How to make sense of what happened in Caracas today? We know hundreds of thousands —perhaps close to a million— people braved an unprecedented wall of government intimidation and threats to come out and demand a recall referendum this year. But what does it mean? Was it a historic milestone? A defiant point of no return? An anticlimactic bust?

To me, it was none of those things. Instead, it was a performance, and a prelude.


Marching in an atmosphere saturated with intimidation is expensive talk.

The first thing is to get clear on what a protest is. A protest is a communicative act. A performance. It exists to transmit a signal. By raising the stakes ahead of the protests, by going all out to intimidate and threaten protesters, the government amplified the volume of the signal their participation sent. Marching in Caracas today was the polar opposite of “cheap talk”: the riskier it is to march, the stronger the signal you send by marching. Marching in an atmosphere saturated with intimidation is expensive talk. 

The message is straightforward: we’re many, we’re strong, we’re mobilized, we support our leadership, and we’re not going to let this one go without a fight. We know we have the constitution on our side. We know we have international public opinion on our side. We know we have domestic public opinion on our side. We know we’d win any imaginable vote. We know you know it. And now you know that we know that you know it.

Now, here’s the really hairy question: who is that message being sent to? 


But the message is being sent, most of all, to the institutions that support the government’s power: the CNE, the bureaucracy and, in particular, to the security forces.

It’s being sent, in the first place, to ourselves: Venezuelans who aren’t willing to let our democracy just shrivel up and die need to communicate to one another that we’re in this together. We need to coordinate, and the communicative act of marching helps us do that.

It’s being sent, in the second place, to the rest of the world: these lunatics do not represent us. We know they’re lunatics, you know they’re lunatics, we need your help wresting control of the country away from them.

But the message is being sent, most of all, to the institutions that support the government’s power: the CNE, the bureaucracy and, in particular, to the security forces. We spoke clearly to them: we know the people who give you orders are lunatics, you know the people who give you orders are lunatics, we’re mobilized, we need you to, if not actively help, at least not actively sabotage our struggle to make the constitution effective again.


The blood-thirsty, hyper-violent opposition shown in government propaganda bears no resemblance to the hundreds of thousands of well-behaved marchers they saw streaming through Caracas today.

I thought the restraint the security forces displayed today within Caracas was telling. It was in the National Police and the National Guard’s gift to turn 1S into an almighty brawl: go in with batons swinging, tear gas popping and just break up the demonstrations long before they reached their end-points. They did not. (Restraint, too, is a communicative act.)

Tonight, not just the brass but mid-ranking officers and soldiers and street-level cops will be thinking through what happened today: the blood-thirsty, hyper-violent opposition shown in government propaganda bears no resemblance to the hundreds of thousands of well-behaved marchers they saw streaming through Caracas today. And they’ll be mulling to the government’s scandalously sparse counter-demo on Avenida Bolívar: one so sparse, Diosdado Cabello embarrassed himself by tweeting a four-year-old photo and trying to pass them off as current rather than show its actual size. (That, too, will not have gone unnoticed.)

All of these messages will have reached the Security Forces, and their interpretation will give 1S its second meaning: prelude. Today’s protest are a prelude to the real confrontation, the one we’re going to see in the next seven weeks, leading up to the 20%-Signature-Collection-Drive, which now looks very much like the real referendum event.

Was 1S a success? It’s too early to tell. If it sets the stage for the opposition to score a crushing success at signature collection, it’s a success. If it creates an atmosphere where we collect not just the 3.9 million signatures we’ll need, but closer to the 7.5 million votes we’d eventually need to get rid of Maduro, it’ll help create political facts in the ground incompatible with the government’s original plan to delay Maduro’s removal until next year.

 

35 COMMENTS

  1. The CNE will never give us the opportunity to collect more than 4,000,000 signatures. Once we get to the 20% they will say Ok you got 20% lets close the voting centers. I will take bets on this.

      • De acuerdo, Daria risa si no fuera por el dolor que se evidencia alli.

        Even playing Devil’s Advocate that you Fransisco might be just another journalist going with the flow of things and with a socialist tilt, this is a really perceptive article, written with some punch to it. And if you are tilted a bit left, you came clean quickly.

        Nothing speaks louder than the truth – if and when the truth can be discerned. I think you hit on it, here. I thought MUD should have continued to collect votes when they had people lining up in the evening to sign the first planillas. So what if it isn’t “by the book” legal? It sends a clear message: we have the 10,000,000. You can’t tell us 3,000,000 are zombies.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UD0c58nNCQ

        Two things I wonder about:
        – Would the GN or other actually obey orders to disrupt, if given, and if they did not, or the regime knew they would not, then perhaps the orders to keep peace actually came de arriba?
        – If there had been regime violence, that would have given an excuse for the invasion from abroad Cabello mentioned?
        (Sorry – it’s impossible to get away from critics. Each living thing has an inner critic yearning to be free. Even bacteria, I’m convinced.)

    • Actually, they (CNE) won’t even give you enough petition papers to collect more than 30% (probably less) of the REP. I know it for a fact because, as a Sumate Coordinator, I had the job to calculate how to distribute las planillas for Carabobo to maximize the number of signs in 2004.

  2. One thing impossible to predict in a lunatic world: What’s next. My daughter, marching in the rank and file, sent me pics of her and a bunch of other smiling faces. Hope still burns hot. If nothing else people reminded themselves of this essential ingredient.

  3. Siempre y cuando el RR sea en el 2016 o en las primeras 2 semanas del 2017, estaré de acuerdo con cualquier estrategia de la MUD. Así las entienda o no.
    El fin justifica los medios. Espero estés en lo correcto Quico y esta al final sea una movida magistral de la MUD.

    • “Siempre y cuando el RR sea en el 2016 o en las primeras 2 semanas del 2017, estaré de acuerdo con cualquier estrategia de la MUD. ”

      “If they win, I will have supported them.” Retroactive support. Very classy.

      • Tengo fuertes indicios que a la oposición le gustaba mucho la idea de un RR en el 2017 y asumir una transición negociada hasta que vinieran las elecciones de presidente en el 2019.
        Lo que sucede es que en política todo cambia y se han visto forzados a asumir un papel mas agresivo.

        Igual, el tiempo dirá por donde vienen los dardos.

        El tiempo siempre lo dice todo.

  4. I did my part in sharing events outward and more or less letting my Green Left Weekly / Counterpunch leftie friends know how full of shit this regime is and how fed up Venezuelans really are with them.

    Today was a beautiful day and I watched what I could from afar. I wish I could physically be there to stand and be counted. (As it is, I don’t even know if my 15 year old cedula and passport could even be renewed at the nearest embassy 600 miles away from where I live. )

    And today matters. But tempo is everything and Venezuela needs much much much more of this and soon.

  5. You are absolutely right. A demonstration communicates a message to the powers that be that “we’re serious” and that public opinion is against them, and it builds more solidarity and unity. It sounds like a great success today, and it is a huge relief there were not the anticipated provocations and bloodletting either. Maybe that speaks to the powerful communicative effect of the demonstration itself.

    But I think, in my office here, safe and far away, with great humility in the face of what Venezuelans did today, there has to be a lever now. A demonstration is not a lever. It is a message. I don’t think the regime cares much at all what the public thinks; I don’t think they care much at all that they are vastly outnumbered. They hold the power. A demonstration does not directly threaten that. It should shame any normal government. They are beyond shame. They are in the labyrinth, as I think a few of the postings here have suggested.

    What’s the lever? They can’t govern if people don’t work. That’s the lever. If people stop working. I think, with the greatest respect for the leaders, what they have planned, and what Venezuelans accomplished today, which is huge, and is a show of incredible courage by vast numbers of people, THAT (the threat of a strike, or a strike, backed by this showing of unity today) is the lever that separates the regime from its power: You meet our demands, or we shut the place down, until you do.

    Nicolas Maduro was a union leader. Venezuela should take him back to his roots. On a big scale. Obreros y obreras. I know that it didn’t work before. Things have changed. The people are mobilized. They want to do something. Anyone who is signing or has signed and is in government related work is facing dismissal anyway. Give them the security of knowing that everyone is going out with them until things are changed. The added bonus is that this method has worked, it has a very familiar dynamic (Venezuela is highly unionized in its major productive sectors, so people understand these things, i.e. how to stay home), and it is non-violent. Just a thought to throw out there.

    • I agree 100% with you on this matter. I actually just posted a comment on Facebook wondering why no one has yet proposed an strategy different than just marching or “pegarle a una pobre olla que no tiene la culpa”. A good friend of mine ask me last week: what if the private banks go on a strike? no ATMs, no cash withdrawals, no transfers, no credit or debit cards working, no nothing; people should rely only on the public banks, which as everything that is public doesn’t work properly in Venezuela. Can you imagine that? It wouldn’t be a solution by itself, but it certainly could be the first step towards something bigger: an ungovernable country.

      • If the banks shut down and the bus drivers parked their buses at strategic points in Caracas, as I have seen them do in the past, there would be a revocatorio vote date set very quickly. I don’t understand why this is not on the agenda. I can only think there is a feeling on the right that strikes are an illegitimate form of protest. Or the opposition is queasy about talking to labor. It seems to be a taboo subject.

        The thing is, when people talk about ‘marching on this’ or ‘marching on that’, they are implicitly saying the crowd should be used to intimidate, or provoke. A strike is a much cleaner approach. It is saying, ‘you need us more than we need you, you depend on the consent of the people, without us you are helpless’, and demonstrating it in very practical terms. Very simply, without people who actually know how to do stuff, this regime, and their goons, are helpless.

  6. I am afraid that all the March did today was show how weak the opposition is.

    Nothing was challenged by the MUD in front of PSUV controlled areas.

    The MUD will not gain seats by just marching. Actions are now required. I don’t believe that MUD has the stones to take it to the next level.

    You may have won the day but at the cost of losing the war.

    I truly hope I am wrong and that more crack in the regime are exploited.

  7. Two questions:

    – Was the FANB even on the street? I’ve only seen GN and PNB in the pictures and videos.

    – Was there anything behind having motorizados go rueda libre in Maracay only or was it just a crime of opportunity?

    • I saw the motorizados go past our apartment on Av Bolivar twice yesterday, I saw them bash people just outside our apartment the first time they past. I also saw amongst the bunch one police/military type motor bike being ridden by two men, both dressed in plain clothes….the pillion passenger was holding a large rifle, pointed towards the sky in the exact same way we see police/Guardia travel on motor bikes everyday. So do I think it was a crime opportunity ? No, they achieved a great deal yesterday in Maracay, the streets were ridiculously quiet, in the end almost everything was shut down. People just stayed inside and tried to stay out of it. There was an impromptu gathering trying to be organised at Parque Aragua but was swiftly broken up by gunshots. So yes I think it was more than a crime spree…

  8. Quick question… Can anyone with expertise in PhotoShop or else take a look at the ‘Prensa Miraflores/EFE’ picture here (http://www.efe.com/efe/america/portada/en-defensa-de-la-revolucion-los-chavistas-rechazan-manifestacion-vecina/20000064-3029305)?

    Is that accurate or doctored? The first picture and the second look different towards the back. Not that it matters greatly, but it’s the only picture I’ve see of the ‘mass demonstration’ in ‘defence of the revolution’

    • You don’t need Photoshop for this one.

      Look at the building on the right, looks like an unfinished hive.

      Starting from the left side, along the roofline, count 5 little “squares”, look down 2 “squares.

      There’s the edge of the spliced content.

    • I think that picture is from yesterday, and has not been altered, but if you actually zoom in, you can see big holes in the crowd that are not very visible due to the low angle. That is why the place people in spaced out clumps like in the image in the article above, so that when taking the picture at a lower angle, it gives the impression of a full avenida bolivar. Like the power of the government, it is an illusion.

  9. That’s one way to see what happened yesterday. A somewhat naively way, perhaps, but valid nonetheless.
    Another way to see what happened yesterday, a more realistic one, and consistent to what has been happening the last years in the country, is that once the march was over, the government, its supporters, as well as the security forces, thought to themselves: “Is that it? This was his great march planned one month in advance? We have nothing to worry about”.

    Yesterday’s protest could also have been the ultimate demonstration of impotence and weakness of the opposition. After 18 years, they can only compete with cacerolazos.
    And no, before someone respond me with a link from elchigüirebipolar, I’m not saying they should have gone to kill chavistas and kidnap Tibisay. It’s not necessary to fall into a reductio ad absurdum. I’m just saying everybody felt it was the time to make real social pressure. So, why not try to reach CNE’s headquarters? Why send everyone to his house at noon? It seems that MUD, whenever they can, tries to cool things down, le saca presión a la olla. Meanwhile, the government appreciates it.

    Having a million people on the street and 2/3 of the AN to end up, once again, with a cacerolazo, shows at least, an overwhelming lack of ideas and determination.

    • So, let me get this straight, incredible turn out of oeople, absolutely pathetic show up of Chavistas, and the fact that there was no violence (thus simultaneously deflating the government narrative and giving the impression they are no longer capable or willing to order ambushes), that is nothing and weakness

      Because they did not push things till the cornered beast fought back.

      I know we all want to see a resolution of this seemingly eternal clusterfuck, but come on…

  10. If the protesters would have been armed to the their teeth, we would now, Today have a new government in Venezuela and not have to wait seven weeks, eight years while these thugs sell the nations natural resources and pocket the money and leave the people poorer and hungrier each day. Simon Bolivar would never have wasted his time with protests in the streets and neither should Venezuelans. Get the country back!

    • Ah… one question, while those people there were risking their lives becuase they didnt knew what was going to happen and if the thugs were going to go out in force, you and your balls where doing what, exactly? In what front did they parachute you, commando.style? How many of them would you think are a good enough number to die cause somebody is as arrechito as you dream?

      Go play with some toy soldiers and leave the adults in peace. They are busy.

    • Where are you going to get the guns, sir?
      Where are you going to get the training, the structure, the resources and the infrastructure to fund and feed that armed movement?

      Assuming it must be stronger than anything the government can answer with, how are you going to build that great guerrilla force, mister?

      Call of Duty is not a substitute for books.

  11. There is a war being waged in peoples minds, both among the oppo and discontents and those of the unconditional regime supporters , the war is about sensing that you are part of a huge national mayority of people movilized and motivated who want the regime out or that you are part of a desperate shrinking minority who feels that its outnumbered and drowned by an energetic movilized opposition , in time this war of the minds has consequences, the thing is that the govts position is only going to get worse , it cant control the scarcity and high inflation and criminality that now lashes ALL Venezuelans lives , and thats what feeding the insattisfaction and causing it to grow and grow ever larger and deeper and more fierce.

    The big show of people on the side of the oppo and the small show of people on the side of the regime gives two messages , one that the street battle is lost for the regime , not only because there is a turn in the way even the former follower of Chavez see the regimes antics . and because the oppo is showing an increased capacity to mobilize and energize people even where the govt puts all the barriers it can to block such movilization.

    But also that the oppo has grown (and keeps growing ) in its capacity to organize energize and movilize its popular base much more than in years past while the govt is clearly losing its capacity to movilize and energize its dwindling base of supporter even with the use of the countless support of govt resources..

    Thats why the govt is getting more frenzied and violent in its persecution of the oppo leadership, because having lost the war of the minds they try and maintain their thinning front line with acts of flagrant abuse by the institutions they still hold ramson and control , they use raw force to substitute for a breakdown in their former popularity !! ..

  12. This is only a good start. And only. The MUD should make something clear to Venezuelans that don’t seem to understand a fact: It won’t happen in a day of protest, or thirty days of protests, or even sixty! It should be clear after so many years, but it isn’t. We still expect a mega-march to put chavismo on the run. It happened just once when there were institutions that could pull the floor from under chavismo. It won’t happen now.

    Any committed citizen of any country that has successfully shaken off an established dictatorship knows that. It isn’t protesting one day, and taking sexy selfies, then go home and wait for the government to ignores us and business as usual. It’s protesting and protesting with an agenda that intensifies if the government tries to ignore it, then resting, then picking it up again. It’s not taking a photo of yourself with your purple pinkie finger and then go home as many Venezuelans do, to await the electoral authority announce yet another rigged result. It’s staying at the voting center and making sure that those results are not rigged.

    It’s not letting the dictator or the repressive forces, or the election rigging machinery be. It’s commitment, it’s organization, it’s taking care of your fellow protesters. It’s not foolishly courting death against armed groups or arrest and torture against the government. It’s organizing for safety, surprise and impact.

    Lo que la MUD tiene que hacer presente a los venezolanos faranduleros y figuradores es que van a tener que ser constantes y mostrar compromiso por una vez en su vida.

  13. The march was a good sign, but what will it actually accomplish? A timely referendum? Removal of Maduro. Elections? I doubt it.

    If you remember how criminal, how cynical, how corrupt this narco-government is, they are probably laughing today. Does Tibisay and the corrupt CNE feel any pressure? They probably stayed at home watching movies.

    There will probably be more street protests, but smaller. The actual Result? Probably not much. And even after Maduro is gone, after the famous Referendum, will things improve much? Nope. The Economic situation is so bad, it will take decades to get better. Will oil prices go up? Nope, down. The oil was all sold to China long ago, anyway. Will Venezuela will start producing anything or exporting anything by miracle? nope, that also takes time. People are poorly educated, that also takes decades to improve.

    Crime is everywhere, the military and police are corrupt, how do you control crime then? Drugs are everywhere, and the Farcs are moving in.. And everyone who can leaves the country, as over a million of us, you, the few educated professionals, have. Massive brain-drain. When you have such profound problems there is no quick fix. Sorry to say, but that country is screwed for a looooooong time. Chavismo or no Chavismo. Good luck to the next government, their jobs will be very tough, and people will get pissed at them very soon. Except for those who keep leaving the country, as soon as they can.

  14. Just a thought… As we have seen in the last couple of months, as the government’s access to dollars has continued to dry up, prices have become more and more dollarized (and then some!), and fewer goods at controlled prices are available. At the moment, the pain of this adjustment is being blamed on the current government. Consider that had the Chavista regime fallen two months ago, the pain of this necessary adjustment would have been blamed on the new government. Venezuela has been a poor country for some time now, but most people didn’t know it yet. Perhaps… just perhaps… part of the plan is to time the fall of the Chavista government to coincide with the moment at which free-market reforms can rapidly make improvements in everyday living conditions.

  15. I’ve never been able to buy the cynicism, the “What is this going to accomplish? They rig all the elections! Look at the TSJ with the congress”, to which I say “Yes, but now we forced them to sit on the table with us and endure our presence, whether they like it or not”. We gained last december something we’ve never had since Hugo sat on the chair: institutionality.

    What happened yesterday? We proved that our majority was not “circumstantial”, but a new reality. The TSJ and the goons step on our rights and our votes from december? That’s why we march. That’s why we protest. And now our activism is on.

    If you’re convinced that all we’ve had are defeats, I guess it must be fun living with a broken spirit.

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