, I’ve been trying to understand the reason why you and Quico have so much hate toward me, and I think I’m finally reaching something. I mean, I will write the most banal things like “the protests will not stop” or “Chavistas are fascists”, and you will furiously start calling me names and tell me that I should “fuck off” from this blog. Yet, I’ve seen many posts from you or Quico where you two are desperately begging for international attention to what’s going on in Venezuela.
            Example: (http://caracaschronicles.com/2014/02/20/venezuela-the-game-changed-last-night/) .

            Kind of strange, right? You do want international attention, but will always bring the country where I’m from and tell me: “You are from country A, B or C, you shouldn’t be speaking about Venezuela.” Hmmm…

            I guess the international attention you two want must come from Europe or the USA, right? I see. You won’t accept peoples from other third world countries ( which shares lots of similarities with Venezuela) joining the fight against Maduro, right? Is that what shrinks call “inferiority complex”? Well, good luck trying to make “1st world peoples” who can’t even point out Venezuela in a map be “concerned” about Venezuela. And congratulations for your efforts on trying to alienate people who actually care about what’s going on in Venezuela.

            You say that I write like a “15-year-old brat”, but if I hadn’t said my nationality, you two would not be “annoyed” with my posts.

          • If they only want Venezuelans , the posts should be in Spanish and they should close the blog to outsider.

            I think the problem is not that you are a foreigner…There are loads of foreigners opining on this blog…..It is their disagreement with your basic premises that has them so incensed.

            Actually it reminds me a bit of what is going on in the public arena of Venezuela, where people are hated for their opinions.

            Anger can get so extreme for differences in opinion that they actually jail you for it in Venezuela.

            The problem of authoritarianism is not exclusively a Chavista one.It’s just worse among them.

            Authoritarianism is present in all societies and among all people to a greater and lesser extent…

            And this is a plague that must be fought.A plague that has no borders.

          • Firepigette,

            Indeed, it’s not just “being a foreigner”, it’s a little bit more complex than that.

            It’s some sort of defence mechanism trait that is common among peoples from undeveloped/poor countries/inferior societies who emigrate to developed/rich countries/better societies.
            Many assume a hostile posture toward whom they perceive as being their “countryman” or as coming from even “inferior societies” than themselves, while assuming at the same a bootlicker/servant attitude toward the locals. There’s literature about that available.

          • oh dear…here we go again. I think I’ve told you last week. I’m sure these guys define themselves as social democrats, middle class with social conscience and all that communist crap. They all get pretty upset when someone tells the truth. And what if you’re Brazilian? Maduro is Colombian and he’s is the head of the civic-military regime that destroys Venezuela at the moment. They (and 90% of this great blog) still don’t get it: it is a continental threat what we are facing, they are trying to impose their radical policies in South America and they think you and me are conspiracy theory freaks… or disociados as their close cousins chavistas like to call us.

  1. Excellent post, and great final question. I also wonder how much is calculated and how much is spontaneous “disneyland” craziness. It’ll be a good day when we can drop our cynical guard…

  2. Good question! However Chavez wouldn’t do anything ’cause he is long gone. Our problem is that his legacy is so much worse…

  3. “What would Chavez do?”
    Same as he did in those 14 years: Either ignore and censor it, or bark a couple of stupid things in front of a microphone to divert attention somewhere else.

    “I don’t think that using words and phrases coined by President Maduro (who bashes the Spanish language as a matter of principle) is a good idea…”
    Sadly, that’s what people on this country has been doing the whole time chavism has retained power, since allowing “escuálido” to be anything else than an insult, to calling april 11 a “bloody coup by the “viejas locas del Cafetal”, to many more bullshit that has been tossed upon venezuelans “currency controls are good, chavism reduced poverty, chavez invented free education, every non-chavist is a supporter of CAP and the 4th republic…” and some more.

    The madurist ranters show how little these people have actually grown past the “school bully” brain age.

    • How do you know that?

      Also, the protests have been peaceful until tupamaros and GNB (AKA the government) turn them violent… and you can be sure that the government will ALWAYS turn peaceful protets into violent clashes and then blame LL, MCM and other FACISTS in general, including The Empire, Uribe…

      • “the protests have been peaceful until tupamaros and GNB (AKA the government) turn them violent”

        Because that is what it is convenient for the government. They want to move the protests to the violence camp and the opposition should avoid falling into that trap.

        “you can be sure that the government will ALWAYS turn peaceful protets into violent clashes”

        They may want to, but there have been many protests and rallies that have not turned violent. The important thing is for opposition protesters not to engage with the violence from the government. To not respond to violence with more violence, guarimba style.

  4. “Chavez used to walk three steps forward, and then he would take one step back.”

    Growth isn’t always linear.

    And then there is the crab, who goes backwards but arrives to his desired destination.

  5. OT, Quico: yur fren: David Frum ‏@davidfrum · 47m
    Fascinating new ideological trend: “Leftists for corrupt, homophobic, authoritarian, plutocratic & ethnically chauvinist petro-dictatorship”

  6. Chavez always threatened to “deepen the revolution” but had sense enough to see that the private sector helped feed people and generate jobs. He also knew that he needed the US oil money or the game was over. He had a grip over the poor with bombastic rhetoric and false promises that they wanted desperately to believe. Maduro is a ridiculous puppet of Havana and is leading the sheep over the cliff. He appears incapable of making a rational decision without consulting Papa Fidel. Maduro has managed to finally ignite the colonial war against the invasores who have been there for 500 years. This is Castro’s dream-to drive the invasores back to Europe by spreading his brand of communism all over Latin America.

    • I think Castro and Chavez – and Maduro and company – just want to run the coop all by themselves – story straight out of “animal farm.” It’s more about who’s exploiting whom.

      The whole “go back to Europe” (birthplace of communism, origin of at least some of their antecedents including hero Simon B. etc?) doesn’t make sense.

    • “This is Castro’s dream-to get his hands on Latin America’s oil reserves in order to finance his wealth and never and remain in impunity forever.”
      There, fixed that for ya.

        • nope. he’s of Gallego origins. from wiki: Castro was born out of wedlock at his father’s farm on August 13, 1926. His father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, was a migrant to Cuba from Galicia, Northwest Spain.

  7. Mr. Flowers, Chavez was just as much another puppet, the difference being he was a much better and original one. Those are hard to get.

    Also, the puppet-master had all attention turned to Mr. Chavez while preparing for the current state of affairs (open resistance) and while sucking dry the Venezuelan treasury.

    Waht I say is he did not have any sense at all, the masters kept the appearances and usend the no vale , yo no creo…, venezuela no es cuba romanticisms to drive people forward adecuandose paulatinamente.

    Castro inc. does not have any dream other than to retain power and remain the ruling nomenclature.

    For the record, the post missed what IMO was the highlight of the day, perhaps it was written previously, not an attack on writers and editors, just a comment:

    The Dialogue with a hand cuffed protester. (Plastic t-Rap to be precise!)
    That pictore and concept in one for the AGES!!!!

    Despierta Venezuela.

  8. The comments about Diosdado being humble. I feel absolutely terrible but that made me laugh out loud for a while. Qué cinismo!

  9. This:

    “A little-understood fact about the guarimbero movement in Altamira is that most of the students are not locals.”

    is the money quote in this article. I was at Altamira a couple of weeks ago and got exactly the same impression.

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