Sharing the West Side, Fighting in the East

Although marchers from both sides met several times yesterday, there was no hint of violence between them. The violence we saw pitted the opposition not against chavista civilians, but against the security forces, which launched enough tear gas at us to reach even pro-government demonstrators in Plaza Venezuela.

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.