Getting our future back


I’ve never known anything else. None of us have. For my generation — now college age —there is no “before chavismo.”  They came into power when we were babies or toddlers. Our living memory stretches back all of two Presidents: Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

The first time I stayed home alone was in 2002, when my parents went off to a rally in La Carlota. And the only memory I have of that moment is an RCTV broadcast of a woman being brutally beaten by National Guard soldiers. That was my first impression of the people who run the country. My first memory of what power is.

I think my generation has an appreciation of something that seems to elude our elders: doubling down on the same shitty strategy is not going to change the government.

We were born and raised in a Caracas saturated with bad news, violence and political instability. Our Presidents have always been a Chávez talking about his diarrhea or a Maduro talking about a peaceful —but armed— revolution. We grew up in a dystopian novel: Animal Farm, banana republic edition.

I think my generation has an appreciation of something that seems to elude our elders: doubling down on the same shitty strategy is not going to change the government. That’s been proven many times.

We all know the story: something triggers protests, people mobilize and the government starts to feel cornered. Then the FANB starts to dole out tear gas and we all get mad at FANB. The international community calls for some kind of concession (in 2014 and last year: dialogue, this year: regional elections) and the opposition caves. Protests are over and nothing is ever achieved.

The government has run this play book over and over again. It seems like we don’t learn the lesson.

Now, the Supreme Tribunal’s Ruling 156 —the one they pretended to reverse, but didn’t really — hands all the powers of the National Assembly to Nicolás Maduro (or, to his puppet TSJ, which amounts to the same thing).

Younger cops aren’t that far from us in age, older ones might have kids our age. We can connect with these people. That gives us legitimacy.

That political miscalculation (or an error de pasante) has triggered a momentum for the opposition and a visible fracture within chavismo. My generation can’t stay silent here: we have the most to lose.

Just the other day we were in the highway next to Plaza Venezuela, trying to raise hell.

The police came on fast and hard, making an early show of force before things could build up. But before the security forces could really do their thing, I overheard this tiny snipet of dialogue between a chama about my age and these two cops:

“Go ahead and follow your orders,” the girl said “but my fight is also for you.”

“I already told you,” the first cop replied “open the road now.”

“Either you open it,” the other cop pitched in, “or we will.”

“Our protest is for your family,” the girl said, refusing to give in. “Nobody is safe from the crisis and the crime wave.”

The first cop turned and walked away, and his partner’s tone changed.

Mi niña,” he said, now almost pleading, “please go. Los van a joder.” (They’re going to mess you up.)

The Student Movement has far more power over the political parties than they have over us. But we can only keep that credibility if we act independently from MUD.

I learned a lot from her about what we have to do, as students, to have a real impact. It’s about staying active and on the streets, yes, but it’s also about being irreverent, and never giving up on our role as the conscience of society. Younger cops aren’t that far from us in age, older ones might have kids our age. We can connect with these people. That gives us legitimacy. Some polls suggest the Movimiento Estudiantil — our student movement — is the most credible institution in the country. If we’re out there, people will join.

We have to deliver a message to the security services: cops, the National Guard, Army, all of them. It’s not about confrontation or antagonism, it’s about showing them we’re fighting for them. And for the constitution.

What our generation is been called to do is no small thing. We’re here to defend of the Republic. Little by little, if we stick it out — they will join us. The Fiscal General showed it’s no pipe dream.

The Student Movement has far more power over the political parties than they have over us. But we can only keep that credibility if we act independently from MUD. So, to prevent the “same shitty strategy,” we should elevate the political costs of any negotiation.

It’s not about confrontation or antagonism, it’s about showing them we’re fighting for them.

We have to take the abuelitas seriously. Out during protests, they keep telling us that they trust us, the Student Movement, and not the politicians. That doesn’t mean attacking MUD just for the sake of doing so: it means standing with them, but also calling them out when the politician’s personal interests conflict with the ones of the broader struggle.

Look at any protest and right at the front, where the real risks are taken, you’ll find students. It’s our fight, and it’s our message that can really get through to the Armed Forces and help bring about more and bigger fractures. Our generation gets it: the cops are not our enemies, they’re as much victims of this regime as we are. It’s up to us to mobilize civil society, nobody else will. Our future’s been stolen from us, and we’re determined to get it back.

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  1. Oh right, and what happened last time a spontaneous student protest of prominence took place? Yep, you guessed it, it ended up being hijacked by the traditional opposition. Every time a spontaneous anti-government protest took place (La Casona circa 2000, Altamira, Students in 2007, etc.) it was conveniently hijacked by the traditional politicians. Chavez, cleverly, always put down those spontaneous protests and accused them of having no leadership and that hence, he couldn’t have dialogue with the protesters. And what did that la sociedad civil do (because before there was a *clear* distinction between sociedad civil and politicians from AD/Copei/Primero Justicia/etc.)? It played right into the Chavez trap and married with traditional politicians, effectively alienating a large part of the population which wasn’t for any of the main parties. So no, not all your elders think doubling down is the best strategy. In fact, it is not a strategy. What all these shameful and poor politicians need to do is quit and let other independent leaders and younger ones replace them (not just be their puppets and hand them out some districts and congress seats like some currently are). What do they do instead? They doubled down on their strategy (which has proved not to work) to bump their popularity (which was clearly suffering in the last few months).

  2. Gracias, Ignacio. I really liked your post. I think focusing on what connects you as students to the individuals at PNB and GNB is a key component of moving this thing forward. By itself is insufficient, but it is certainly necessary. I wholeheartedly agree that you are the ones that have the most to loose in the current scenario. Your thoughts on how to relate to the more established opposition are valuable – I believe you have a good sense of the careful dance you have to perform between being part of a unified front while also staying true to what your values are and appealing to the opposition’s best aspects at every turn. Keep it up!

  3. Hello, USB professor here. Glad to see such clarity. I agree with you, the Student Movement should stand alongside MUD at the moment, while being clear that it will act independently if the MUD loses its way.
    I think it helps to have clear demands / goals. Firing of the TSJ justices and/or full restitution of the AN’s powers (meaning let the AN choose the new TSJ) is a good one: there is clear both national and international demands for exactly that, it’s not as plainly ambitious as demanding presidential resignation, yet still provides a short, clear path to regime change. We must keep up the pressure until that is achieved (and avoid being distracted by regional elections).
    I also recommend being very loud about the Movement’s commitment to Non-Violent action. I’m glad all oppo leaders were quick to denounce the setting of fire to the TSJ office in Chacao.
    Finally, as you mention, doubling down on the same strategy will not produce results. At some point it will be hard to sustain momentum with only marches/protests and other types of actions must enter the mix:

  4. You think right. But remember that next to you, belonging to your same generation there are millions of young people who did not have your chance to get an education and don’t know there are other worlds beyond Chavez and Maduroland, as you do.
    This is the main problem. One of education for good citizenship. You are a citizen but millions are not. This problem is not only generational. It also exists among the adults and the senior. Venezuela has 30 million people and, perhaps, 8 million citizens, defined as those who know their duties as well as they know their rights.
    The fight ahead of you is how to convert this country of people into a country of citizens. You are the obvious warriors because the future is yours, but you will find many allies among the minority of older venezuelans who are well educated as citizens.
    Good luck to you. I think you will do well,

  5. Beautifully written, to tears, with clarity far beyond your youth. All (constructive) comments above extremely valid, so far as: empathy for/similarity to those similarly downtrodden, but on the other side of the barricades; care in not selling out for a mess of porridge (curul in the AN/Regime-CNE-fixed Regional elections); not allowing further theft of your future; and, very importantly, Gustavo’s insightful differentiation of 8 million citizens vs. 22 million more needing education as to their real rights (and obligations) in a democracy (Generacion Del ’28, anyone?).

  6. People who are good at fighting and toppling tyrannies are not necessarily good at keeping things in good order and in expertly handling public resources … takes two different complementary types of skills and talents , during a war we revere our heroes but after they are won those heroes even if inspiring are not necessarily the most useful assets….

    Our society needs redoing but you cant expect to change the mass of people at one go with ´education´,instead you realistically create small islands of reliable expertize to take care of the practical business of governance while leaving the heady tasks of politics to the best proffessionals , not one to think too much of amateurs , they have their place but also their limitations !! After you create these islands of excellence you tackle each problem one at a time with thoroughtness and vision and then use those islands as expanding ink spots to spread their influence progressively and gradually over the rest of society

    The really decisive figure in WWII was not Patton or Macarthur , but general George Marshall who organized the country for the efficient prosecution of a very demanding war …!! .

    • Bill—maybe I am misunderstanding this post, but I think your response is a bit disrespectful (surprising from you). the author seems to be saying that they, the students, will stand with the MUD until, inevitably, leadership veers down the tunnel without a light at the end. At this point, the author contends, that the students will take their own fork in the road. If these divergent paths come together as one at a further point down the road, great, if not, that is the question. Seems to me that he, as a student, is demanding accountability from the MUD, nothing more nothing less.

      • Not at all disrespectful , but there is caution to be exercised from our tendency to be carried away by our hero worship and expect too much from them while deligh in making monsters of people whom we feel have failed us somehow ,our traditional fascination with the romanticized figure of Bolivar is a case in point …… lets honour our heroes but lets not expect them to be the answer to all our prayers just because we love to think of heroes as all pure and omnicompetent .

        Generally I find that creating with our fired up imagination a world or pure resplendent heroes and pure villains while very emotionally exciting is both unjust and self defeating……… , We owe a lot of respect to the student movement at this moment , but the people who probably will most matter in the end will be some boring bald overweight middleaged guys with glasses who are absolutely lacking in charisma but who understand what has to be done and how.!!

  7. I congratulate to all Venezuelans standing up against Maduro on the streets, regardless of age, for their courage and commitment to freedom and democracy.
    It makes me go back to Venezuela and join them !!
    Unfortunately that is not a practical option for many like me in the Venezuelans diaspora who would have resources to help in time and money.
    It is quite a paradox that at this point the Venezuelans living abroad are nothing more than passive spectator as the situation worsen yet we were quick to act united in the relief efforts during the 1999 Vargas mud-slides natural disaster.
    I agree that street protest is a basic option against the dictatorship but is not fair to let them carry all the weight of that effort. Activating the Venezuelan Diaspora should also become a priority.
    Me, together with family and friends have yet to find out how to channel our effort$ to remove the Maduro dictatorship using any means necessary to do so.

  8. Very well written. I have nothing to offer you but my thoughts and prayers. Stay strong, the fight is indeed for your future.

  9. “The first cop turned and walked away, and his partner’s tone changed.”

    This is the result that is needed.As long as men with guns protect the regime, it will continue in power. If they abandon the regime, it will fall. That’s what happened in Russia in 1917.

    The oppo needs to contact and perhaps confront the individual members of the security services, and ask them why they are serving the regime (but as individuals, when off duty; recruit family members as intermediaries).

    Put together a script. Point out the regime’s most obvious failures (crime, food, medicine), corruption (Odebrecht, various boliburgueses), and finally, illegal political acts (imprisoning political figures, ignoring the AN, denying elections). Remind them what is happening to their own families. The material failures cannot be fixed until the regime goes – and it commits political crimes to stay in power, which makes it illegitimate. Their own oaths of office require them to uphold the law.

    Also note the barely restrained violence of the colectivos, which the average policeman knows about: if the regime stays in power, and the people become truly desperate, will there be massacres?

    At some point, be prepared to accept and use mass defections.

    A similar effort to win over the army.

  10. Ignacio, We need to talk urgently!!!!! This articles is 1000% right on target on a wave that I want to see happening as THE strategic new direction for succeeding and having a bright future ahead for all!!!!
    I called it #HayqQuebrarelCerco. Got some ideas about it and MUST share them with you!!!! How can I talk to you? I am Venezuelan and live in Brazil now. Pls, can you email me with your contact info. [email protected]

  11. My answer is just like any mother (and the abuelitas tambien) would give: God bless you and all the students. May He protect you and guide you the best way possible.

  12. Agree that the student movement is pretty much the only legitimate voice of the opposition these days but seriously: Fuck the Fiscal General.
    Do. Not. Fool yourself into thinking she is an ally or that she can be brought to your side. At best, she is a Colonel Landa.
    Remember when people started implying that Padrino Lopez was the defender of democracy after “forcing” chavismo to accept the results of the parliamentary elections?
    By all means, try to click with the police and military. At this stage, it won’t be elections what will bring down chavismo, it’ll be when the security forces stop following their orders.


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