Getting the message across


ffe2783c7c4f92b60760b8eda7f9d299The student movement is not only using new media to spread its case to the public. They’re also visiting some of Caracas’ slums to convince their residents and counter the negative image presented by the government and its communicational hegemony.

But, as this excellent dispatch from the Associated Press’ Frank Bajak and Fabiola Sáchez shows, the task they face is not easy:

In two hours of knocking on doors and canvassing shop owners in the hilltop barrio of El Morro, accompanied by a local auto mechanics teacher allied with the opposition, the students get a polite but mostly cool reception. Most people barely engage them. Some, like 79-year-old retired plumber Valentin Castillo, openly dismiss them.

“You’re killing a lot of people, torching cars. You’re against us, against everyone,” Castillo says, raising his voice. “Exactly. We agree with you. We’re against the blockades, too,” says Viscuna, trying to get in a word. But Castillo doesn’t buy it…

Some people the students meet say they, too, are fed up enough with worsening food shortages, crippling inflation and unchecked violent crime – the very maladies that precipitated the unrest – and would take to the streets, too, but for their fear of pistol-packing pro-government posses known as “colectivos” that have violently suppressed dissent. The colectivos have been implicated in at least six protest-related killings, only one in metropolitan Caracas.

Katherin Castillo, a 35-year-old single mother of five, and her neighbors are exhausted by the roulette that food shopping has become, of spending hours in queues outside state-run supermarkets in hopes that flour, milk, cooking oil will show up at subsidized prices.

On this morning, chicken is all Castillo has on offer at the storefront canteen where she serves cheap breakfasts. “I would go out and protest. But I’m afraid,” Castillo says after the students leave. “The colectivos are abusing their power, and a mother can’t take risks.”

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  1. ““You’re killing a lot of people, torching cars. You’re against us, against everyone,” Castillo says, raising his voice…”
    Sounds like that woman who said the queues for buying food were good because “maduro suffered a lot to bring us the food”

    “…but for their fear of pistol-packing pro-government posses known as “colectivos” that have violently suppressed dissent.”
    It’s a very difficult place most of people in Venezuela are now, it’s really frustrating.

  2. The opposition has been hitting the barrios for years, but now we need to start over because the students threw a hissy fit?

    You know what the students should do? Talk to the folks who have been in the barrios for years. Get to know them. Get to know the people they work with – the community leaders, etc. THEN we can talk.

    Besides, what are they doing this for? I thought the whole point of the protest movement was that convincing people’s hearts and minds was useless… This just strikes me as tone-deaf.

      • “Hoy me duele mi Venezuela tan dividida, me duele el grado que han alcanzado nuestros desacuerdos. Me duele una Venezuela que sufre; pero confío en que el amor que los venezolanos sentimos por nuestra patria nos permitirá superar la intolerancia que ha dominado el escenario político en los últimos años, para dar paso al debate democrático y a la recuperación de la confianza en las instituciones. No podemos darnos el lujo de continuar divididos.”

        Ana, are you saying that my writing resembles drivel such as that? That hurts…

        • Gustavo Cisneros, who hasn’t lived physically in Venezuela for some time, and who hobnobs in NYC/Washington “promoting” democracy in the Council For The Americas, sold out “his” country Venezuela and its democracy after the Referendum in a deal personally brokered by Jimmy Carter with Chavez, whereby VeneVision ceased to criticize the Govt. and fired anti-Govt. critics such as Napoleon Bravo. This man is a despicable anti-democratic cynic and should be recognized as such in the genteel Cafe Society circles internationally in which he maneuvers.

    • So you call a “hissy fit” all that has happened in the last six weeks?, quite an understatement. Be thankful to them, this may be the start of something good for this country after so many years of dictatorship.

      Seems to be that all these “barriologos” who happen to be in the barrios since the dawn of man had done NOTHING then. Seems to be that the mere existence of the barrio is their savia, what gives them a purpose on life (Morons like Saverio Vivas come to mind). Barriologos have done nothing, barriologos are useless. Barriologos perpetuate the common thinking that “whe should improve the barrio” instead of getting rid of it for the better.

      An hour ago, Enzo Scarano, Mayor of San Diego at Valencia, who already HAD the holy grail of “mayoria” with 75% support, was convicted and jailed in SIX HOURS. So take a big cup of “mayoria”.

      “Mayoria” was useless to this guy, who now sees himself sacked from office and thrown behind bars for ten months.

      So, what do we do?, we waste another fifteen years trying to conform a “mayoria” out of people who dont give a F* about this country and are too busy chasing pollo at mercal?. We follow Capriles` strategy of “el tiempo de dios es perfecto”.

      This country is in the VERY verge of a civil war, and all we do is thinking in how “barriologos” can change the odds for good measure.

      Barriologos can *ck themselves that is.

      • Right. The time for slow-go barrio majority build is past, and wouldn’t work anyway against this Castro-Cuban regime. The bloom is off the rose, and the s— is about to really hit the fan.

  3. We tend to talk about “the” student movement as though it was one thing. My sense is that the student movement is just a lot more fractured and diverse than we realize. It’s great that some of these kids are grasping that setting a guarimba on fire and throwing a rock at a cop does not a strategy make. I bet they were sane back in January, too, though.

  4. These students are courageous and deserve recognition because at least they are doing something for the country, but I think this is of little consequence right now. Not only people are scared to join the protests but poor people have to deal with obvious challenges that prevent them from joining the protests.

    These visits need to be more organized, well funded, with specific messages, throughout the big cities and densely populated barrios; and most importantly, during a safe time. This is the perfect thing to do 1-2 weeks before an election.

  5. OT:

    The Chavistas – in a very very stupid and naive move – have arrested the mayor of San Cristóbal, which is “only” the epicenter of this whole crisis. The students are calling for mass protests all over the country. The country is boiling.

    • Ceballos, San Cristobal mayor, is awaiting the same, as will MCM. Thirty+ masked thugs entered the UCV today and beat up innocent students with pipes. UCV classes are cancelled until further notice. It really is now or never, and it will be drawn out further until something breaks badly.

      • Scarano from San Diego Valencia was deposed from his elected post and condemned to prison, Ceballos is detained but awaiting the same, LL has been formally charged with multiple offenses totalling at least 30 years’ prison time and remains in prison awaiting trial who-knows-when, Baduel’s son has been detained in Maracay, and MCM had better not return to the Country for now or she’ll receive the same.

        • Venezuelans on twitter are truly desperate!!! Colectivos beating people everywhere, invading homes, GNB arresting hundreds, the situation is so out of control that even Chavistas are complaining about colectivos beating their children, see:

          Tonight is occuring the Venezuelan version of the Night of the Long Knives, Very very sad. I don’t even know what to think about it. Or they remove Maduro or a deadly civil war will begin.

  6. I think there’s a real serious issue here with the “branding”, if I may be so bold, of these protests.

    As long as they are labeled “student” protests, they’ll get no real traction as a serious ongoing issue. I freely admit not all media outlets identify them as such, but in virtually every story, there’s a paragraph mentioning student protests or how the core are students.

    Until its presented as more of a mainstream demonstration and sheds the “student” image, it will be bound to the student stereotype: young, idealistic, desirous of change, but also, mercurial, gone in a month or a year, and lacking real staying power as student mores rise and fall.

    Seriously, how many “student” protests do we hear about every year and how much comes form them? They happen in the US with some consistency and I recall France, Quebec, the UK, Chile and Brazil recently. But what ultimately became of them and, unless you were there, do you recall what most of them wanted? People expect students to protest; that’s why they go to school: to learn about the world and try and change it. Not their fault if they don’t do it in a terribly effective manner.

    As long as the protesters are young and take up the symbolisms of hoodlum-style protests elsewhere (give up the Guy Fawkes masks!) it will simply be viewed as a bunch of discontented kids no different than the Occupy snots who couldn’t muster a coherent theory or the WTO freaks that rioted just to riot.

    When you get 80 year old abuelas out there in a line hectoring the GNB with wooden spoons and those uniquely Venezuelan ear twists and that makes headlines…THEN and only then will people really notice. That or the body count will have to climb much, much higher.


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