When I reached Avenida Francisco de Miranda, Capriles was already speaking. His voice —amplified by invisible speakers— seemed placed above us, directing the meeting to the Ombudsman’s Office. For this eighteen-year-old opera, this was new. He was telling us to take the fight not to some secluded spot in the city, but to one of the seats of government.

If you block your street, Diosdado will laugh as he stirs his scotch with his pinky. But if you march right to where he is, you challenge the infrastructure of power.

So, minutes after Capriles’s speech, María Corina, Pizarro, Ocariz and Capriles himself are walking right next to us. Watching them, people cheer and get hectic. They’re embraced by a halo of celebrity that still makes a deep impression on us. The vibe is very civil, similar to the one on September the 1st. People walk, sing, smile, take pictures. You forget what you’re doing, where you’re going, what’s about to happen. It feels normal.

As soon as we get to Libertador avenue, we meet the goons.

If you stand on a bench or climb on a fence, you can see the sea of people, and if you stay there for a while, you notice the tide never seems to ebb. Lots of folks, but this is a strictly civilian gathering; a lot of women, young and old. No kids or pets on my front, thanks Jesus, but quite a bit of older people, in all shapes and colors. This is not the type of crowd who will froth at the mouth and charge at the enemy, particularly one that’s better equipped for a fight.

As soon as we get to Libertador avenue, we meet the goons. I’d tell you it’s just like you see on TV, except TV hasn’t shown a single image of protest all week. So let’s adjust: It’s just like you see on the web. They go into formation, shields up, a human barrier in riot gear, little white tanks on each side and, even with all the distance in between, you can already feel that itch inside your throat.

This party began way before I arrived. A tear gas cannister leaves a trail of white smoke like the ink of a fleeing octopus, only that when it reaches the floor, the ink becomes a cloud. The stakes are raised and, even though the agents of dictatorship are standing right ahead, everyone keeps walking.

So you walk with them.

I won’t lie, some people do stay behind, but there’s no lack of front-liners. Voices are raised, paper masks are handed out, white faces begin to show up. The younger ones take off their shirts, turn them into hoods and pick up rocks, the classic tool of the Venezuelan protesters to defend themselves against repression.

That we were going to meet violence was a known fact. What we didn’t know was the shape of that violence, or its scale.

One of the most personal choices you can make in Venezuela is to go out and protest. It’s as personal as taking up a new career, marrying or having a kid. It shouldn’t be like that. It should just be a civil right, like any other, performed in peace and quiet, as it was before 2002, when we found chavismo could shoot at us and get away with it.

That we were going to meet violence was a known fact. What we didn’t know was the shape of that violence, or its scale. Tear gas? Will they fire plastic pellets at us (and if they do, would it be to the face)? Will they hit us with their batons or cut to the chase and open fire with their guns?

Other questions come to mind. If push comes to shove, where do I run to? Who’s walking beside me? What do I do if I get arrested?

You tell yourself that you’ll be sharp, eyes open, fully vigilant; and that’s how you’re going to avoid the cuffs. But I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what all the poor fucks arrested in eighteen years of chavismo thought, too.

Protesting in Venezuela means taking a step forward and putting your life on the line. A measured bet in some ways, but this country is nothing if not unpredictable. That’s why I don’t think you can force someone else to go out and fight. Life is precious; safeguarding it, to me, is not selfish at all.

My reasons, like yours, are purely mine. I don’t want to be a keyboard warrior, I don’t want to talk the talk and be afraid to walk the walk. I’m a punk-loving liberal and I want to live according to my ideals –and watching all other folks facing down the dictatorship through a screen felt wrong somehow.

Walking on Saturday, April 8, surrounded by a swarm of protesters, I could understand what has encouraged men, since the dawn of time, to volunteer for war. Sucks ass, it’s dangerous, but the cost of not doing it feels higher than the cost of risking it. We crossed “the line of departure”, a military term for the imaginary line beyond which a unit is committed to an attack.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

So when the actual soldiers engage us (why? we’re just walking), we all have the choice to turn around and go home. It’s the easiest thing to do —actually, staying home is easier—, but if you’re like me, the same drive that brought you here tells you that we’re not going back until we accomplish something. You don’t want to be that pussy who ran off as soon as the creeps came on. You’re not alone: shouts of “Resistance!” and “Keep advancing!” ring out all around and what you saw on the internet, the famous “we’re all through with fear” turns into an actual, physical thing that you can touch with your hand.

When a tear gas rifle is shot, it booms.

Protests in Venezuela reek of vinegar and shout with a woman’s voice. You hurry to the front (just not too much on the front, since you never forget that the thugs might shoot live ammo) and the scene gets frantic.

When a tear gas rifle is shot, it booms. If you’ve never heard an actual gunshot (this one is more deaf, dryer), you might confuse it with the real thing and that is scary —because it’s absolutely possible; the 2014 round of protest was quelled with gunfire. Panic and the sight of scared faces falling back is contagious, it reaches the self-preservation instinct nested deep in your guts. Just like we are testing the waters, so are the gorillas, aiming the canisters not to your vicinity, but right to the mass of protesters. People run.

Chlorobenzalmalononitrile, better known as “tear gas”, is accepted everywhere as a “less lethal” weapon for crowd control, the key word is “less”, because given the right circumstances (pregnant women, closed spaces, children, people with breathing problems), it will choke you.

Brave and tired as we are, we’re civilians. Nobody told those old ladies what to do when the going gets rough, we have no manual on how to fight trained forces. It is my very personal belief that standing your ground in the face of this lunacy is something that either you have, or you don’t.

Being totally honest, it’s also pretty exhilarating. This is what you would never admit to friends and family. You don’t want them to think you’re some sort of maniac anarchist. The truth is, everything seems clearer, you hear better, you want to fight the armored bastards and you feel like this is some sort of ballet where consequences don’t really apply. I don’t know why.

You have to remind yourself that you’re not made of steel, that this is the real deal.

I’ve read books on war, accounts, memories, theories on the appeal of the struggle and Wilfred Owen’s poetry about the Western Front (“All the poet can do today is warn”). I obviously learned nothing. It’s hard to describe the empowerment you feel when you’re calling them “motherfuckers” right to their faces and they can hear you.

The police helicopter makes another round above us and the crowd greets it with middle fingers. You have to remind yourself that you’re not made of steel, that this is the real deal, but the younger ones, those kids crying “U-U-UCV!” not only walk to the front, they charge it.

People retreat and the course of action blurs. Some shout that we must head to the highway (where —though we didn’t know it at the time— another battle was raging.) Others just flee and some of them have completely red faces underneath the white tincture —either this is what old CS gas does to you, or that anti-acid you’re applying is no good.

A lot of people stay, they raise their hands, “Don’t flee! Resistance!”. And you see the type of things no other experience can show you, the volunteers in white helmets putting their gas-masks on and rescuing the wounded, shirtless men standing on clear patches fighting an invisible Maduro, and those who, in the middle of it all, sit on the floor to check on their phones.

It’s true that we need everyone who went and everyone who didn’t go, but we also need a new strategy, a course of action for the fierce repression that we’ll certainly meet. A clear goal. Because when you’re on the front line, you don’t see the bigger picture. You assume you’re winning because you keep moving forward. The carómetro becomes your compass.

“Men,” Marx wrote, “make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.” The asshole was right. Make no mistake, chavismo ate my generation. It took our dreams, our hopes for a normal life, and subjected it to crime, to sickness, to escalating humiliation and the loss of our basic dignity. It tainted the image we had of ourselves; it expelled us from our home land. We’re not fighting it “as we please”, we fight it because we must. A declaration of principle. We refuse to be intimidated, we refuse to just stand and watch. This is the spirit of the times we’ve been called on to live, a spirit that will mark the end of the nightmare.

But not unless we make it happen.

 

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Victor usually writes about geek culture and punk music. In 2015, he won the Concurso Venezolano de Literatura Fantástica & Ciencia Ficción SOLSTICIOS. He thinks Magneto makes some valid points.

18 COMMENTS

    • Exactly like a superhero from a Galaxy far far away 👽👾🤖👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 Bravo Victor Drax. Excelente Crónica

  1. Wonderfully written. Your generation has already paid an incredible price, the rewards will come. I pray Venezuelans not only remember what they have lost but retain a clear memory of how you lost it. As the greatest guru of them all, Pogo said “We have met the enemy and he is us”

    • Pogo also famously said, as do especially NM/VPL/JC/similar, not to mention many thousands of corrupt Venezuelans in Florida/Madrid/Manhattan/Panama/worldwide, with a goblet of Napoleon in one hand, and a fine Cuban stogie in another, “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

  2. Hemingway couldn’t have done better.

    I totally s**t on Marx. Men DO make history (duh!) and they DO make it the way they want it! The core of it is virtue.

    Understanding is a great virtue. The guys in the armor you face are just men. They do reason. They have feeling and fears, too. Imagine what they think, outnumbered 10 to 1. Imagine what they think of the “virtue” of their position, of their “leadership”. As the young women and men in videos tell them, “We are fighting for YOU!”

    Look at the world. It is shaped by men who were led by virtues and principles. And they DO make it the way they want it.

  3. Your piece makes me think of a battlefield where you are outgunned and there is little to be done but press on.

    It also made me ask why not do what other have done in a war when outgunned? Splinter the attack and go in 100’s of directions/streets, as they wont be able to stop all of you given there are much fewer of them thean there are of you? They would probably have to surround points of interest in response, but you could collectively get much closer to where you want to go…and they would be much more scared of what you are capable of doing in the future as a result…

  4. Excelent! When you read what is happening so well writen and in another language, you get a different perspective. Keep fighting, keep writing, you are really livino.

  5. Excellent piece Victor Drax, While I read I was there walking besides you, the tear gas prickling my throat, exactly where my fear collides with my patriotism. All I can be is a keyboard activist for now. Sending news of what’s happenning out to the 🌎… gracias!!! Jjjjj

  6. Well done and lots of courage shown. Maybe you all need a second group that either flank or come up behind the enemy to catch them by surprise and get the rocks working better.

  7. Well written and a lot of courage shown. Maybe you all need a second or third group that flanks or comes behind the enemy and rocks the hell out of them

  8. Venezuela Independence Day (and Armed forces Day) is less than 3 months away. This is the day that the country should be re-claimed. The symbolism of the day makes it perfect, as the opposition can piggyback on all the things wrong with the country, while highlighting all the good things that independence is supposed to mean to each citizen. (Free Speech, Elections, Health Care access. et al),

    The whole country should be on Holiday, so it is not a choice of working or not, so everyone is requested to march on the capital in 2 or 3 distinct locations in Caracas, (divide and conquer) or if unable to come to the capital to each Local government center. This is not a million man march. This is a 20 million man, woman and child march to re-claim what is our birthright. (Note I am not venezuelan).
    Make it so that the police and armed forces are stretched to there limits.

    On to more symbolism, everyone needs to carry a real or paper flower (OK, the PR guys might be able to do better), but the point being, that when the Maduro hacks start the violence, shooting, the photos taken, the juxtaposition of peace and blood will be a powerful visual, that should help with the eventual fall of this regime. Both domestically, and internationally.

    As to the armed force, and police, (not the collectivos and brain dead chavista thugs), the people need to hand them the flowers, or again something symbolic that hits a nerve with the rank and file force, that “we are you” , or “Is this what you really believe in”, or “Lets pray that neither your or my child gets sick” …….

    Venezuela, needs a spark to change this regime (without much death). King Maduro, is betting on rising oil prices, to stay in power. That is possible and tragic. Now is the time to ignite that spark – really a perfect time. The population is hungry, ill, and desperate. The San Felipe and other incidences, in “pro-chavista” areas highlight the loss of support for the King, that all agree is unprecedented.

    No-one wants violence, but with the repression that accompanies any peaceful gathering. With the shutting down, intimation and jailing of journalist. With the propaganda spewing from the Kings regime, and the targeting of popular and pro democracy politicians the time has come for the final push.

    Independence Day is just that day.

  9. Maybe ambush the gorillas and use paintball on the windows of the Tanquetas & Ballenas and on the visors on the goon’s helmets? Jjj just thinkin’

  10. Victor (your name says it all), many thanks for beautiful writing (he who said Hemingway was right!) putting us so realistically in the marches and on the front lines; your last paragraph is a very powerful punch to the gut.

  11. My Name is Amelia Rose . I have a very amazing and intellectual friend!! She sent me this link to your article. I am so sad that any of you go through the tyranny of that so called front liner .. Victor keep us posted on all this! I wish I could get my country to fix the wrong doings of what the last president did to all of you.. this is the beginning of a whole new Ending!! Just so we can have our kids and grandkids begin again and learn not to be inhumane!

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