Translated by Javier Liendo

Perhaps Venezuelans are clueless about whether we’ll reach safe harbor doing what we’re doing. We may not even be certain of what that harbor looks like or what may be awaiting us there. But one thing we’re positive about: we’re through with this hell. We’ve got to find a way out, even if we have to do it in the dark.

It was 10:30 a.m. when I turned off the computer.

“Who’s coming? Everyone, right?”

“Yes, let’s go!” my coworkers replied.

Only a couple stayed back at the office to get some work done, the work that keeps us afloat to pay wages and avoid a complete shutdown.

Euphoria

The building was suffused with the atmosphere of protest, people “were onto something.” Recent clashes in El Rosal have made us wary and left two broken panes of glass from a tear-gas canister fired right against the building’s entrance.

Our leader, Guillermo, carries an old backpack with milk of magnesia, vinegar, pieces of cloth and a baseball glove; he’s a former shortstop, and now he throws tear-gas canisters.

We’re a small group of people from various offices, seven or eight depending on how many Metro stations the regime chooses to shut down that day, and we already look like a batallion: white shirt, jeans, cap and old tennis shoes.

Our leader, Guillermo, carries an old backpack with milk of magnesia, vinegar, pieces of cloth and a baseball glove; he’s a former shortstop, and now he throws tear-gas canisters. Alejandra, a 25 year old lawyer, walks at the front carrying the national flag. 

Hope

Twenty minutes later, we caught up with a huge crowd — Great! Each time I march I have the gnawing worry that nobody will show up, that they’ll finally get tired of protesting, but it’s been a month of almost daily protest and my fears have yet to materialize.

The day was hot as hell.

As we made our way to the Francisco Fajardo highway, I talked with Guillermo about how to involve the middle ranks of the Armed Forces with the movement.

“We have to keep pushing them, raise the stakes so that this becomes unsustainable. Chávez talked all the time about the drama of shooting against the people during the Caracazo, we must hit that nerve.”

“But without the Caracazo.”

“Of course.”

“The problem’s that trying to reason with those guys is impossible, they’re brutes.”

The day of the March of Silence, the picture of a nun being embraced by a masked National Guard went viral. True, guns are deaf to the words of an old lady with a rosary in her hand, but guards aren’t. Some of them – the majority, I like to believe – are there just following orders over a meager if much needed paycheck, they go hungry under a scorching sun on the street while their superiors drink Old Parr. They know that all too well.

Vertigo

Once we reached the highway, we start marching West. Flags flap in the wind, giving the scene a somewhat Helm’s Deep-ish feel, with a soundtrack from The Foggy Dew, #tropicalmierda version.

We all know what’s going to happen.

“Look, there they come,” Alejandra says.

There’s already an unspoken agreement about how the ritual of repression is going to go down in these battles.

We hear people applaud.

“There are like 30 of them, look how they form a line with their crusader shields like an army!”

“But they’re kids! How old could they be? 17, 18?”

“No idea, but these marches would die out in two minutes if it weren’t for them.”

There’s already an unspoken agreement about how the ritual of repression is going to go down in these battles: you repress us, we retreat and then return to the front. It’s a dance of war.

The first shots boom in the background… they’re unmistakable, their sound is hollow and dense like a base drum.

People start running.

“Don’t run! Don’t run! Resist, resist!” a woman shouted, and nobody moved. They’re all in.

Remember the image of the lady standing in front of the armored vehicle a few weeks ago? That’s a symbol of the same feeling: utter determination to firmly oppose abuse. Conflict is in the air, but people’s weapon is resistance and their best attack is not showing fear against guns. That shit drives them crazy.

Pain

The GNB’s motorcycles overwhelm the frontlines.

“Look, look, look, they went that way, they went that way.”

“Take the cloth, take the cloth!”

“Let’s go to the Sambil, hold on, hold on, don’t let go!”

Tear-gas is a cruel enemy. First, it blinds you to confuse you, and then it irritates your throat and nose to make it harder for you to breathe, cause panic and even nausea. Panic ensues. People crowd together trying to flee while the sound of the GNB’s motorcycles buzz in our ears.

It’s mayhem.

“Don’t lose sight of the guards, don’t lose sight of them!”

Guillermo, our infielder, is an expert in evasion tactics in these situations.

“Let’s go to the CCCT, there are better chances there!”

I had to make do with what remained of my sight to keep an eye on Alejandra’s flag, the guards a the tear-gas canisters falling from the sky. It was like Call of Duty.

When we get to the CCCT mall’s entrance, the worst: they ambush us from la Carlota military airport and there was nowhere to run. Tear-gas, choking and the fear that one of those canisters splits your head open. I was in a lot of pain.

“Actually, I’m ready to go back out for more,” said our shortstop.

What do these guys want? It’s hard to think at the moment, but the canisters never leave your mind. As Nietzsche said, “only that which does not cease to hurt will remain.”

The CCCT became a refuge.

Then we start congratulating each other for having slipped the vultures’ grasp. The goal wasn’t reached, true, but they couldn’t take anyone and nobody was wounded, that’s a win. 

We won’t leave.

“Actually, I’m ready to go back out for more,” says our shortstop.

People need to identify with something

As the days go by, these protests are taking on the shape of a movement with an identity that goes well beyond its practical purpose. The flags and the tear-gas define us so far, but people need to identify with something more than smoke and bombs, because smoke dissipates quickly and the problems we face as a society remain, like the broken glass back in the office, as a reminder that this is about more than just ousting Maduro.

We took a bus and went home.

We won’t leave the streets until the sun finally shines on our nation once more.

42 COMMENTS

  1. Guys,
    We need to discuss what these Chavista thugs are capable of given their chances after they lose power.

    I ask anyone of you to tell me where he or she imagines the life of the likes of Cabello, Maduro, Padrijo, Carvajal, Lucena, etc adterwards. Cuba still has all its interests in keeping chavismo in Venezuela, in spite of the economic changes etc.
    Do you think these guys could live in Russia? I have been to Russia and even if it is not bad to live there if you have stolen a lot of money, I do not think it is for any of those Chavistas. Different culture, language and climate.
    Even in Brazil or Costa Rica? Imagine their daily routines, where they will buy, what bodyguards they could have and the reaction of Venezuelans around them.

    I saw some of these chavista bastards infiltrate the UCV late 1989 to provoke chaos an ultimately a caracazo. I saw how they were playing games with the cops and the only ones who suffered were civilians. Extreme left and military mixed and depended on each other.
    We are dealing with a group of dangerous criminals who do not see any future for themselves outside power. They seem to falter but strike back long enough to make many thousands leave the country…one wave after the other…same as in Cuba or Belarus.

    Now we have to be incredible creative and at the same time learn from history.

    The thugs we are dealing with will be harder to expell than Pinochet, the Apartheud regime or communist dictatorships at the end of the eighties in Europe, who were just the second or third generation of repressors and were less directly linked to big crimes.

    • They won’t come to Costa Rica. Most expats here are hardcore anti-chavista gochos and zulianos with little tolerance for enchufados and related thugs (fun fact: the ambassador is Arias Cardenas’s son, who ironically has made an effort to be in relatively good terms with the community). Plus, chavismo isn’t very popular here among the locals.

      Nicaragua is the place for them.

  2. Godgiven Hair and the other alta-narcos will not risk fleeing to another country as the risks are too high. A friendly government there today may not be tomorrow. They’d rather die in Venezuela as opposed to a prison in the United States.

    As for the military, you can bet the overwhelming majority do not support this government. But until they’re sure those in charge are going to fall, do not expect them to revolt.

    • The problem with a place like Russia or China is that they will be targeted by the locals for extortion and protection and these groups could be linked to the government. Cuba is a safe bet because they are in the tropics and can bank safely with the State. Im not sure the entire miltiary will revolt. I see them carving up the country first.

  3. “Perhaps Venezuelans are clueless about whether we’ll reach safe harbor doing what we’re doing. We may not even be certain of what that harbor looks like or what may be awaiting us there…”

    Freedom from repression has no particular physical expression and it wont instantly solve all your problems but you will know it instantly when you achieve it. It is a natural state for us humans. May God bless your efforts or if it better suits you, may the force be with you.

  4. “One of those scorching-hot girls who don’t strike you as Venezuelan but feel the flag with their hearts.” Nope, stopped reading. Why would you feel the need to comment on her physique? Would you say anything similar about Guillermo? #everydaysexism

    • It’s actually, and maybe inadvertently, a trope that you see throughout revolutionary literature. Goethe called it the ‘Ewig-weibliche’. On a lengthy discussion of this see Milan Kundera’s ‘Life is Elsewhere’.

      Not apologizing for it. You make a valid point. But it’s a trope as old as Homer.

  5. Dont want to sound anoying but a phrase bothered me: “one of those scorching-hot girls who don’t strike you as Venezuelan”. Thing there is some prejudice there, just for you to reflect or me for not understanding. If the first, please reflect on that because that kind of thinking elevated to nth power was that brought chavez in first place. If the second, I apologize forehand. Regards

  6. No, no amor.

    Great respect for those marching, and the bravery of the youth resistence. But you need to break the resolve of mid-level military, and the will of lower level GNB and police who are still willing to pull the trigger against protesters. They are the one’s protecting Maduro y su narcocombo.

    So.. it comes down to the women who can break the goons.

    When the mother tells her son son, no sunday dinner if he has been beating students.

    When the wife tells her husband, no I will not wash the remains of tear gas from your uniform.

    When the novia tells her goon novio, no… No Amor. If you beat and gas peaceful protest.. no amor.

    This would break in days, not months.

    • Would you please use some appendix to your web handle, “Gringo”? I’ve had mine for years, and I believe my use predates yours. If I’m mistaken, apologies.

        • My thoughts were of your personal reputation … I post stuff about hotdogs, water balloons, and a lot of “what should have been done according to Me” … I’m very anti-socialist, the right wing of the right wing is the left, to me … I’m not sure you would want your name associated with my posts at all!! I fully recognize that you were not aware of this, and are not to blame.

  7. Si a estas alturas la gente todavía se cree que esto es sólo para tumbar al imbécil de Maduro entonces no lo han entendido todavía.

  8. “We have to keep pushing them, raise the stakes so that this becomes unsustainable. Chávez talked all the time about the drama of shooting against the people during the Caracazo, we must hit that nerve.”

    The nerve they should be hitting is about rubbing in their faces how their bosses are fat, greasy and filthy rich bureaucrats that are rich because they stole everything they have and are putting troops as them through hell just to keep their privileges.

    Using megaphones to broadcast the “Maduro, Diosdado, Alsaime, Padrino and Jorge are living in luxury while you starve and want you to garbage forever” is another strategy that’ll serve to undermime chavismo’s brainwashing propaganda.

  9. Las protestas también sirven para unirnos.
    Nos obligan a desarrollar habilidades específicas, a organizarnos, a comunicarnos, y a pensar de otra manera. Generan un sentido de pertenencia y de solidaridad, un saber.
    Los niños que se organizan para fabricar escudos de latón y que se reparten las funciones (unos cubren a los demás, otros lanzan piedras, otros devuelven las bombas lacrimógenas, etcétera) están años luz más adelantados que los políticos y los intelectuales.
    Algunos creen que esta lucha la van a ganar los políticos. Yo no. Si ustedes sacan a todos estos niños de la ecuación, no tenemos ninguna opción. No habría nada que hacer. Nada. Son la única esperanza que tenemos. Son ellos quienes están conquistando los espacios, quienes forzaron las declaraciones de la fiscal general y de Gustavo Dudamel. Son ellos quienes tienen en jaque a la dictadura, no Julio Borges ni Leopoldo López. Si esos niños se van a sus casas, perdimos.

  10. Self-introspection is required here, but so few Venezuelans have the courage to do it.

    They’re dishonest about it…won’t admit the truth…and NOW they want to portray themselves as courageous martyrs.

    Forgetting that the vast majority voted for Chavez, the majority for Maduro, and only started complaining and gave the assembly to the opposition after THEY stopped getting the free handouts stolen from others.

    It’s like you couldn’t find a single German who knew what Hitler was doing!

    I respect the young students involved in trying to make change, those too young in 1999 to be responsible for the shithole VZ has become. But most of their parents? Give me a fucking break.

    It’s only NOW…that THEY have a problem finding Harina Pan but had no problem when the government was running loose stealing liberties and freedoms before…that they’re going to the streets in protest.

    The Venezuelan character seems to be greed, because it sure doesn’t seem to be democracy.

    • The Venezuelan character seems to be greed, because it sure doesn’t seem to be democracy.

      OK, granted, but your character seems to be asshole.

      • I’ve been a rabid anti-Chavista since his golpe attempt. I was outraged that he was pardoned, and in total shock later when he was elected.

        I have some relatives in VZ I can no longer talk to, because they remain Chavistas. It hurts…

        But the truth also hurts you, as evidenced by your personal attack.

        Yeah, I came on way too strong, but it took me two decades to reach this opinion. I mean for God’s sake:

        Before Hugo, they goddamn rioted with scores killed because of higher BUS fares.

        • People should have a right to change their minds without all the judgement from those who knew better from before. Cool, you knew better. Let others arrive at the realisation now, finally, yes, much later than we would have wanted, but ffs, better late than never and we need everyone in order to rebuild the country. Chiding people for past deeds doesn’t help.

          Personally I was 12 when Chavez came to power, never supported him though my dad and paternal family did (and still do afaik), will not bring myself to hate them for it, and dream of one day returning to help build a country with better character than the goddamn nation of nepotism and rabid dishonesty that you describe and I know all too well.

  11. El Aissami would know how to turn Venezuela’s struggle into a slow motion version of Syria’s civil war.
    There are many parallels, except that the religious frenzy is not there.

    • A “war” where only one side attacks and only one side is armed.

      Yeah, “war” indeed; there’s an actual term for that, it’s called “SLAUGHTER”.

      Until people start defending their lives.

  12. I have done some photo-journalism in my day and I have to say, the picture (above) of Guillermo fielding the canister, with the graffiti wall in the background, deserves a prize.

    Wouldn’t be surprised to see it reproduced in other publications.

    Nice work.

  13. “just” ousting Maduro, you say that like it was the easiest thing, i’ll settle with that one goal for the moment and think about the next one later.

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