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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