You could see it in their faces. Scratch that, most people were so far away from the makeshift stage their faces were reduced to tiny, sweaty blurs. And the hastily put-together sound systems barely carried speeches across the vast expanse of highway, packed tight with bodies, so you can’t say you could hear it in their voices either.

And yet, you could feel it. Something in the demeanor of MUD’s leaders betrayed a kind of panic. “What the fuck do we do now?

Two dozen MUD leaders stood before hundreds of thousands of eyes, the very people they’d summoned, the people they were supposed to lead. But the crowd was in no mood to be led yesterday: it was very much into doing the leading.

First of all, it was emboldened by its sheer, belief-beggaring size. Nobody expected this kind of turnout in Caracas. We’d just come off of days of deeply confused messaging: an invocation of rebellion from the floor of the AN one day (from Julio “2019” Borges, no less), followed by contradictory announcements about a priestly dialogue the next, all mixed in with a muddled call for a highway takeover with zero media promotion and mere hours of logistical planning in between. The odds were stacked against a successful 26-O street mobilization.

But boy did people turn out.  

Arriving around noon, I had a privileged view from the top of Distribuidor Altamira. Rather than bothering with MUD’s rallying spots, like most people I just went straight out to the Autopista, feeling suitably subversive. Hey, it’s not everyday you get to overrun the highway in protest.

tarimaPerched atop the overpass, I had an unobstructed view of the entire western stretch of the highway, and also, as I would soon find out, of the hard-to-make-out tarima where, everyone assumed, important political figures would eventually assemble when things got going.

To call it a tarima is to glorify it, really. There was no proper stage, there was just a semi-truck flatbed, one of the many telltale signs that this was not your run-of-the-mill prefab opposition rally.

Let me pause on this point a second. It’s been forever since the opposition managed a spontaneous event of such magnitude. And the scrappy, improvised factor definitely added to the rebelión vibe. The September 1st protest might have had more people, but today was not about numbers, it was about ethos. You can’t replicate this stuff in a lab.

Soaked in defiance, everyone around me watched as the highway kept filling up with people, with La Carlota Military airbase as background. Nobody really knew what we were there to do, but it didn’t matter. We were there. And for the first time in a long time, the lack of agenda made it all the more raw.

“Check out the group coming in from Santa Fe!”

“Holy shit there’s more people pouring in from Baruta!”

Ahí llegaron los Adecos!”

Every once in a while, the giant blanket of people would part and a MUD leader would make his way to the tarima amidst cheers and groping and selfies, like some demented procession. If this had happened in the U.S., the secret service would’ve had a conniption. But we’re tropical. It’s all good.

When the speeches started, they almost seemed like an afterthought. Everyone was so exhilarated to feel part of a massive, unplanned release. But the collective need for instructions on how to proceed eventually eclipsed the party. We were in rebellion, yes, but even rebellion needs direction.

The crowd was in no mood to be led yesterday: it was very much into doing the leading.

You could feel people were in no mood to be pontificated to by slick politicos the moment Chúo Torrealba, fresh off his Vatican fiasco, tried to address the crowd. He was booed off the stage, really: he couldn’t even finish his statement. He cut one lonely figure as he weaved through the crowd of mortals in his beige shirt and solemn, downcast gaze. I felt bad for Chúo. But not that bad. I had a rebellion to get back to!

The crowd hushed as speakers, crammed onto the tarima like confused sardines took turns with the mic, in ascending order of importance. Freddy Guevara, Enrique Márquez, Henry then Capriles. Every time they spoke of elections, the mob would jeer them: a massive, collective “de pana, don’t you know that ship has sailed?” kind of jeer. It wasn’t quite the brutal hazing Chúo got, just enough to let them know this crowd had its red lines and they’d better be mindful of them.

Chants of “Miraflores! Miraflores!” would break out, to roaring cheers from the crowd. And if you’re imagining the Miraflores proponents as gas mask-wearing guarimba-loving zealots, then you are wrong. It was normal people. Like the young couple smushed next to me with their eight month old daughter in tow. Or the motorizado who clung to a lamppost, feet dangling above the sea of people, complaining that he was sick of hearing speeches. A man behind me, his sunglasses sinking into his gaunt cheekbones, was indignant. “O llaman a Miraflores o yo no regreso pa’ esta vaina. I have nothing to eat.”

panoramicaUpon closer inspection of the tiny tarima, I realized that the speakers were addressing the crowd with their backs to us. Literally, la espalda. Was it fear of facing head-on, the electorate that put them on that stage to begin with? Was it a bit too much to handle? Hundreds of thousands of angry, expectant protesters with no music, no security guards, no artifice or glitzy production values to fall back on.

Maybe it’s the way the lack of a real tarima brought them down to our level, but there was something about this dynamic that was intoxicating: it was a real two-way interaction, poles apart from the traditional model of MUD handing down a pre-cooked decision from above.

MUD’s leaders were naked before their followers. They had no choice but to grasp that they’re nothing without this crowd, and that this crowd has a say over what happens next. The final say, actually.

And so, we saw something we hadn’t seen in MUD for far too long: accountability. Simple, raw, unmediated accountability. The kind I’m sort of obsessed with.

I’ve argued for a long time that MUD has serious accountability issues. The buck stops nowhere in this sprawling, multi-party political beast. When the political scene is as polarized as ours is, nobody is made to answer for even the worst decisions. For three long, volatile years, MUD has decided, unchecked, and handed down its imperial decisions to us, taking for granted that we will blindly follow their lead. And we always do because, really, what’s the alternative?  

I say this as a bigtime MUD fan, and that goes beyond just being anti-chavista. I’ve devoted hundreds of hours to leading electoral efforts on their behalf, celebrated their technical and logistical prowess in the face of a tyrannical adversity, and I proudly talk up their titanic effort to work out internal differences as examples of what real democracy looks like.

Something about this dynamic was intoxicating: it was a real two-way interaction, poles apart from the traditional model of MUD handing down a pre-cooked decision from above.

Acutely conscious of the tension between desperately wanting MUD (and democracy) to succeed, and feeling enormously frustrated by MUD’s clubby, unresponsive leadership, I was exhilarated by what I saw happening all around me yesterday. A political leadership that so often feels so distant, so removed from the people it represents was anything but. They were face to face with a massive crowd that demanded action now.

Y tuvieron que mover el culo.

Initially, MUD’s plan was to announce a “juicio político” to be launched today, a general strike for tomorrow, followed by a declaration that the president had abandoned his post and then a march on Miraflores to hand Maduro his pink slip on Thursday, November 3rd. This was, already, far and away the most radical protest agenda MUD had unveiled in ages. It was already mindboggling to see Henrique Capriles, Chúo, Henry Ramos all these leaders long associated with moderate, incrementalist political action stand in front of a crowd and announce a march on Miraflores.

But it wasn’t enough. The crowd wanted more. Demanded more. They either call us out to the presidential palace or this is my last march. People — yours truly very much included — kept shouting (among other, more expletive-laden putdowns of dialogue and such)  “¡A Miraflores!” And we meant it. November 3rd felt like an eternity away. We wanted action right now.

The feeling wasn’t so much expectation, it was empowerment. An all out license to feel emboldened and present, and a determination to make this one count.

MUD’s more radical leaders around the truck/tarima read this beautifully and pounced. Maria Corina Machado and Lilian Tintori grabbed that microphone and started freelancing new protest actions right then and there. For once they had all the leverage, and the moderates had none.

It was mindboggling to see all these leaders long associated with moderate, incrementalist political action stand in front of a crowd and announce a march on Miraflores.

Still, they negotiated. If they couldn’t get an “¡A Miraflores!” from them right then and there, they still wanted to march West. To the Assembly! But Henry pushed back: the Assembly was closed, what would be the point? The moment when they really would need people around the Assembly was the next day — today — when chavismo would be tempted to once again physically intimidate and takeover the building where Maduro would be tried.

Bueno, a la Asamblea on Thursday, then. The deal was cut right then and there, in front of everybody. It was amazing.

In the end, MUD was probably right, we can do bigger and better if we wait till November 3rd. And deep down everyone kinda knew it too. Which is why everyone went home in peace.

But not before having popped the MUD’s rebellion cherry. Man it felt good.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Nit: conniption fit. Substance: beautifully written/expressed, the moment/feeling was emotional/electrifying. People are finally fully fed-up, and this in the better-off Eastern section of the City–imagine the feeling in the desperate poor crime-ridden barrios….

  2. The big question: Will Czar Nicholas the Last give the order that his Cossacks fire on the people as they approach the Palace?

    • Did Nicolae, when, 4 days before his soldier bullet-ridden demise, order 100+ gunned-down, then taken out at night by hog truckers, in a small Romanian town?

  3. The calls “To Miraflores” are traditionally changed to “To Lanterns” within a month or so.

    Miguel Octavio will miss it all 🙁

  4. What a great post.

    Not to raise hopes but on November 21, 22 and 23, 1989 a similar thing was happening. The internet is an amazing thing. I just googled those dates, which I remember well, and found this communication from the US Embassy in Prague at the time. The gringos were trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and their sources were conversations overhead in the street by an embassy employee, if you can believe it:

    https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116244.pdf?v=1cba3fc91017b5f6da5c3471fea35784

    People were talking about the merits of a strike – should they do it, what would happen next. People were openly challenging authority.

    The next day, there was a massive protest, which happened fairly spontaneously- nobody knew until the last minute and a sea of people turned out, the opposition leadership spoke from a balcony in Wencelas Square, and a general strike was called. Shortly after that, a vile and once all-powerful regime just surrendered.

    In other words, your description sounds familiar. The people are in that zone. The military leaders should be able to read this loud and clear too- they are not the ones deciding this thing right now.

  5. Awesome post, the type of which is why I always come back to CC! And the type of post that validates why I’m such an over-the-top Emi fan that it awkwardly borders on a crush. Chapeau.

  6. The GNB shielded diputados today.

    Maduro rolls out his tired rabbits: aumento salarial.
    Diosdado threatens Armageddon
    CNE calls for revalidation of all political parties (except PSUV, of course).
    Some governor threatens annulment of MUD.

    In contrast to the MUD responding to the citizens, keeping them calm and orderly. You know, really, when you have easily hundreds of thousands of people in one crowd and everyone is calm and peaceful, no injuries, no brawls, no one throwing things, no one trampled … if I were the regime, I wouldn’t just panic, I would have left town months ago.

    I have NEVER seen as many people as have met in peace for one purpose as I have seen in the photos and videos of Venezuela on September 1 and October 26, 2016.

  7. Congratulations on your remarkable story. The image of timid and careful politicians learning from the people is so instructive and if I may add, inspirational. Save this story and share it with your children and one day your grandchildren. You made them proud.

  8. Nice article, but beware of the self-congratulatory, middle-class “sociedad civil” eastern Caracas talk. It has been proved naive time and time again. Today Chavismo closed all access to the N.A ,so expect a stronger a more brutal answer by Nov 3.

  9. Emiliana, I agree with your take on what happened yesterday, as I was one of the last to leave la autopista.
    I very seldom write, since I lost belief in our “oppo” after the 2007 referendum. Believe it or not, I was active in the site back then but now I only seldom visit. And yet, today, I am pleasantly surprised by the tone of your article because I have believed that the MUD has been looking at its own (figuratively) finger for way to long. Yes, it is time that we show them here the moon is. We have tried before but they don’t seem to listen, since I was in the student movement. After all, for whatever reason, it seems that they think they now best.

    My take is a little different than yours as I spent time talking to a lot of the same people who stood in front of the makeshift tarima and heckled Chuo while he spoke. Hell, I was one of them! This people were angry because they have lived in violence too long, they were broke, their friends were no longer here or they did not have enough to eat . They were from the East but some came from Catia and as always, the student movement was there, ready to act , if needed. In short, it was all Caracas attended. But the people heckled because they felt betrayed, they expected more from what was said by Capriles , Ramos or Borges. They understood that they finally got the memo. They were disappointed. We all want more. We need to be told what will happen if and when Maduro leaves. We need to hear solutions to see if they can be improved or implemented. Yesterday I hope politicos realized that we are not a dumb mob but an educated people.

    I leave you with a video most of you have not seen, as it happened long after most have left the highway. Listen closely to the message of the student movement leadership.

    https://www.periscope.tv/w/1mnGejwoZVaJX

    • “We need to be told what will happen if and when Maduro leaves. We need to hear solutions to see if they can be improved or implemented. Yesterday I hope politicos realized that we are not a dumb mob but an educated people.”

      Lo que he estado diciendo yo, aqui, desde hace meces. There has to be something positive to work towards, not just a “how do we depose the regime.” I’m American, not Venezuelan, so it’s not my business, but here’s what I posted just a few days ago:

      “I tried to get some discussion or interest in laying out plans on the assumption MUD gained executive and judicial control. No takers. Maybe this isn’t the blog for it, or maybe most here think that’s looking too far into a hypothetical future, but I still say that if are going on a proverbial journey of 1,000, you’d better have a good idea where your intended destination point is. Otherwise, why go? Just walk around in circles, and get some exercise, instead.

      “- Oil majors called in with rock solid guarantees their capital is secured, and they can operate on their terms without interference
      – Recovery of alleged stolen billions (the IMF is in a much better position to help track those alleged funds down)
      – Re-appropriation or reverse appropriation or whatever of agricultural lands and processing facilities
      – Immediate end to “deeveesaas” and let all companies use their own capital on the free market to import their needed raw materials, seeds, fertilizers
      – Undeclare the economic war and return manufacturing facilities
      – Apologize, at least, to companies who have lost hundreds of millions trying to do business in Venezuela, and make “weak promises” to try to repay them
      – Release of political prisoners
      – Etc.
      – (MUD tried passing legislation for some of the above, that I am aware of, but were blocked and shut out)
      – The big problems I see are in a transition insofar as food and basic necessities are concerned. How do you transition from 1/100th world market price averages for Latin America to full price without starving all but the few remaining well-to-do. Accepting medical aid and food relief would help. Even under sane and rational circumstances, it will take at least a year for Venezuela to recover its lost agricultural production.

      “Whatever. I wish Venezuela luck and success, but you have to have goals to work for besides just getting elected.”

      (The above went on the post about ratas. Add some obvious ones MUD has already started, like remove the TSJ, CNE, and schedule elections. Two engineers here outlined how to save the heavy crude by using the gas fields, and another how to rehabilitate the electrical grid. Someone has to know enough to sketch a road back to free markets. The audio was hard understand, but I got the idea. Send your message to someone in MUD, and work with them, not against them.)

      • Part of me wants to respond with “we will deal with the details once the dictator is gone”, but the reality is “the details are what keeps the dictator from taking power again”.

        You outlined (several times) a perfect example of what steps the MUD need to take to ensure they are “different” and not just another pot banging group of agitators. It takes a plan to develop a country.

        But, do you spend all your time worrying about details that may never come? Or do you focus your energy on the task at hand.

        It would become a distraction to annouce many of these plans, only to have them used against you early on.

        First kill the king and his court of knaves. Then start ordering new rugs and carpets for the chambers.

        • “But, do you spend all your time worrying about details that may never come? Or do you focus your energy on the task at hand.

          “It would become a distraction to announce many of these plans, only to have them used against you early on.”

          In the back of my mind, I thought that, too. Here, I was going with: “We need to be told what will happen if and when Maduro leaves. We need to hear solutions to see if they can be improved or implemented.” (Karl@LibertadEsVida – posted above).

          I guess economists and politicians rarely see things the same way, or if they do, they rarely tell each other that. As I’ve said before, I’m American, not Venezuelan. I’m perfectly content knowing that what I sketched has not gone completely ignored.

          One of the most noteworthy U.S. political campaigns had a slogan “I like Ike”. That had nothing to do with economics, or a hint of a plan, but it was catchy. Whether Eisenhower was elected for that or for the merits of his platform, I don’t know. I like Trump because he’s capitalist, and Clinton is socialist.

          People overlook that Trump said he promised to be the most boring president ever elected. His talk is talk aimed at real issues, but the details will not be building a wall across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. “The Great Wall of America” just doesn’t have a ring to it. He’s a businessman, and details to handle illegal immigration will come out in board meetings. Kasich was probably best, but he was already boring. To me, it’s sad when the flash is more important than the photo.

          Thank you for your reply. I can shut up now, and hopefully next year in general elections, campaign issues will center on economic plans.

  10. Bravo Emiliana Me siento orgullosa de ti. Me siento representada y apoyada por tus ideas claras y precisas ,directas ,sin ambages desprendidas de cualquier motivacion que no sea Venezuela

Leave a Reply