On Caracas’s West Side, the two sets of protests on Wednesday came bizarrely close on several occasions. When I set off for the San Bernardino rallying point, the chavista rally in Avenida Urdaneta was already starting. I crossed dozens of pro-government marchers —some of them were actually wearing public office uniforms.

Opositores and chavistas traded slogans but also smiled and waved at each other. There were even some handshakes.

A rallying spot had been set up in Plaza La Candelaria for them, with inflatable castles for the kids and salsa music. Eventually, I caught sight of a group of opposition protesters walking back up to Avenida Andrés Bello and a police line blocking the street in front of Parque Caracas. Finally, I managed to join the San Bernardino march.

A sizable chavista crowd was walking on the opposite sidewalk and they were starting to cross toward us, sparking anxiety among protesters who thought they were going to try and start a fight. Nothing happened, though: they were simply taking the overpass to get to La Candelaria. Opositores and chavistas traded slogans but also smiled and waved at each other. There were even some handshakes.

My group moved down to Avenida Libertador and soon met the first National Guard line blocking access to the Ombudsman’s Office. We didn’t stay there, we kept going toward Plaza Venezuela. That’s when I became conscious of the sheer number of people around me, and got my first look at the long line of buses brought in by the government.

Filing down to Paseo Colón and Parque Los Caobos, we finally took the highway. A GNB line was already in place and they were quick with the tear gas, forcing people to retreat further west or cross back to Paseo Colón, where chavistas were also making their way toward Av. Bolívar.

Alí Primera songs resonated from Plaza Venezuela as people went back to the highway. The plan was to join the march coming from El Paraíso, but we soon learned that was never going to happen, as that part of the protest had already been blocked and attacked by the security forces.

No son los chavistas, marico, ellos pasan lo mismo que tú y que yo. Es el gobierno.

The Guardia Nacional (GNB) gave way and regrouped beneath the bridge to the Universidad Central, but people didn’t clash with them. There was little to no communication between officers and protesters until the Policia Nacional Bolivariana (PNB) showed up. They immediately started talking to protesters, telling them to stay back. Motorizados in red turned up behind the main march on the highway, but again there was no immediate conflict and the marches even mingled in a few places.

There was some confusion as to what to do next, a few called for aggressively rushing the authorities despite the tear gas, but most urged caution and calm. A group of friends were trying to decide whether to try and reach the other side of the highway. One of them said “¡Estos malditos chavistas no nos dejan en paz!” (These goddamn chavistas won’t leave us alone!), and one of his friends said “No son los chavistas, marico, ellos pasan lo mismo que tú y que yo. Es el gobierno.” (It’s not chavistas, marico, they put up with the same stuff as we do. It’s the government.)

And he’s right, of course. The real enemy, the invading force, the cruel jailers are the ruling clique, Maduro and his cronies, not the guy I walk past in the street every day who, regardless of ideology, suffers their madness along with me.

After about an hour, I decided to make my way to the East side of Caracas. In Plaza Venezuela, I saw chavista marchers choking on tear gas. Malandros had already started making their rounds, robbing laggards from both marches.

Repression was so brutal on the highway near El Rosal and Av. Casanova that tear gas had already reached the Boulevard de Sabana Grande. Still, some shops and restaurants were open and a few people were trying to lead their day with some semblance of normalcy, despite the damp cloths they had to put over their faces from time to time.

The PNB was blocking access to Plaza Brión but left a small space for people to squeeze in and protesters took their chance to say de todo to them: insult them, call them to reason, denounce them, sympathize with them or even shake their hands in acknowledgement. By the time I got to El Rosal, there was a huge crowd coming from the Francisco Fajardo, some groups walking up to Country Club and Campo Alegre, while most made their way to Altamira.

One would think that, after being gassed by the security forces, dispersed, bullied, labelled as terrorists by the regime, arrested and beaten, dissidents would’ve simply broken down in fear by now. That’s what the government seems to be expecting, at least.

What I saw in those people was quite far from that. I saw anger, exhilaration, people sharing ideas of what they would do in the next protest. I saw camaraderie but also serious-mindedness. Above all, I felt a growing sense of urgency, of inevitability, emanating from the civilian mass. Fear was nowhere to be found.

I saw yesterday across the city was a civil society determined to take its rights back.

I left the street yesterday with the deep feeling that people won’t back away from conflict. Just as the cornered government snarls, apparently ready to arrest or kill us all rather than giving up power, citizens are finding a common drive, a single goal to pursue.

This regime stole our country and our future from us. They’ve made us bleed and cry, tearing us apart from those we love and even trashing our humanity. What I saw yesterday across the city was a civil society determined to take its rights back. People who have seen the enemy in the eye and have chosen to stand their ground, to persevere, because this is no longer a matter of opinions. This is now a matter of survival.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Javier, great command of the idiom. Of course, all are sufferers of Populismo, as Gloria Alverez so aptly says. And, as Gustavo Coronel recently said, the Oppo command should shake up tactics, to avoid attrition with daily marches with less marchers meeting the same tear-gassed fate (e.g., the emboldened GNB is today taking the attack to “Sifrino East” stronghold El Rosal)….

  2. From the Wall Street Journal: Many Poor Venezuelans Are Too Hungry to Join Antigovernment Protests By Anatoly Kurmanaev and Kejal Vyas

    CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolás Maduro has lost support among the legions of poor Venezuelans that once backed the late Hugo Chávez, but they have largely shown little interest in joining the opposition-led protests that have convulsed the country the past three weeks.
    Many of the impoverished residents of the vast slums that ring Caracas and other major cities are angry about a collapsing economy and food shortages. But Venezuela’s political unrest remains mostly confined to middle-class enclaves, underscoring the struggle the opposition here faces in trying to unseat an increasingly authoritarian government.
    “All I have is hunger — I don’t care if the people protest or not,” said laborer Alfonzo Molero in a slum in Venezuela’s second-largest city, Maracaibo. “With what strength will I protest if my stomach is empty since yesterday?”
    Until the slums rise up, Mr. Maduro will likely hang on, analysts say.
    “The discontent in the poor sectors is not being channeled through the opposition,” said Alejandro Velasco, a history professor at New York University and the author of a book on Venezuelan slums.
    In three weeks of unrest, seven protesters have been killed and hundreds have been jailed. The government has used tactics such as lobbing tear gas from helicopters to disperse opposition crowds, efforts aided by pro-government gangs often armed with weapons and clubs.
    Many slum residents in Caracas and across Venezuela, however, say they are only vaguely aware of the protests and too busy trying to survive to worry about changing the government.
    More than four in five Venezuelans say they don’t earn enough to meet basic needs and three-quarters say they have lost an average of 19 pounds of weight last year, according to the Encovi survey by Venezuela’s top three universities.
    The government’s tight control over mainstream media means many poorer Venezuelans without smartphones or internet access say they have no idea when and where the protests even take place. The state’s vast propaganda apparatus offers few details of unrest and portrays the mostly peaceful protesters as Molotov-cocktail-throwing “terrorists,” scaring off many in the slums from joining them.
    Some say they are intimidated by armed pro-government militias who scour the slums for signs of dissent. Others say they are afraid to lose the few food handouts the cash-strapped government still provides.
    When government agents last week visited one of the country’s largest slums of San Félix in eastern Venezuela to see who was eligible for bags of subsidized food staples, even radical opponents of Mr. Maduro timidly got in line, said local priest Carlos Ruiz.
    “We wear our protest on the inside for the fear of losing our bag of food,” said San Félix resident Luisa Gutiérrez, a single mother of three.
    Almost two-thirds of Venezuela’s poor, as defined by a variety of socioeconomic factors, want Mr. Maduro to leave, up from 40% when he took office in early 2013, according to pollster Delphos.
    The lower classes have also been instrumental in giving the opposition alliance a record two-thirds congressional majority in the last electoral contest, held in December 2015. Polls show the poor would hand the government a drubbing in any vote held this year.
    Yet that growing disillusionment hasn’t translated into organized protest, said pollster Luis Vicente León. Part of the reason, he added, is the opposition itself, whose predominantly upper-middle-class leaders have ignored the slums for years, believing they can oust Mr. Maduro or his predecessor Hugo Chávez by marching in opposition strongholds or triggering a coup.
    A younger generation of opposition leaders has been trying over the past few years to gradually build grass-roots support in the slums. They often disdain for the opposition among the poor, as well as dangers of pro-government militias and national guard troops harassing and sometimes beating them when they enter working-class neighborhoods.
    Government supporters last week even burst into an Easter church service in a working-class neighborhood in central Caracas to try to beat up an opposition leader, Antonio Ecarri.
    The opposition’s rallying cry centers on political rights like freeing political prisoners and holding elections, rather than on bread-and-butter issues such as food prices and scarcity.
    “We, the politicians and activists are not thinking like these people,” said Jhovani Landaeta, an opposition activist in the impoverished Valles del Tuy region outside Caracas. “They’re isolated from the national debate.”
    Without support in the shantytowns, many opposition supporters fear the current protests will end like the previous wave of unrest in 2014, when three months of demonstrations in middle-class neighborhoods left 43 people dead — without achieving any political change. The failure of those protestshas demoralized and fractured the opposition alliance for years.
    “For the masses to come out, they need to feel that they are at a point of no return,” said Félix Seijas Jr., director of pollster Delphos. “We’re still some ways away from that.”
    –Sheyla Urdaneta in Maracaibo and
    María Ramírez
    in Puerto Ordaz contributed to this article.

    • All very true. It’s sad that the 20% better-educated/knowledgeable/better-off are risking their lives, when the 80% opposite don’t/can’t actively back them up–same thing happened in Cuba, with the 30% upper % eventually leaving the other 70% to their (well-deserved?) fate. This is what the Cuban puppet masters are counting on….

    • Maslow’s Pyramid: Take control of the food, and you will harness the power to rule the country for as long as you like.

  3. Finally the term civil society is brought back after many years of absence…it will be good if politicians are kept aside this time around. Else, the civilian movement will reach the same dead end it always does.

    • Political leaders are a crucial part of that revival, they’re standing at the vanguard of protests. And for good or ill, I doubt this will reach any point that has already been reached before.

      • Sure you are entitled to have your view. I prefer to stick with my view which is based on historical events and which is: the same opposition leaders have disappointed time after time and have failed to gather a critical mass from all sectors of the population to change the situation. This is very well described in the below:

        https://www.wsj.com/articles/many-poor-venezuelans-are-too-hungry-to-join-antigovernment-protests-1492680607

        Being a politician is a job like any other and it should be driven by objectives. If someone for 15+ years doesn’t meet the objectives and keeps using the same mechanisms, it is only rational to suggest a change in leadership and/or strategy.Yet we haven’t learned anything and we see Freddy Guevara asking the population to prepared for a general strike. Sigh… If a pilot crashes a plane and kills everyone on board except him, you won’t go and give him a brand new plane so he can start flying away would you?

        We need politicians that can attract all the various sectors of the population so momentum is stronger and leads to a change of government.

        People won’t see this because opposition supporters every 2-3 years drink their kool-aid and go ashtray..What people should be doing now is getting organised to ask for governor’s elections. That is the most clear proof that the govt is not respecting due process (not only on a national level but more importantly, on an international level). They should just stick to one argument that has clear legs and stick with it, not be all over the place..

        • The oppo leadership is no longer in control of the ship , they have to run ahead of it to feel they are heading the forces that have been unleashed , the forces will not reason a ‘convenient’ outcome , they will just act , the causes prodding those forces on are not the result of a leaderships calls or commands , but the really desperate and infuriating situation people find themselves in , when all that sustains a half decent life has broken down and they know WHO is to blame for their afflictions ……It might be great to have a more charismatic or wise oppo leadership but even if the current opposition remains the same and doenst change their thinking they are becoming empowered by peoples rage and indignation ………these forces are not going away….even if stopped momentarily they will come back again and again ……!! We are in for rocking times ……, and historically anything can happen……!!

          • Agree Bill. Hence why it is crucial that such energy is channeled accordingly. Remember 11th April? The energy was there but not the leadership, hence the outcome. Venezuela will be no different than any other African country in constant state of instability if we just have a bunch people running around with no clear objectives and fighting for “el coroto”. We don’t want nor we can hope for “anything” to happen. We need a goal. Unless you have that in place, I am afraid that a lots of people (as highlighted in the WSJ article) will stay on the sidelines..

        • Selling out now for Governors’ elections, with a crooked CNE/SmartMatic machines/inflated electoral REP/fingerprint machine inhibitors and where Govt. employment/subsidies/influence dominates in most regions, is a losers game.

          • NET.: The opposition won the congress elections with the same system in place didn’t they? So why isn’t it possible? If you gather enough people, the results can’t be hidden no matter what the govt. does (that is my view but I could be wrong). Yes I agree the Govt’s employment/subsidies/influence dominate in many regions, however, that doesn’t mean they can’t lose. Do you not think that Chavez had it uphill when he was running in 1996? Of course he did.Yet he won (because a large group of people were angry and wanted a change). The same thing can happen now if you have the right leadership in place.

            Not changing the leadership is making the problem of poor performance worse because it’s not allowing a natural process to take place. If the leaders don’t perform, they should be changed, not rewarded and left in place. The opposition needs to be smart and pick their battles wisely. Without a proper leadership in place you end up with what you have now; an unclear agenda which is all over the place and which will most likely not accomplish much and further fragment the opposition (which is what has happened every single time). It’s already difficult enough as it is (given how the Govt is), you are only making it more difficult by not having someone fit to lead.

          • VT, your points are reasonable, but the national Assembly elections were not fixed, because VPL said no, but now he’s on the other side, and the same crooked electoral system is still in place. The Oppo leadership has made mistakes, but have found the right path–the mistakes are now being made by the Regime–excessive repressive violence of peaceful marches; 11 dead in El Valle (yes, 8 electrocuted saqueando food, but that doesn’t make it hurt less to their families/friends/neighbors/rest of the Pueblo hungry/losing weight for lack of sufficient food); political inhabilitation of Capriles and threats to incarcerate him/other prominent Oppo political leaders. The momentum/pressure must be maintained, with variations as announced by FG, so that the downtrodden Pueblo loses their fear and rises up (as in El Valle last night), the Regime continues to make mistakes/crack, and the rats abandon ship (and are hunted down and prosecuted)….

          • “The opposition won the congress elections with the same system in place didn’t they? ”

            There are rumors that several posts were stolen via fraudamatic, that chavismo only got less than 20 congressmen, but they couldn’t carry on with the whole fraud and get the 2/3 they wanted (The same as those so-called 100k votes that gave maduro his supossed victory in 2013) because the middle commands in the FAN threatened with an inmediate coup.

            The elections are rigged in Venezuela, and who votes by who matters little to nothing, chavismo lets some elections to slip only because they know they can instantly nullify and destroy such organisms as they have done with the AN and their whining that they are in contempt.

            There’s no way that ANY election will result in a loss of definitive power for chavismo, that’s why they can toss an election with even maduro or diosdado against some Voltron-esque candidate from the 98% of the country that hates chavismo with their guts today and chavismo’s candidate would have misteryously won again by less than 1%.

  4. Javier—thanks for the report, as an outsider it is the most hopeful thing I have read in awhile. The images produced be ones mind (after reading of the Gov’t vs Oppo), at least mine, would have not thought this possible. For my seat afar, at least, it appears that maybe the supporters of the various factions may not see each other with the same disdain as the leaders of the opposing factions. Hopefully someone is trying to figure out how to approach/persuade/cajole those across the divide of the legitimacy of your cause.

  5. I learned early in my life to never put someone in a position where they feel that they have nothing left to lose.

    Maduro has accomplished this for both sides in this struggle. Maduro and his cadre know that when they lose power, everything will be lost. Assets will be frozen. The US will be looking to extradite and prosecute many of Venezuela’s leaders for various crimes most notably drug smuggling. Domestic prosecutions and asset seizures will await many more officials.

    The people know that starvation and denial of human rights will intensify under this brutal criminal regime.

    Neither side can afford to give in. There will be no elections. This government will need to be removed by force. The people are determined to change the government. They must not waiver in their convictions as they know there will be no improvement in conditions if they do.

  6. John, worse still is the fact that while we are learning again about how to do tactics and strategies (hopefully!), the regime has been systematically preparing for this for almost 20 years.

    My scenario is that if things get really shaky for them then promote a split and fake a civil war start.

    Once the killing starts, they can go out the back door and enjoy their loot in any caviar left enclave they choose to.

    Venezuela beter shape up the deterrents and the warnings. They need to be chased down and brought to justice at any costs….

    Gracias a todos los patriotas donde quieran que estén!

    • LuisF

      I am an American of Dutch / Irish heritage. I and many people around the world are Venezuelans in spirit.
      Everyone that supports people’s basic rights to breathe free and determine their own futures support the struggles of the Venezuelan people.
      The brutality that is increasing is revealing the regime’s increasing insecurity. I believe that the junior military will eventually split with Padrino and the narco-criminal leadership.
      The young lady that faced down the soldier and said “We are doing this for you also.”, Must have struck fear into the souls of the regime.

  7. Javier, interesting commentary, and the point made about showing empathy with chavista marchers is an important one. Public employees, like hospital workers, local government administrators and the like are obliged to march, with implicit or explicit threats. There are roll calls at intervals, it’s not easy to get out of it, unless you’re willing to risk your career and livelihood. Many are not marching willingly and take the first opportunity they can to get “lost” and go home. I don’t think it would be too difficult to get a chavista marcher’s perspective.

  8. Im not sure people are movilizing simply because they are told by the oppo leadership to do so , it used to be that way , that the oppo leadership called people to movilize and some of them would , but now the tables have turned and it is an angry mass of people who spontaneously want to take to the street and the leadership is simply riding that wave of anger ……if they tried to stop it , they would be run over by that wave of rage thats taken over peoples mind…….its become an unstoppable collective mood . Nothing to do with a controlled carefully calculated situation …….!!

    In the end that wave of rage needs channeling and organization , to think that tumults self organize is an epically sentimental notion , you need a leadership to guide it , but that doesnt mean they can totally control it , its become a natural force now ……!!

    Feeding this rage are peoples constantly deteriorating living conditions , the conviction that the regime is behind such catastrophe afflicting their lives , the farcical theatrics the regime uses to candify and glorify its behaviour and of course the violent repression that its using against the demonstration …every dead protester is gist to the proetsting masses mill , every arbitrary arrest rekindles peoples anger and we all know that even if the regime forcibly puts a temporary lid on the protests they are going to come back , more ferociously and massive ….once the dyke breaks , you can try to contain the waters but it gets more and more difficult until the raging waters flood in..!!

    • Time will tell Bill. I can think of a few places with similar characteristics where the massive protests led to a change of government but in the end the situation didn’t improve, in fact it worsened: Egypt, Lybia and Ukraine. In my opinion, this happened because there was no real plan behind all of it.

      • It’s difficult to see poor Venezuela faring worse than under the current Govt., which is raping/pillaging/plundering it for the benefit of a few, to the detriment of the vast majority.

  9. NET.: Can’t respond to your last comment but doing so here. I can see where you are coming from. However, let’s think about in pragmatical terms. In many occasions in the past, protesters and civilians have died (Altamira Square, 11 Apr, 2014 protests etc.). Only once did it lead to the govt. being overthrown (11th Apr) and the opposition blew it up. I don’t think the most recent deaths will be a game changer. The suspension of Capriles ability to run won’t be a game changer either (it happened to Leopoldo and we are still back to square one). The problem with sticking with those two is that there is a degree of discretion and multiple views as to whether the actions are justified or not, legal or not, etc. Hence, you need to go for something that it irrefutable. In my mind, the most irrefutable of all is Governor elections. And irrefutable both nationally and internationally…

    The other option is just wait until “la gota que derramo el vaso” happens. Which may happen soon, or not…I rather take a more active stance…

    • Once again, elections under the current Regime will be rigged: the REP (electoral registry) has 20 (99.9% of eligible) million “voluntarily-registered” voters, not only a statistical impossibility, but 10 million higher than probable (virtually none of my younger in-laws are registered); these 10 million registered/10 million non-registered “registered”, are all assigned electronically by name/CI to electoral stations; at these electoral stations votes can be assigned electronically at will, particularly if paper backup ballots are not counted (as in the Capriles-Maduro fiasco, and, now in Ecuador, which used similar electronics/software), and if Oppo witnesses are not present (frequently a problem, particularly in Interior/smaller/remote/and Colectivo-dominated areas); fingerprint machines present at all electoral stations (many of which don’t work) threaten the mostly ignorant electorate that if they don’t vote pro-Govt., they could lose their Govt. job/Mision/CLAP/freebies, all of which are critical for survival for most of those living in the smaller Interior states of Venezuela; and large numbers of voters in the smaller Regional elections will be trucked/bused-in/closely watched to assure they vote pro-Govt. Finally, even if the Regional elections were fair (NOT), vital time would be wasted in CNE-delaying tactics (such as current processing of re-registration/probable disapproval of 90% of existing political parties), so that vital current momentum is lost, while the Govt. comes up with new ways to stymie/politically emasculate (voting only by Govt.-dominated Consejos Comunales, Cuban-style?) the Opposition.

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