Democracy rests on a few basic principles, one of which is that people have a right to free assembly. Right now, free assembly is not illegal, but we live in an environment that has made it an arduous task.
Free assembly is impeded by a variety of factors. Soaring crime rates are arguably planned, or some sort of collateral effect from sheer incompetence. The tough economic situation, where you can afford the basic things, but you need to sink many hours in their collection also makes gathering harder. Every hour you spend at a Mercal line it’s an hour you don’t spend working with your community. We simply don’t have time for citizens’ assemblies.
This may be all be part of a secret agenda or a side effect from the terrible economic policies set forth. The consequence is that Venezuelans have a hard time gathering publicly to debate, discuss, and more importantly, to reach a consensus.
The PSUV, in its warfare politics, has used everything at its command to instill the idea the disagreeing with the government equates treason. In some cases it is some sort of moral treason. In others “this act of treason” has dire legal consequences.
In spite of this, those who oppose the make up a sizable chunk. Let’s say that chunk is approximately half the nation with an error bar.
So within this context protests are a must.
What about other alternatives? We know that any violent solution against a petro-state is futile – everything from people’s unwillingness to the resources that such a struggle will require mean the idea isn’t viable.
The next thing below violence is the guarimbas (barricades). Roadblocks have long been a form of protest that communities everywhere have used to get the attention of the authorities when other means of doing so have failed. When communities don’t get drinking water in a week and they have been calling the water utility company with no response, they will march to the closest road … and block traffic. After a few hours, someone from the water company with some local government reps show up, they take note of the problem, they lay out a plan for a solution, and everyone goes back home.
Roadblocks as a protest in the context of demands for greater civil liberties … will lead nowhere. They are effective when you need one specific issue sorted. They aren’t effective when you are after a complete reform of the system.
When dealing with civil liberties the goal is much more intangible. People who shut down roads for things like “democracy” still seek the attention of the authorities, but their problem is more intractable. In a way, the guarimberos are like teenage kids seeking parental attention, sometimes even violently.
What we need is a different type of protest. We need a protest that gets the people’s attention, not the authorities’. There have been already great examples of it, but the Gocho/Ukraine struggle plus 2002 stink makes some believe that there is a short-cut.
We need protests that we can be proud of, that lift our self-esteem. Ones that makes people say :”you are right, I shouldn’t put up with ________ either”. (Fill the blank with crime rates, scarcity, long lines, low income, high inflation, hospitals, justice, chavismo, etc.)
I don’t know if the change Venezuela requires will happen via the ballot box, but I do know that whenever change occurs, it will need popular support. That’s where the our energy should be focused on.
Activism and protests are essential to achieve that. Our protest movement should strive for the tipping point in popular support, one in which change becomes not only necessary but inevitable. Once we achieve massive support, then the PSUV will have to decide which road they wish to depart on.
Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported.
Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.Donate