That time I marched to the CNE and made it

A story about Julio Borges and the CNE, back before protests, the student movement or guarimbas were even a thing.

15-5In the beginning… everyone was chavista.

In 1999, as the referendum to change the Constitution came upon us, I flirted with political activism. Some friends and I decided to take on the Revolution and organize a protest against Chavez’s initiative to make a profound institutional change to the country. We needed guidance. Two prospective politicians welcomed us at the offices of their NGO-soon-to-be-political-party. Leopoldo López, with his vibrant speech, amped up the group, which was mainly composed of student leaders from a handful of universities. In a back room, working the phones, among piles of papers, was Julio Borges.

Today, Leopoldo sits in jail and is viewed by many as the chosen savior of the Republic, and Borges, who still plays in the back room, is one of the most important figures in the MUD.

On Thursday, as Borges approached the electoral authority (CNE) to urge them to comply with the signature gathering process, which is across the street from his office, he and other 44 National Assembly deputies were attacked by colectivos (or whatever we are calling the pro-government urban guerillas these days), and once again he received a brutal beating.

This image took me back to 1999, and our squalid attempt at a protest. We decided to assemble in front of Teresa Carreño and we would march for a few kilometers to the CNE (then CSJ), where we would deliver a statement explaining our nonconformity with the constituyente process, and the concept of poder originario which we believed a Supreme Court Judge had pulled out of his/her ass just to accommodate Chávez’s whim to put the country upside down.

We had been giving away “No” badges in UCAB and UCV, to encourage people to vote against the new Constitution in the referendum. I still have some of the badges, it was hard to have people take them or even understand why we were saying they should. Some took them, a few had the balls to wear them.

So we were there, standing near Ateneo, perhaps 60 knuckleheads looking completely disoriented, not knowing whether we should hop on the Metro and go home, start our pathetic little march, or wait for a miracle.

That’s when a school bus drove by and parked on the other side of the Avenue. We started hearing wild, unrecognizable college chants, they sounded sort of like the now very popular rugby hakas. We were terrified.

Then, 40 men ready for war emerged from the bus. My people hesitated. We couldn’t recognize a single person. As soon as they saw us, they started running across the pavement, screaming, wielding sticks and flags, faces painted in red, yellow, and blue, the eyes of mad men leaking adrenaline. Just about two meters from us, just as we were bracing our tails for impact, they stopped. And then, it was exactly like that Braveheart scene when the Scots and the Irish share a fraternal embrace in the middle of the battlefield. It was a group from UDO in Monagas, to whom we had been sending smoke signals for weeks and never believed would actually show up.

With our renewed morale, we started our march to the CNE. We stopped traffic with a huge banner, as wide as Avenida Universidad. The UDO guys, most of them getting acquainted with the capital, ran wild all over, painting graffitis, and picking fights with the vast majority of bystanders who screamed at us in support of Chávez. I stood the whole time by a truck that was lent to us with large speakers, where one of my friends stood imitating the politicians of yore, and singing the anthem of AD over and over again. There was nothing in his political repertoire, but that.

As soon as it started raining, the truck died. We were still only halfway there. I started pushing with 4 or 5 of those UDO guys who were as strong as 10 caraqueños each. By the moment we reached the end of the road, I was one of those guys. They painted my face with their colors, and asked me to lead them on, since they had no idea where in the hell they were standing.

If you know Caracas, you know that Avenida Universidad doesn’t take you to the CNE. We had to walk down through alleyways and narrow streets in a single file line. Our numbers started dwindling, the chanting started dying, and the sight was ridiculous. A bunch of 19 year olds with posters against Chávez, faces painted, all in silence, trying to glide inconspicuously through el centro de Caracas.

We reached Esquina de Pajaritos, where Borges’ office currently is, and crossed the street to reach our destination. A small chavista mob was waiting there, we were flanked, and they beat the crap out of us. The squalid few. But we held our fight, enough to deliver the document, and talk to the media. I gave a short interview, surrounded by my new UDO mates, screaming like a maniac, repeating words which I didn’t really understand, talking about freedom and unconstitutionality.

That night, as I watched the news, and realized that the media (ALL OF IT) had turned our heroic jest into a meaningless brawl by a group of tirapiedra brats looking for a free lunch, I came to the enlightened conclusion that no one gave a crap.

No one except people like Leopoldo and Borges. That’s the image that I left with the day I visited their office. It’s an image that has stuck with me and which I revisit every time I want to strangle either one of them.