Public opinion focused yesterday on Nacho’s speech at the National Assembly, but all around Caracas commemorations were held for a date of renewed relevance. Dia de la Juventud wasn’t meant to mark the launch of the 2014 street protest movement – but today, that’s entirely what it’s about.
February 12th was once about remembrance of the Battle of La Victoria in 1812, where José Félix Ribas and a bunch of students defended that city from a royalist (pro-spanish) attack lead by José Tomás Boves. That battle was won by the rebels and since 1947 this episode was decreed as National Youth Day and ever since has been celebrated at schools and universities.
That’s why student movement in 2014 chose February 12th to protest against the jailing of student activists in San Cristóbal and Margarita days earlier. A rally went to Av. Universidad, in Downtown Caracas. That afternoon Bassil Dacosta and Juancho Montoya were shot, later in the evening Robert Redman was also killed in Chacao. After those incidents, protest spread across Venezuela for months, supporting the call made by Leopoldo López, María Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma: “#LaSalida”. The cost was high with so many people dead and the leaders imprisoned or illegally removed of their offices.
Two years on, February 12th is more fraught than ever. The political landscape is transformed, but opposition activists from that era are still sitting in jail, and no police or GNB officer has been convicted for the killings.
The National Assembly chose to celebrate National Youth Day and selected a young artist to give a keynote address. But others gathered to remember the start of the era of repression and remember the political prisoners.
Fundeci, a local Human Right NGO that organized legal defense for many of the students detained in 2014, created the “Order Bassil Dacosta” to recognize political prisoners. Yesterday’s ceremony was held at the Colegio de Abogados del Distrito Capital in El Paraíso, a beautiful big old house with granite floor that gives just a glimpse of how Caracas at the turn of the 20th Century.
I was there because of my parents, who are among the long list of people detained in 2014. I went there reluctantly, but it was good to see again all those families with whom we shared almost a year of visits to El Helicoide.
It began with a mass for the second anniversary of Bassil Dacosta’s death. Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma’s families were also there, sharing with other families whose imprisoned relatives are not considered newsworthy. After the mass, Fundeci leaders explained why them and Jeneth, Bassil’s mother, decided to organize a homage for political prisoners and their families. They showed a video with Bassil’s photos, his last
Facebook posts before heading off to the march, pictures of him surfing, playing sports, or with his girlfriend. Typical young guy stuff. The whole room was soon in tears – a sad, quiet mourning that hasn’t let up over two years. When the auditorium lights came up, we recomposed ourselves and rummaged for kleenex in our purses. It was intense.
But that wasn’t the only conmemoration held yesterday.
At 4 p.m., in Plaza Los Palos Grandes, there was a more overtly political act, to celebrate National Youth Day. When I arrived, a giant Venezuelan flag with seven stars fluttered and there was music while organizers set everything up. Mercedes Sosa singing “Me gustan los estudiantes” and then Soledad Bravo with “Canción del elegido”. That one was interrupted and then began “Mi felicidad”.
It is hard to listen to those old canciones de protesta the same way as we did 30 years ago! Maybe someone noticed, and changed it. I’m not sure.
The host was Melanio Escobar (@melaniobar) and he introduced the speakers for the evening: politicians, human rights activists, student movement leaders like Juan Requesens – now an A.N. deputy – Nizar El-Fakih and Hassler Iglesias. They all talked to the students, about how youth would build Venezuela’s future. The fallen were remembered with a minute of silence, students that still are facing trial were there, keeping a low profile; they don’t want to go back to jail. Activists, NGO’s, families.
We were all there.
But we are still not talking about what happened in 2014, to learn about our politics, to figure out how we can end this political crisis. Protests in the streets lead nowhere, but it’s also true we won a national election last year and still we seem stuck in the middle of a conflict with no idea of how to move on.
How we can create a different future without discussing about our deeds and failures?