Motorizado Rising: Riding with Miguel Pizarro’s campaign

Lissette Gonzalez chronicles a day in the life of one of the opposition's most exciting campaigns, while holding on for dear life on a moto taxi.

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During the 2014 protests against the government, chavista motorcycle gangs became a symbol of intimidation, repression and fear. Fast forward to the 2015 election campaign, and opposition legislator and current candidate Miguel Pizarro tours Petare’s slums escorted by a motorcycle gang of his own.

The Mesa de Unidad’s (MUD) campaign headquarters for the Miranda 3 circuit is located in La California, in a small warehouse on a ground floor and no identifying features except for the Primero Justicia and MUD flags waving from the balcony above. As I approach, I’m amazed by the 20 motorbikes parked just outside the entrance, waiting for the day’s tour to begin.

The candidate is 27 year old Miguel Pizarro. A former UCV student leader from the Generación del 2007, he made his name helping to organize protests against the chavista shut-down of opposition TV station RCTV. He was elected in 2010 as a alternate representative (suplente) from the state of Táchira before the National Assembly, and his profile has risen quickly as he’s established a reputation as a hard-working political activist with an inside line to Henrique Capriles.

His glasses and beard make him seem older than he really is, but I can still make out the tattoos on his forearms through the long sleeve blue shirt he always wears when campaigning. He certainly doesn’t look like a traditional Venezuelan político to me.

Inside headquarters, a campaign staff as young as Pizarro discusses the day’s route and assigns responsibilities. The under-furnished offices seem to be still under construction: stencil molds bearing Pizarro’s face and slogan are propped up against the whitewashed walls. Motorcycle helmets are the only decoration over the cornice in front of the stairway.

Motos frente al comando

Time is up and everyone in the office gets on a moto taxi. I put on my helmet and nervously join the group of 20 bikers, who are all wearing yellow t-shirts with Miguel Pizarro’s face; some of them hold flags. They seem at ease riding across the Francisco de Miranda Avenue and turning south onto Río de Janeiro. Meanwhile, I grab on to my biker in terror (almost like a sweetheart hug), trying not to fall.

Middle-class people tend to think of ‘Petare’ as a giant, homogenous shantytown, but petareños don’t talk about it that way. Each section of slum is considered a separate barrio, with its own identity and concerns, its own community leaders and culture.

Today, we begin in one of the older, more established barrios in Petare, El Carpintero. Located atop a hill on the southeast corner of Petare, El Carpintero is known for its sizable proportion of Colombian residents who came to Venezuela decades ago. In the past few years El Carpintero has also fallen victim to violent crime, and its neighbors are terrorized by local thugs and drug gangs.

We exit to La Línea Street and begin climbing up towards the spot in El Carpintero where the candidate’s walkabout will start. Here’s where things get scary; streets are narrow and winding, and several times traffic has to be stopped so we can pass. At the designated meeting spot, local activists and a truck with huge speakers are waiting. Soon the recording blares: “aquí viene Miguel Pizarro, el candidato del cambio.” The music begins and the crowd gathers around the downhill procession, and we begin to walk.

He says that if the country reacts the same way Petare does, change will be unstoppable. Change that won’t come from a messiah, but from the people’s will and organization.

Once the candidate and our group are dropped off, the squad of moto taxis rush off to wait at the spot where the march is slated to end to take us back toheadquarters. They get paid for this job, but not as much as they would make on a regular working day selling moto taxi rides. They stay because they want to, because they also want a political change. Alongside the group, a 12 year-old girl rides her scooter beside her dad. She doesn’t want to miss the action.

The candidate walks at a fast pace while music blares, flags wave and people blow whistles. He waves to the public and stops now and then to shake a neighbor’s hand. Pizarro tells me this is the third time he walks through this community. The first was months ago, and he spent 3 to 4 hours going door to door, listening to local problems and reaching out to neighborhood leaders. On his second visit, he went to meeting places between sectors, and he’s now walking with all those followers as a show of strength. There are no signs of pro-government colectivos during the tour, not a single intimidation attempt.

As the opposition march makes its way downhill, the barrio changes. Up in El Carpintero ranchos made of wooden boards predominate, but as you approach Mesuca, houses are better built, formal shops appear beside a sport center with a pool and playground, built by Primero Justicia’s Mayor Ocariz.

The diversity in living conditions is plain to see. The tour passes in front of a Barrio Adentro CDI (the central government-built medical diagnostics center) and people waiting outside wave their hands to the candidate. In each sector a new group of local activists joins the crowd.

Balcón 1

The walk ends at El Carmen, in Barrio Unión. Next to the El Carmen Church there is a small square along with a clinic and pharmacy set up by Fundasucre, a municipally funded social program. There, a stand is already set up and playing music as campaign workers hand out soft drinks and snacks for those arriving with the march.

Pizarro steps in and greets everybody. He tells me he believes personal contact is very important. To make political change happen, being different is not only about wearing a different color, but about acting differently: being close to people, knowing about their problems, and focusing on organization. Shut out from broadcast media coverage, political campaigns need to be done in a different way, so he gives priority to walking around the circuit’s streets and broadcast his message through social networks. Today his strategy appears to be working.

As we get back on our moto taxis to return to La California, we leave behind a festive crowd.  Local activists dance, and the march has turned into a party. Across the street a house has a sign that reads “Colectivo Barrio es Unión”. The door remains closed.

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The candidate

When we reach headquarters, the mototaxis have finished their job and leave until the next day. Now that his work has ended for the day, I ask Pizarro about the campaign, and he says this circuit is like a tiny Venezuela: wealthy areas like Urbanización Miranda, struggling middle class sectors like La California, and low-income sectors as the Petare slums.

He says that if the country reacts the same way Petare does, change will be unstoppable. He says change won’t come from a messiah, but from the people’s will and organization. That’s the kind of democracy he is committed to, while he lives a normal life in his rented apartment and riding a motorbike to get through the traffic as so many Caraqueños do.

He is a political leader who doesn’t want to be distant from the common people’s problems. We’ll see if this is what Petare’s citizens are willing to vote for.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Good post! Miguel (among many others) represents the youth called to succeed our veteran politicians when the time of the hardest work comes: the time of rebuilding Venezuela. Hope to see more coverage of MUD candidates’ campaign, especially of young and fellow ‘justicieros’ ones.

  2. Amidst the depressing and infuriating news about the continuous abuses and atrocities made by chavista dictatorship, this article raises the hopes and morale a bit more.

  3. For all the dirty tricks and disgusting actions the government is doing trying to get William Ojeda elected, it’s not going to change the fact that Miguel Pizarro will return to the National Assembly on 6D, and Ojeda won’t.

  4. Excelente, espero que si gana no sucumba a la tentación populista que nos tiene hundidos en el actual pozo séptico (aunque si soy honesto, creo que ese va a ser el caso)
    Es interesante como los candidatos de la MUD evitan a toda costa hablar sobre la principal causa del desmadre económico que vive el país: la pretensión de convertir a Venezuela en un paraíso socialista donde todo es regulado y controlado por el estado, donde se castiga el éxito y se premia la mediocridad.
    Si las encuestas están en lo cierto, después de las elecciones vamos a tener una asamblea básicamente formada por gente que en su programa (si es que lo tienen) no difieren mucho del chavismo. Mucho menos ridículos sí, pero en esencia creyentes de lo mismo.

    • Hola! No evitó el toma económico, yo no le pregunté. Quizás en otra oportunidad me ocupe de las ideologías de los distintos candidatos y partidos. Saludos y gracias por leer!

      • Gracias a ti Lissette por escribir esta crónica. Dado el cerco mediático al que nos enfrentamos se agradece el post!

        Sería interesante ver que proponen los candidatos ante lo que le viene al país: Deben tener criterio muy claro para no repetir los mismos errores del pasado. Especialmente considerando en el en mediano plazo es lógico esperar que los precios del petróleo se van a recuperar y podemos caer en un ciclo de alto gasto orgánico y cero inversión como lo hizo Chávez durante el pasado ciclo de altos ingresos

    • Unfortunately, in Latin America people tend to associate right-wing ideology with rich people, the “elite”, evil businessman, as if to increase GDP, create jobs and attract investments by creating a good environment to do business would ‘harm’ the poor… The same poor that would give everything to live in, say, Texas! We have a long way to go still…

      • Well, that is true. Probably part of a wider problem that started in the 60’s and 70’s when it was fashionable to be part of the hard left, support guerrilla warfare and attending Theology of Liberation preaches (Thanks Mr Bosh for that!) somehow that generation and their political acolytes are still running the show down there.
        What in LATAM is considered right wing, here in the UK would may will be centre-left or moderate left. I hope our countries can get to be governed some day by technocrats, despised in the 80’s and 90’s but clearly needed today to face the meltdown of some of the biggest countries of the subcontinent (Argentina, Venezuela and to a lesser extend Brazil)

        • Exactly, what is happening in our countries is no accident, the left won the cultural war by infiltrating the media, the universities, the church (the ‘Theology of Liberation’ you mentioned) throughout the decades and imposing their ideology to the masses, making them think that their way was the only one acceptable. That any other path would result in extreme unfairness, terrible social inequality and harm the poor tremendously. That if you are right-wing, you are the most horrible kind of human being walking in this planet. That everyone should receive receive free education, free healthcare, free refrigerators, free microwave ovens, free cars , free everything, etc, even if that means the economy collapsing in the long run and what is already a poor society becoming even poorer… And they do that because, well, they ‘care’ about poor. It’s as if left loved the poor so much that they sometimes suffocate them during the hug.

          And now we are witnessing the predictable end of the party. And it’s sour, and it’s sad, and the masses are feeling ‘betrayed’ and unemployed, even though the left has never hidden their despise for the private sector and their hand to mouth approach.

          The truth is that if not even the opposition has the guts to lecture the people that another way is possible, showing them that the poor are actually happier and richer in countries will less governamental intervention, who ever will? If nobody, then actual change won’t happen, and I fear that the poor will be doomed for decades, while the middle and upper-class abandon the country.

        • I agree with both of you: lack of economic freedom has created the crisis we are going through and that needs to be changed. But I’m afraid of technocrats! Whoever tries to make hard economic adjustments “by the book” and without political consensus is doomed to repeat 90’s failure. And social problems cannot be overseen. No economic growth or political stabillity will be possible with a population without enough health or human capital. No investments will come from abroad in a context so violent and insecure. Those issues also have to be dealt with. How to do so strengthening democratic institutions is the great challenge we will face (soon, I hope so!). Thanks for reading!

          • Hey, Lissette, I agree that social problems cannot be overseen. I just don’t believe in bankrupting economies with the pretense of ‘helping the poor’ like our dear leaders like to do so often, and I don’t precisely because the most damaged when such situations happen are the poor themselves.

            They end up with no jobs in a bankrupt economy with terrible public services to count on: the worst of both worlds. Just look at Venezuela, or Argentina, or Brazil. You are afraid of technocrats, yet I believe that the poor should be much more afraid of Chavistas and ‘well-intentioned’ socialists.

  5. “while he lives a normal life in his rented apartment and riding a motorbike to get through the traffic as so many Caraqueños do.”

    So how much is the rent for his apartment, 15 minimum salaries? I thought housing was free, same as electricity, healthcare, cellphones, cable tv, gas and public transportation. In Petare or la California all of that must be free. Or the motorizados somehow make way more money that “minimum wage”. Somehow..

  6. OT: there’s a dillema with Squire Patton Boggs… the optics are beyond horrible. The Sr. Managing partner, Al Cardenas, who should be the voice and face of the narconephew, is silent. Why? Because he is Jeb Bush’s right hand man and the Republican party in SoFla. The law firm is also in a bind. Even if AC could represent narconephew, he is not the man for the job. There are other attorneys in Miami that can improve that boys chance. These are attorneys with track records in similar cases that go far beyond anything SPB has done.

  7. One thing that seems to be missing in Miguel Pizarro’s campaign is constant harassment from Chavista groups. Nothing was mentioned in the article. Maybe Miguel can roam around with peace and not fear for his life for talking against the government.

    Times are changing. This is a very positive article.

  8. Such a pretty piece of propaganda but I wonder about Pizarro’s ties with leftims, which he bravely admits (Allende’s fan but he protests against long lines and Rule of law demolition, leftist and guerrilla family in Venezuela but oh well, we should put an end to violence while he defends his parents as pluralists, and so on). I still remember his comparison of Maduro policies as a CAP “Paquetazo”. And, oh sorpresa, he has both a direct line with Capriles and Juan Carlos Caldera.

    Whatever, he is a great patea barrio and rides his bike with criminals, just as every politician in Venezuela that wants to enter a ghetto.

  9. The “puke quote”

    “opposition legislator and current candidate Miguel Pizarro tours Petare’s slums escorted by a motorcycle gang of his own.”

    Nothing says “change” like relying on the very same guys terrorizing this country to make a campaign.

    Thanks for reminding us about how opposition candidates use chavismo tools, while conveying such an empty message as: “look, riding among thieves is cool so long as you dress them blue”.

    Opposition will be crushed this time, once again. And not by gerrymandering nor fraud: The sheer weight of unwillingness to vote will.

    For this fucktard of a candidate, motorizados are the only kind of people worth fighting for.

  10. Couple of readers have written that a candidate is related to criminal offenders because he has motobikers with him. That is prejudice! In a country with lack of decent public transportation service and with car prices too high for working people to buy (even if they are lucky enough to find one), motorciclyes become the only transportation most families can afford. Try posting in any international blog that all muslims are terrorists or all black men are thieves, you will get hundreds of respones calling you racist. It is equally wrong to call everyone with a motorcycle a delinquent. That kind of class prejudice, widely present, is a key factor explaining why popular sectors have not been willing to vote for opposition candidates. I have here bad news to tell: poor people are entitled to vote and they are more than middle and upper class together. So, whether you like it or not, any candidate need those votes to win an election. Unless you don’t like democracy, of course.

    • Flaws in your reasonement.

      1- democracia is all about a shitton things more than just voting.

      2- motorbikers often ARE criminal offenders, if you bring tránsito las violations and other things to the table. You have to be atrociously blind to negate this as a fact

      I think you think poor people are entitled to stuff (like wreaking havok on bikes) just because they are poor and politicians SHOULD embrace wrongdoing as standard to appease them. Al populacho le fascinan las motos, así que hay que apoyarlos.

      What a way of mear fuera del perol

  11. […] 今年の選挙運動では、先週コヘデス州でティントリがコレクティボと呼ばれるチャベス派の集団から執拗な攻撃を受けるまで、暴力は見られなかった。その数日後、ペタレでミゲル・ピサロが遊説中に襲撃を受けたが、 政府はこれに対して一切の声明を出さなかった。 […]

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