What you need to understand is that 2007 wasn’t exactly a spontaneous movement. It took months of planning, of failing, and of gathering momentum, until we finally had the strength to take political leadership, even over the parties

This is Roberto Patiño a couple of weeks ago talking at Caracas’s Universidad Metropolitana, UNIMET. He was addressing a group called VOX, about 50 of us interested in Leadership, including Samuel Díaz, who runs our Federación de Centros de Estudiantes. The recall had just been killed, and we’re curious and trying to make sense of it.

As he describes the meticulous planning that went into the now iconic 2007 movement, it hits us. We’d been expecting some sort of big bang from the outside: either the political parties would finally ponerse las bolas and march west or else the cerros would come down in a popular avalanche. Something spontaneous, something hard-hitting, some sort of peo.

But the peo wasn’t coming. It hadn’t been coming and it probably isn’t coming at all. Because social explosions aren’t all that different from physical ones. They don’t happen by themselves, and they don’t happen for no reason.

That’s the problem with the political fables we tell ourselves. We only see the big thing once it’s happened. Call it the Arab Spring, call it Chávez’s meteoric rise to power, call it the No campaign in Chile or Otpor against Milosevic. We often don’t bother to see the boring, humdrum prepwork. Which takes me to this week.

The reality, as far as the student world goes is this: everyone’s angry, everyone’s confused, and nobody likes anything that’s happening very much

My teammates here at Caracas Chronicles have already made an excellent job of, well, chronicling what’s been going on, so I won’t repeat it.

The reality, as far as the UNIMET student world goes is this: everyone’s angry, everyone’s confused, and nobody likes anything that’s happening very much.

We feel it’s wildly incoherent that MUD calls for a march only to call it off. And we find it damn near traitorous that they’ve been demanding some conditions for dialogue the whole year and suddenly, they don’t matter anymore.

In short, MUD’s political leadership is very far out on a limb.

So where do people turn?

Well, recent political history suggests two options: “organized civil society” in the form of chambers like Fedecamaras and CTV, and the Movimiento Estudiantil. Given the choice between 2002 and 2007, I’m all in for the latter. And, apparently, so is the rest of Venezuela. The problem is that us students don’t have anywhere near the rallying power we had in 2007, or that MUD has right now. We don’t get through as much. Now, how do we fix that?

Back to Roberto: it takes time. People — and this goes out specifically to student leaders (Samuel, Santiago, this is for you) — will not blindly follow just anyone anywhere anymore. The political parties manage to mobilize so many people because they’ve been building those relationships and their legitimacy for years.

It takes planning, and planning takes time. 

This Thursday, the Student Movement took to the streets to hand a communiqué to the Papal Nuncio. It wasn’t a very large march — between students and the few politicians and parties that supported it, a few thousand people — but it got the job done.

We managed to mobilize — through our own means — a mass of people to achieve a limited political objective. Bear in mind that the Nunciature is right above Plaza Venezuela, in the chavista-run Libertador Municipality usually barred to opposition protests. So a tip of the hat to you, Jorge Rodríguez.

A shot of Thursday’s march.

A large part of the reason why some politicians, and specifically Voluntad Popular, supported the march was that those politicians were 2007 student leaders themselves. Juan Andrés Mejía, Miguel Pizarro, Roberto Patiño, David Smolansky, and quite a few others.  Which tells me that, at least to some extent, our politics are changing. I trust these people, and that’s a whole lot more than I can say for most politicians out there.

The aforementioned.
The aforementioned.

To put it in simpler terms: our short-term solutions have brought upon most of our long-term problems

And I know this isn’t exactly the hopeful, uplifting message that you all want to hear. We have a very right-now kind of crisis. But some things cannot be rushed.

My goal isn’t just a Maduro-free Venezuela. My goal is a Republic, under the Rule of Law and Democracy, in which politics don’t take up 95% of my time.

Yes, removing PSUV from power is milestone #1 in the pursuit of that goal, but it’s far from enough. And that goal calls for coherence and true Leadership from us. It takes honesty, ethics, and hard work. It takes wearing the concept of citizenship as a badge of honour and behaving like decent human beings. And it means not succumbing to the standards and methods of this plainly evil dictatorship to rid ourselves of it. We will not solve our problems by becoming them.

So no, I’m not thrilled that MUD is on the verge of crumbling. I’m not satisfied with the Student Movement being able to muster no more than a few thousand people. I don’t think that handing a letter to the Nuncio is anywhere near enough.

But some people are starting to understand that building a country is big-picture, long-term work, and those people are starting to take charge of some decisions. And while it won’t mean Maduro leaves tomorrow or that all our problems are automatically solved, it does mean something.

It’s a start. And, for a change, it’s a step in the right direction.

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  1. I think two factors that play a role in the diminished presence is that inscription and seats available at universities has fallen and many university-aged Venezuelans have left the country. Fewer people that identify as university students. Oh and another I think is simply the economic times. I assume some people have dropped out because of the daily work and cola requirements. Parents may have been able to support a student protesting for days on end in 2007 that might not be the economic reality today.

    • I suspect you are correct on nearly every point.

      The economic realities that befall university students caught in the crossfire are very real and very dangerous.

    • Sadly, I must agree, but not for the economic reasons you qoute.

      As a professor, I can assure you this:

      while (location==venezuela){

      if (university==public & semester5) then
      (//graduate ASAP and GTFO
      semester=semester+1 )
      elseif (university==private) then
      (//graduate ASAP and GTFO
      semester=semester+1 )
      else(//drop out
      location != venezuela)

      if(semester>=10) then (location != venezuela)


      From last semester to this one I saw a drop of 50% in the number of students in the courses I teach. Also, Ive heard from a university authority that abandonment rates are just a little bit over 40% for the whole Faculty. All the students Ive come to know from their thesis work are usually out of venezuela in the following year.

      The student movement faces the serious threat of a lack of support from within, because people are just thinking of finishing their studies and leaving. Even more sadly: I feel I cant blame them…

      • Sorry for double posting, but the comment just ate up some of my “code”.

        Basically, if they’re about finishing their careers, they stay, graduate and leave. If they are under halfway, then if they have money, they change to a private U, graduate and leave, and if not, then they drop out and start working in order to save and leave.

  2. Jóvenes con la visión y el espíritu de un estadista son sin duda imprescindibles en Venezuela y en cualquier país. Lamentablemente, allí son tan solo una minoría selecta. Soy español y llevo un par de años siguiendo de cerca lo que ocurre en Venezuela. Una de las cosas que primero salta a al vista, al margen de las circunstancias concretas de estos días, es la desunión que hay en la sociedad. Por mucho que la gente baje de los cerros, como dicen ustedes, si al final lo hacen será porque les une a todos la ira y el cansancio, no un proyecto cívico común para el país.

    El chavismo ha destrozado Venezuela y su proyecto político solo lleva al fondo del despeñadero pero a pesar de ello, aproximadamente una cuarta parte del censo sigue apoyando semejante régimen. ¿Se imaginan a una cuarta parte de los alemanes votando por los nazis en los años cincuenta, tras la segunda guerra mundial? Muchas cosas tienen que cambiar en la sociedad para poder construír la Venezuela que usted sueña.


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