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.

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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.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Rodrigo, when I saw this video, the first thing I noticed was this “hero” as well. And also the attacker yielding last minute and holding back from crashing this policeman’s head open with the brick in his hand.

    Both acts of decency and wisdom, unable to act in cold blood, the kid backed away. The good Samaritan helping the cop in the median. (the cop was almost hit over by a passing vehicle as well, it could have ended really bad!!!

    Your write up is excellent. i agree with most of it, specially the part of a needed dialogue, now, I think it fails in a primal assumption, failed premise: you assume and state the policemen to be Venezuelan and also a victim of the “current crisis”

    I think this is key to the whole analysis. What if you take this person to be the direct agent of an occupation force? how would your analysis change? Would you still recommend and support dialogue? how would the terms change?

    In my mind, we are failing in our analysis, I know the public discourse and the private analysis by the opposition need to be separate, but really,

    who do we see in that cop!!!?

    Key question imo.

    • Here is the thing LuisF, I don’t think the guy holding the rock is evil. He was simply taken over by his anger. Only when someone intervened he realized what was happening.

      The cop is not a victim. For sure. But that doesn’t mean he or she deserved to be crush under a brick.

      • btw I meant to say the violence is needed.

        These thugs will not leave power without pressure. Its not about being evil nor not, of course these policemen deserve the violence they are getting. Nothing personal mind you, its about who they represent) its about being effective in the resistance you are intending.

        You do not negotiate with a burglar that has broken into your house, you either take him out or he takes you out. So far in Venezuela we have more of the later unfortunately. Beginning with our military, we have been taken out by the invader.

        …either we remain submissive, or we revolt. Stark clear choices IMO. Violence is not in congruent with non violent means as well, both need to be advanced, and all means need to be empowered to the liberation of venezuela.

        Or not.

  2. Good post Rodrigo.
    I agree completely in the first part about non-violence and the need to have that kind of hero.

    But I disagree that negotiations are good. Not because I believe the MUD is in the governments pocket or that it is a sign of cowardice. I do not believe that. Neither am I hoping for violent conflict (violent conflict, because we are already in conflict).

    It is because negotiations with the government do not provide any advantage to the opposition. The government is just trying to buy some time.

    Exert from:
    “From Dictatorship to Democracy” Gene Sharp
    Chapter 2 The dangers of negotiations.
    http://goo.gl/XUJdCc

    “Democrats should be wary of the traps that may be deliberately
    built into a negotiation process by the dictators. The call for
    negotiations when basic issues of political liberties are involved may
    be an effort by the dictators to induce the democrats to surrender
    peacefully while the violence of the dictatorship continues. In those
    types of conflicts the only proper role of negotiations may occur at
    the end of a decisive struggle in which the power of the dictators
    has been effectively destroyed and they seek personal safe passage
    to an international airport.”

    • Your point is valid and yet entirely too optimistic.

      Without negotiations, do you really believe that peaceful demonstration would be enough? I would very much like to believe this, but perhaps I’m too much of a cynic…

      On the other hand, the last thing I would advocate is violence, which leads me to the conclusion that we must seek to negotiate with the empowered zoo… however unpleasant, however fruitless it may seem.

      Maybe you’re right, who knows… but we aren’t saints. No matter how peacefully we may protest, there will always be retaliation if our faces are continually stepped on… sometimes quite literally.

      I can imagine the hero of the video thinking: “La culpa no es tuya y no mereces morir así… pero toma tu coñazo, mamagüevo!”

      • The point of non-violent struggle is not to “convince” those in power to be converted and suddenly be nice. No, it is to rob them of their power structure by convincing the people and institutions that support them. For instance the police they use to repress the demonstrators. Instead of attacking them the objective should be to win them for the cause.

        When Milosevic tried to steal the election in Serbia, the opposition after 10 days of demonstrations called for a rally in the capital city. The police following orders blockaded the roads leading to the city with trucks. But by that time the police were not fully supporting the dictator and when the demonstrators when and talk to them they did not offered any resistance to them removing the trucks. Turning the police was key to deposing Milosevic.

        https://goo.gl/JJWctU

  3. I have wondered about why it is so hard to see the “other” as human for the opposition. The cop on the street is not the enemy, nor is it the poor private in the army. They have families and struggles just like everyone else in the country.

    The cop is more than expendable; the greatest thing for the government would be if he had been brutally murdered in front of cameras on the street. Then they could say, “See? They are the violent ones. They are the cause, not the result, of our problems.”

    A dead cop is worth much more to the government than any child dead from missing cancer medications. Worth more than any protester gunned down in the street. More than any family killed in their homes over a small amount of money and food.

    I see many, including commentators on this blog that would not settle for anything less than prison (or worse!) for Maduro/Cabello and his cronies. However, I do not see that happening. If you can negotiate them out, do so.

    Otherwise, you will be paying in blood. More than enough to sate the most bloodthirsty of your countrymen. Enough to drown the nation.

  4. A hero is someone who thru sheer exercise of his conscious will overcomes some spontaneous or natural instinct (be it of rage or fear) and acts in a way that defies such natural instinct and does honour to his dignity and capacity for self command. For 17 years now the oppo has been the subject of insults , violence ,and a hundred other abuses …….., where circumsntaces allow such oppo person to express that anger against one of his tormenter to refrain from violence requires an heroic restraint . so yes the act of those two were indeed heroic. …………!! But the anger and violence was not unnatural , it was perfectly in tune with the normal instincts of a human being .!! If ever the tables are turned and the capacity for abuse and violence were given to those now in the oppo camp .hope they show the same restraint in their treatment of protesting Chavistas …..!!

  5. How quick to validate the actions of the young man to hero status when not so long ago a female GN thug was bashing in the head of a vulnerable young woman.
    Whilst I completely disagree with the aggressive actions towards the policeman I cannot help but remember that 60% of the voting population voted for a man with blood on his hands as President.
    So whilst the video may be seen as shocking there’s also something very Venezuelan in the street scene. And good luck with the mediation.

  6. ¿Por qué no escribir un artículo sobre las personas que fueron detenidas y torturadas ese mismo día?A mí más bien me cuesta entender cómo una sociedad que tiene cortes frecuentes de electricidad, escasez severa de alimentos, medicinas, y agua potable, cuya moneda no vale literalmente nada, etcétera, se toma todo con tanta calma.
    Hace poco leí un artículo que decía “no nos podemos convertir en lo que criticamos”. A mí eso me parece un análisis muy simple, muy superficial, muy pobre Para convertirnos en lo que criticamos no basta golpear a un policía ni quemar un caucho ni trancar una calle: habría que arruinar enteramente un país. Esta semana supe de tres casos cercanos de personas que habían muerto por falta de medicinas. En Venezuela hay que defender el derecho a la vida. Y eso significa que hay que defender la protesta aunque a veces algunos manifestantes incurran en excesos. Esto es una paradoja que debe ser aceptada o no vamos a lograr nada nunca. Por supuesto que hay que conducir las protestas de tal manera que éstas no generen violencia o generen la menor violencia posible. Pero si ocurren ciertos hechos violentos, pues, hay que aceptarlos como una consecuencia más de la tragedia que estamos viviendo. Si nuestros líderes fueran líderes auténticos podrían llevar a miles de personas al CNE, incluso a Miraflores, y nadie lanzaría una piedra. Un verdadero líder tiene ese poder: el poder de guiar a las personas hacia la resolución de sus conflictos. Yo estuve en la Francisco de Miranda el día que Leopoldo López se entregó. Me llamó la atención que ese día no ocurrió ningún hecho de violencia más allá de la simple disuasión de la protesta. ¿Saben por qué? Porque Leopoldo López le dijo a la gente que se quedara tranquila y la gente le hizo caso. Eso es lo que puede hacer un líder de verdad. Un líder no dice “vamos a suspender nuestra protesta porque posiblemente haya infiltrados que generen violencia”. Un líder dice: “vamos a protestar, y lo vamos a hacer en paz, yo voy a estar en la primera fila con ustedes, sin miedo, firme, porque si no defendemos nuestros derechos nadie lo va a hacer por nosotros”. Estoy cansado de se quieren repetir una y otra vez los mismos lugares comunes. La razón sufre mucho cuando es usada como excusa de lo injustificable.
    La violencia en Venezuela es inevitable si no se consigue una solución política al conflicto.Eso es evidente. Pero debe ser una solución para la gente, no para los políticos. SI llegara a ocurrir un verdadero estallido social sería justamente por la falta de capacidad de los líderes, y es absurdo querer llamar a esa incapacidad “virtud”, o “heroísmo”. Al final de cuenta, toda esa doble moral ridícula que ha impuesto PJ, no vale nada si en efecto ocurre una catástrofe mayor y la gente pierde completamente la cordura. ¿Qué van a hacer, lloriquear, juzgar a la gente? Hay que acabar con esa lógica tan extraña que PJ y algunos otros están imponiendo a punta de repetir mentiras una y otra vez y ponerle nombres cómicos a las cosas como “heroísmo” a lo que no es más que una trágica estrechez de miras. Yo en la particular no estoy a favor de la violencia y espero que se evite la misma, pero si algo llegara a ocurrir, no voy a ser tan miserable como para juzgar a la gente y criticarla. La gente ha tenido suficiente paciencia, y la responsabilidad es plenamente de los líderes.

    • i, lamento que este no es el articulo que usted queria leer. Sin embargo otros han escrito sobre eso mejor de lo que yo pudiese. Con los articulos que han denunciado la injusticia de estas detenciones solo me queda estar de acuerdo.

      Sobre todo lo demas, solo quiero agregar que lo que se busca aca es defender a quienes estan haciendo lo posible por encontrar una solucion no violenta. Es todo.

      • Además, también es algo lógico el no darle al chavismo lo que necesitan para satanizar a la gente, sólo imagínense cómo habría usado el chavismo las fotos del fulano cadáver estripado para seguir haciendo su propaganda ridícula y tapar el desastre de los niños muertos por falta de medicinas o los saqueos de locales de comida del régimen.

        De hecho, los chavistas han sido tan miserables, que hasta se inventaron lo de la fulana tipa que disque le metieron los trancazos publicando fotos de una mujer a la que le pegó la pareja en Ecuador, así de rastreros son.

        Parte de desmontar las mentiras podridas de los chavistas pasa por no darles ninguna evidencia que puedan usar para ello ni tergiversándola, porque se les puede desmontar su mentira rápido.

        Todos, repito, TODOS los muertos en protestas durante los últimos 18 años han sido exclusivamente asesinados por chavistas, ya sea sus colectivos, sus polichoros o sus soldados, NUNCA ha existido ninguna evidencia de que al menos un sólo muerto del más de cuarto de millón que lleva Venezuela en estos momentos que haya sido causado por alguien que no es chavista, sólo el chavismo mata gente porque son los que le sacan provecho político a los asesinatos.

  7. “Then, just when one man was ready to crush the officer’s head with a rock,”
    That was my first impression too, but instead of a rock it was a shoe that the young man had in hand.

  8. Ellos negociaron con la mediación de Gaviria, negociaron en el 2014, conquistaron el Parlamento. En cada uno de estos esfuerzos, el chavismo ha salido fortalecido. Sin embargo hay que seguirles teniendo fe en unas negociaciones concretadas en secreto.

    No me jodas, chico.

      • The alternative is to continue the non-violent struggle.
        Continue the street demonstrations.
        Continue the campaign towards the RR and the regional elections.
        Campaign for lifting the price controls and the exchange controls.
        No negotiations.

        • but to what end amieres if it is not to pressure the government to a negotiation.

          Street protest is crucial to have leverage. The PSUV must understand if they don’t make concession there won’t be governability.

          But at the end what you want is a seat on the table and get your way.

          • The pressure is to oust the government, not to get them to sit at a table. The time to negotiate will be when those in government are ready to leave, to set the terms for their way out. Anything else is just a trap.

            What concessions do you want the government to make?
            Respect the laws?
            Respect the AN?
            Free the political prisoners?
            Have a referendum this year?
            Lift the price controls and exchange controls?
            Let the private sector work?
            They can decide to do all that anytime they like, with no negotiations.

            What is the opposition going to offer in return?
            No more protests?

          • Not to prosecute and give them a golden exile, sure. But I do not think we are at that level.

            PSUV is not ready to leave office yet,
            they are clinging hard to their denial
            threading water (up to the neck)
            trying to buy time,
            for… something to happen (or not happen).

          • So there we agree. Nor I think the MUD has any control over protest. All the protests except for a few are spontaneous.

            So how will meeting with the MUD help the government, I don’t know.

            I think both sides are trying to save face and influence foreign allies.

          • Negotiations will not convince them to do the RR.
            Just the opposite.
            It is only the pressure that all people at different levels (street, institutions, demonstrations, internally) exert on them that will convince them to do so.
            Not some people sitting comfortably around a table.

            More exerts from the book:
            ““Negotiation” does not mean that the two sides sit down together
            on a basis of equality and talk through and resolve the differences
            that produced the conflict between them. Two facts must
            be remembered. First, in negotiations it is not the relative justice of
            the conflicting views and objectives that determines the content of a
            negotiated agreement. Second, the content of a negotiated agreement
            is largely determined by the power capacity of each side”

            “A settlement is not reached in negotiations through an assessment
            of the rights and wrongs of the issues at stake. While those
            may be much discussed, the real results in negotiations come from
            an assessment of the absolute and relative power situations of the
            contending groups.”

            “Resistance, not negotiations, is essential for change in conflicts
            where fundamental issues are at stake. In nearly all cases, resistance
            must continue to drive dictators out of power. Success is most often
            determined not by negotiating a settlement but through the wise use
            of the most appropriate and powerful means of resistance available. “

          • “Whatever promises offered by dictators in any
            negotiated settlement, no one should ever forget that
            the dictators may promise anything
            to secure submission from their democratic
            opponents, and then brazenly
            violate those same agreements.”

      • Podemos discutir sobre la utilidad de mi indignación en el momento en el que la de estas negociaciones, así como la de las anteriores, quede comprobada.

        Mientras tanto, me niego a seguir la dieta de flores.

        • Fijate Ruben, la alternativa es precisamente la violencia.

          Imagino que no la tuya, sino la de los otros.

          No se si sirvan de algo las negociciones. Las anteriores no sirvieron pero espero lo contrario y reconozco que son necesarias.

          • La alternativa nunca ha sido la violencia.

            Se ha impuesto la mentira por encima de la verdad en la oposición, y eso hay que analizarlo y comentarlo porque es urgente. .

            Por ejemplo, yo tengo que aceptar mentiras obvias como que María Corina y Leopoldo López son “radicales”. También tengo que aceptar que no hay opciones, que las únicas opciones son la “violencia” o el “diálogo”. Y así, hasta el infinito. Pues no. Si queremos salir de este atolladero, no podemos seguir repitiendo esas cosas. Tenemos que ver más allá. Ampliar los horizontes.

            Lo que yo digo es simplemente: La oposición nunca ha sido violenta (ni siquiera durante el golpe de abril la oposición fue realmente violenta, si hubiera sido violenta hubiera conservado el poder), María Corina y Leopoldo López no son más radicales ni menos moderados que Capriles o Julio Borges. Y no se trata de una simple elección entre violencia y diálogo. Booom!

            Si la oposición no estuviera marcada de manera decisiva y muy lamentable por las limitaciones humanas de líderes como Capriles, Borges y otros, podría lograr muchas cosas que ahora mismo parecen impensables. Es lógico que todas las personas tengan limitaciones, el problema es cuando uno quiere imponer sus propias limitaciones como la verdad e incluso como “el bien”. Allí empieza la demagogia. Uno nunca debe sentirse demasiado orgulloso de una doble moral ni presumir de ella.

            Por supuesto, si yo empiezo a ver la realidad más allá de los límites que personalidades fuertes como Capriles y Borges han impuesto en la oposición, mis posibilidades aumentan y muchas de esas falsas dicotomías desaparecen.
            De hecho, esas dicotomías sólo se crearon, me parece a mí, para posicionar a ciertos líderes por encima de otros. Es decir, por intereses propios o partidistas.

            Si uno se deshace de esas dicotomías impuestas demagógicamente por ciertos intereses partidistas, en vez de ver que sólo hay dos opciones: la violencia, y el diálogo, puede empezar a ver otras cosas muy interesantes, por ejemplo: que la protesta no violenta, conducida por un líder auténtico, con convicción y valentía, puede forzar la salida de este gobierno sin tener que sentarse y aceptar todas sus condiciones.
            Si yo por ejemplo no veo en las personas que protestan “radicales”, sino venezolanos que se están enfrentando a un gobierno realmente abusivo, a lo mejor puedo entender que esa misma energía puede conducirse hacia un verdadero cambio y no hacia diálogos oscuros, que a la largan generan más violencia porque no llegan a nada.

            Sólo hace falta salir del reality tunnel en el que nos tienen perdidos ciertos líderes.

            El jueguito de las falsas dicotomías nos ha perjudicado a todos a la larga, porque le ha dado argumentos a la dictadura y ha limitado enormemente nuestro campo de acción.

            Si la realización del revocatorio este año depende de líderes como Capriles, podemos dar por sentado que no va a ocurrir. ¿Por qué?

            Por una razón simple, y no lo digo para ofender, sino porque me parece pertinente: porque él, como líder, no tiene la capacidad para asumir la responsabilidad de las protestas y para conducirlas efectivamente. Para eso, se requiere otro tipo de liderazgo. Otro tipo de “héroe”.

            Es muy difícil forzar el revocatorio en el 2016 sin que algún policía resulte golpeado, y algún opositor resulte preso, torturado, o asesinado. Esa es la verdad.

            El gobierno sabe de esas limitaciones de Capriles y compañía, y va a apostar a ellas.

            EL gobierno va a decir: “Como sabemos que Capriles no va a querer desafiarnos en la calle, simplemente tenemos que poner todos los obstáculos y amenazas posibles para disuadirlo y cederá. De esa manera, él considerará una victoria que se haga en el 2017”.

            Y artículos como este contribuyen a crear esa matriz de opinión que le conviene al gobierno.

            Sólo concluiré algo. Actualmente vivo en Argentina, He visto acá más violencia contra la policía que en el video que mostraste. De hecho, acá en Argentina vi una guarimba feísima que los vecinos hicieron para protestar por un chico que resulto atropellado.

            Lamento haberme extendido tanto. Saludos.

  9. 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. #Truth

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