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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
“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.