Heroism for Our Times

Steeped in the culture of military hero worship, we've lost sight of the real courage it takes to de-escalate a conflict when it's just on the cusp of turning deadly.

Recently we witnessed a dramatic scene on Avenida Libertador. After a public demonstration to pressure the CNE, those eager to unload their rightful arrechera confronted police barricades. Or perhaps it was the other way around: maybe the cops were instructed to go round up the guys at the front of the march.

I don’t know. I’m not interested in how it started. I’m here here to talk about how it ended.

We see cops, in full retreat, faced with some extremely aggressive young men. One of the cops falls behind and is engulfed by the protesters. The cop is outnumbered seven to one and falls to the ground. The angry young men unload their fury with sticks and pipes, out of sheer rage. The attack continued with rocks, clubs, anything.

Then, just when one man was ready to crush the officer’s head with a rock, we see a flash of courage. True courage.

One guy, as young as the others, just as outnumbered as the cop, jumps in, waving hands in the air. Somehow he gets the attackers to stand down. They turn and run.  

When a crowd brays for blood, it takes true bravery to rein it in.

Heroism in non-violence

We all know that this is an amoral regime. One that is has shown itself willing to meet peaceful demonstrations with brutal violence. One that looks the other way when newborns die in hospitals for lack of simple medications and equipment.

We know also that many who oppose the regime lack the discipline or perhaps the training to carry out a truly non-violent movement.

That regime and those cabezacalientes collided head on in Avenida Libertador last week. It could have very easily ended with a dead cop in the middle of the road, his widow grieving, his family embittered. Except a hero stepped in.

A civilian hero.  

Venezuela is a country in dire need of civilian heroes. Our brief history is crammed full of military feats – the glorification of violence is the thread that runs through it. A hero is a strongman who defeats his foes. We don’t praise those who quietly worked hard to reach agreements that avoided conflict altogether. We look down on them as cowards.

My Facebook wall, my Twitter feed, my Whatsapp groups are filled with a barrage of conspiracy theories and angry tirades against colaboracionismo . Pundits fill the opinion pages arguing how those leading the MUD are in government pockets. Some rail, saying history will blame them for the debacle that we are living today. But what do these folks want? Conflict. Whether they know it or not, that’s what they want.

This to me makes no sense. Conflict is the path to more misery and greater suffering. It is the path were any civilian coalition such as the MUD is most easily defeated.

Of course, the lives they think ought to be sacrificed are never theirs. They ask someone else to provide the cannon fodder. The students. The barrios. They’re the ones who must “come down and remove these thugs from power”.  

They long for a conflict with a government that has all the firepower and would think nothing about gunning down an angry young man waving a club and throwing some rocks. Their indignation cloaks an abysmal irresponsibility.

Mediation

Last week, saw the fledgeling start of a set of mediated talks between the Government and the Opposition in the Dominican Republic, with former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero leading the mediation. The talks were meant to be secret, but were leaked almost instantly. The fact that a country needs foreign mediation when no real war is taking place shows how bad the situation has gotten.

Those who, consciously or not, long for conflict are foaming at the mouths at the mere idea of talks. Talks that haven’t even really begun. They remind us of what happened with the 2014 “peace talks” that ended up just giving the government enough breathing space to crush the protests. They remind us of the urgency of regime change. As if we didn’t know. As if our families and friends weren’t also hungry.

Those voices remind me of the angry young men in that video with clubs and rocks, ready to pounce in senseless, doomed aggression. What many don’t see is that petty police officer on the floor is also a Venezuelan, another victim of the crisis. These pundits are willing to smash the officer’s  head with a rock thinking, that by doing so, they hurt that corrupt clique we loathe. But those in power hate the officer as much as they hate us. The officer is just as dispensable as is anyone who opposes the regime.

We hate the idea of talking to these people, we distrust the whole thing, starting with mediators that have shown support for Chavez over and over. We think MUD’s willingness to even consider talking to them casts doubt on their commitment. We feel anyone willing to sit around listening to Jorge Rodríguez doesn’t — can’t — represent the opposition anymore. But they are that guy trying to keep the country from having its head smashed in by our passion and our rage.

There is a chance that Chavismo will stay in power, despite everything.

If so, conflict is almost certain. It will be a conflict where we will contribute the bulk of the bodies and they will contribute the bullets. We should be thankful MUD is waving its hands around, trying clumsily — but, who knows, perhaps effectively — to call off the angry young men with the clubs.

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