Venezuelans have been marching, praying, playing music, and even striking against the government for over 50 days now. The dictatorship’s response? Sustained repression to silence us.

Most of us are peaceful. Venezuelans want to preserve life and civil rights. We’ll march anywhere, anytime. That’s the kind of protest we’ll be a part of: peaceful, organized and purposeful. But a nasty ghost is haunting our peaceful protest movement: the spectre of the guarimba.

In los Altos Mirandinos and in San Cristóbal, in Táchira and Mérida, the use of barricades and roadblocks is back in full force, as neighborhood youths shut down entire cities to “protest” the regime somehow in a dismaying repeat of the 2014 experience.

Why are we walking down this road again?

I’ve personally been shaken down for money in order to get past a guarimba.

I think I get it, kind of: a guarimba makes you feel like you are actively helping bring the regime down. Burning trash and blocking the roads with debris, taking down light poles, traffic lights and trees, vandalizing police stations after you’ve been repressed and tear gassed… these things feel good. They feel good because they went there first, the regime started it and it only seems right that we punch back.

But we know how this goes. Unscrupulous people have already started to take advantage of the situation, fishing in troubled waters.

Whenever tires get burnt and streets get blocked, violence makes its entry. If you try to get past the Guarimbas there is a good chance you’ll get mugged or your car will be damaged. It’s 2014 all over again.

I’ve personally been shaken down for money in order to get past a guarimba. And I didn’t leave my house for the fun of it. I’m a doctor. I need to get to my workplace.

But some people don’t have a choice but to show up for work everyday.

“Some people do, though,” a guarimbero friend says.

“They’ll try to pass through the barricade in their cars and you can clearly see they’re just trying to live as if this was a normal country and nothing is going on. It’s upsetting; they’re just listening to music while driving and trying to get to the malls and do some shopping.”

When asked why he believes in guarimba as way of protesting he says “MUD has let me down so many times, this is a way for the people to show how upset they are with this dictatorship, to stop people from not caring, to make sure everybody realizes this is not a normal country.”

This last week, MUD’s marching agenda suffered due to the blockage of pretty much every street in my city. People protested every single day, but they did it in their own terms. Why? Because MUD is falling short. Sure, they’ve finally come to realize as long as there are reasons to protest, protesting should not stop. But they’ve failed to read the crowds they lead — and you can’t lead a crowd you can’t read.

The guarimbas double as the regime’s best chance to actually crush this protest movement.

There’s no such thing as “normal” anymore. Nobody should feel like this country is normal. When that’s the mental space you’re in, the guarimba follows on, logically.

But the guarimbas double as the regime’s best chance to actually crush this protest movement: they’re tactically senseless, strategically bankrupt and lead straight into the ghettoization of protests. If anyone should be all-out mobilized to stop them right now, it’s MUD.

MUD doesn’t seem to grasp the urgency here. Calling out a “plantón” while claiming it’s not a “trancazo” is confusing, at best.

MUD’s message should be crystal clear: empowerment. It should remind all of us that freedom is within our grasp. That the country is ours to save. That the blood shed by our brothers will not be in vain, and that every time our voices are raised, it should be in their honor.

It should also remind us that protesting is our right: we are right to demand that children stop dying from malnutrition and sick people stop dying from medicine shortages. We are right to demand elections. And fighting for democracy is always right.

MUD needs to raise the bar. We need strong, visionary leadership so badly now. Anger is no strategy, spleen is no tactic. Just imagine the stakes if this movement fails. We’ve all been down this road before but this time around crisis is hitting so hard that it seems this might be our last chance to get our country back.

I’m not saying it doesn’t feel like a victory when pictures of protesters claiming GNB shields and helmets as price show up.  Seeing those pictures feels… awesome.

The thing is that it could all can get out of hand real quick in an environment like that. But is the sugar rush of humiliating some poor guardias really worth risking the movement for?

We need to keep protesting. But we also need protests to work. We need every Venezuelan on board for the long run if we expect to build the inclusive, fair and democratic nation we are protesting for. And you know and I know that guarimbas play no role in that future.

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Head of the Church of Martha Stewart: I bake therefore I am. Táchirense: Almojabana and quesadilla lover, “toche” and “juemadre” user. Pastelitos de queso con bocadillo fanatic and overall gochadas supporter. Also doctor —as in proper MD— and pobresora universitaria too.

40 COMMENTS

  1. The guarimbas are important because they keep the feeling of ‘we can’t keep living like this’ thoughout society, even among Chavistas top-figures. And to have that feeling widespread is the spark of change.

    If things get normal again, you lose; if people keep going to work and having fun on weekends as if everything is normal, you lose; if people demand the end of the protests, you lose. Actually, 2014 ended in nothing because things got normal again, unfortunately.

    Of course, a doctor shouldn’t be denied access to his workplace, nor people in medical urgency to seek medical help. But as Ulamog has already said in another post, the only ones who would deny this kind of thing are malandros, the person who asked you for money in order to allow your passing is just a thief. No reason to seek higher political discussions with such kind of people, really. MUD shouldn’t be blamed either for what these morons do.

    MUD’s only sin was the passivity throughout all these years, pretending that everything was normal, ‘playing the game’ with criminals. All in the name of ‘respecting the institutions and democracy’, which were non-existent.

    • The thing is, nothing is “normal” anymore. Not since before these protests. Check it out: https://www.observatoriodeconflictos.org.ve/tendencias-de-la-conflictividad/conflictividad-social-en-venezuela-en-el-primer-semestre-de-2016

      The main difference is the political coordination we now see, with it’s evident weaknesses and tergiversations. The guarimba actually disrupts the coordination we now need, because it can isolate us, even inside our own urbanizaciones, sectores or even our own homes.

      To demand the refocusing of the guarimbas into something more effective and less disruptive, is to demand the protest to level up. To demand the recofucing of the guarimba, it’s not to demand the end of the protest, because the guarimba (which can be very disruptive for the community and not the dictatorship, besides it can be easily misguided by malandros and infiltrados) is one of the myriad of ways to protest, not just the only one.

      It’s chaos for the sole purpose of chaos, and it’s not very hard for the malandros to blend in among the general masa arrecha (malandros alongside infiltrados), to quickly take over the control of the daily life of entire communities, as it happened to the place where I grew up.

      And that’s, I believe, part of Astrid’s point and mine.

    • Astrid,
      I adore you. This is the first time I read a post of yours but you are so very right. These blokes really do not learn from history…national or international one. We need to look for different strategies and we definitely need decent leaders.
      Chavismo is counting on the usual wear an tear of these routines we have fallen into

  2. Excellent article! In Margarita there is little gas, for neither cars nor for cooking right now. Lines were 100 deep at the gas station last night. This is because everything is blocked on the mainland and gas is not arriving by ferry. Remember, guarimbas everyday are nothing more than chemotherapy and can often kill the host before it kills the cancer.

    Yes, support is wide spread for the opposition in Margarita right now. Even in barrios like Villa Rosa. Yes, the barrios gave the GNB hell last week. However it is only a matter of time if there is no gas, you cannot eat the fish because of an oil spill, and food products do not arrive to the island because of trancas that you can have a social collapse…and the guarimberos might take most of the blame. We do not want a repeat of 2014.

    Students you to have some patience, the government has no money left and nobody will loan money to them. They will crumble.

    Their last card is to impose martial law and constant guarimbas are an invitation to that. Better to focus on surgical strikes targeting symbols of Chavismo as well as well connected Chavistas who have profited off of this while the rest of us suffer (and then make viral videos to win the media war).

    If the students do not put on their thinking cap we will repeat 2014. The danger is that they live in a bubble and will not listen to the adults. Plenty of sites on social media and youtube pushing on this philosophy of tranca todos!!! without thinking of the ramifications of this. Yes, the adults brought them to this point due to their inaction. However throwing down guarimbas everday and inviting the GNB and colectivos to your own neighborhood is not a good idea– well unless you are well armed or you are not afraid to die (and the students are not prepared for that…they just run in fear and jump into neighbors yards and thus invite the GNB and colectivos to hunt them down throughout the neighborhood).

    Time to rethink a strategy for victory.

    • “Students you to have some patience, the government has no money left and nobody will loan money to them. They will crumble.”

      Are you kidding me? is this your answer? patience? do you realize that doing the same protest 3 or more times a week is exhausting and people eventually stop going? do you want that to happen?

      If guarimbas help people get into the mindset that this is not normal, that we can’t keep living like this, THEN MORE POWER TO THEM

      As for the thieves and thugs that thrive in these situations, that’s not the MUD’s fault for gods sake. They will be present whatever the situation, we just have to find a way to weed them out.

  3. They need new strategies: PARO NACIONAL would be one of them: No one goes to work, no one in the streets: No one.

    • Do you know what a PARO means? it means that private companies stop working. Do you realize that there are barely any left? the state runs everything, and if they don’t they’ll take it by force in a minute, like they’ve done before

      I think what you mean is “trancazo”, which is blocking all the streets, so even if people want to go to work, they can’t.

      But this is what the writer of this article is criticizing.

      I, on the other hand, agree. (I live here by the way). Collapse the country so the situation is so fucked up (yes, we will all suffer), that the only thing left to do is to oust maduro.

      • Yeah you’re right. I forgot most companies now are chavista crap/

        I reiterate that Maduro is not the only problem. There are THOUSANDS of corrupt Maduros to get rid of.

  4. As Marc said, “going back to normal” will be the death of the Resistance Movement. The Guarimbas, after 50 days of protest, are still relatively small, except maybe in Tachira/Barinas, and may be necessary to keep pressure high on the Regime. Shoot me with rubber bullets/water cannon/et. al., for peaceful protesting=business as usual, with no dramatic change possibly resulting; shoot me with live bullets/FAL/snipers for guarimbas, you’ve got the attention of all decent people, within Venezuela/large segments of the middle-lower military, and of the world. There is a reason NM hasn’t declared martial law–he doesn’t trust his rank and file military to shoot peaceful protesters. You want to eliminate the guarimbas- call a national strike, or national guarimba, hope that it will be observed by most sectors, and bring down the Criminal Regime, as was done with Allende….

  5. Sorry Astrid, but I don’t think the toppling of this regime can be choreographed as nearly as you’d like. What’s next, a call for dialogue and consideration of the constituyente so we can get back to “normal”?

    Listen to the chavists and they’re screeching the loudest about the guarimbas. That tells me all I need to know about what’s really working.

  6. This being reported by various news outlets.

    The Magistrate of the Social Cassation Room of the Supreme Court of Justice Danilo Antonio Mojica Monsalvo, addressed the President of the Republic, to express his rejection of the proposal to convene a new National Constituent Assembly.

    My immediate question is how can one separate the illegal attempt to rewrite the Constitution from all of the other illegal and unconstitutional activities of the regime that this man is an integral part of?

    Is he hoping the US will rescind our financial restrictions on him?

    Perhaps I should be thankful for any crack in the regime, no matter how small. Am I wrong and this could possibly be a much bigger event than I think?

    • They’re hoping that the white-collar criminals like himself will be allowed to go free if they turn on their masters.

      And frankly, I’d almost welcome that.

  7. Mankind’s history is a history of violence. No authoritarian regime has ever folded without push back from the people, and by that I don’t mean that street violence and anarchy will be the solution to our problems, but, as ugly as it sounds, violence is an intrinsic element of change.

    The problem is that there is no direction in the protests. MUD hasn’t succeeded giving them the necessary direction, mainly because of fear of dealing with the consequences of directly or indirectly directing people’s distress towards government institutions.

    People will loot, things will get worst. But anger should be focused in the real culprits.

  8. I agree but want to add two things.

    1. Massive street protest works until a certain point when you are dealing with a somewhat reasonable regime. However, against a criminal, psychopath, suicidal gang, i think it might require the use of force, as in violence. The international support being the wild card here that have yet to be activated.

    2. In my opinion, the MUD have done an incredible job, but they might not be the most adequate group to address the difficult challenge of toppling a criminal regime because they were organized from the start to deal with different issues.
    The MUD has found itself leading the opposition but they were really a solution for last year hopes of a Democratic solution by means of the AN and the Recall Referendum.

    Today, the situation has rapidly changed and we are facing a major problem so accordingly we need new leadership and groups that go above and beyond Venezuela political parties.

    I would like to see the many Venezuelans that live abroad forming ONE big non partisan group, almost like a parallel Government to help coordinate, plan and act to help bring to an end the dictatorship. We might be fighting this regime for years to come if we don’t organize better move fast.

      • Better organized? Of course. The regime is a government, with formal lines of authority enforceable by law, and has sole control of the funds supporting the regime. (Except for the narcomoney.)

        Better funded? Of course. They have the assets of the state, including all the petromoney.

        More united? Of course. It’s a single faction, whereas the Opposition is a coalition of once and future rival factions.

  9. BTW, I see repeated calls for more leadership from the opposition. Aren’t we forgetting that a significant percentage of that leadership has been jailed?

  10. Hay que mirar más allá de la propaganda. Quienes saquean no tienen nada que ver con la resistencia, por ejemplo. Los manifestantes a veces cometen errores, pero no hay que juzgarlos ni atacarlos sino en cualquier caso conducirlos. Que los ataquemos es lo que busca la dictadura. Nunca hay que aceptar la propaganda oficial. Incluso si dijera la verdad. La vida de la gente están en juego. Si a usted no le gusta la guarimba, por favor mire para el otro lado y cállese la boca. Es necesario en este momento. Suena feo pero es lo que hay mientras la dirigencia reacciona.)
    El trancazo es perfectamente válido, pero no es suficiente. Lo que se necesita es una sola agenda de lucha. El analista más acertado es Julio Coco. Escuchen su último beta.
    De cualquier manera, lo importante, como han señalado acá, es no regresar a la normalidad. Yo prefiero el caos a la normalidad.

  11. So What’s the recommendation? I read a lot of criticisms of the MUD and guarimberos -don’t do this and don’t do that- but I rarely read any suggestions for what smart and creative protests look like.

    • Exactamente. En mi opinion todo suma, las guarimbas, las protestas y por supuesto lo mas importante, paro nacional, para el cual no estamos listos, solo Tachira, Merida y el este de Caracas irian a un paro nacional, el resto de pais lo dudo…

  12. […] Rioting and looting have exploded in the rural state of Barinas, leaving eight dead and dozens injured. In one of Caracas’s main plazas on Saturday, a lynch mob doused a young man with gasoline and set him ablaze. And in several neighborhoods of the capital, masked protesters have been setting up smoldering street barricades known as “guarimbas,” demanding payment from passing cars. […]

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