Here we are. More than two months in, around 70 dead, 3,000+ injured and thousands protesting in the streets. When is this going to an end? We all read the statistics, nonviolence has up to 50% higher chance to succeed than violent protest. We’ve heard of Lichback’s 5 % rule — no government can survive an active mobilization of five percent of its citizens. In greater Caracas, we’re not far from that. The regime should be crumbling. But it isn’t. Not yet. Why? Se trancó el serrucho?

I think I may have some insight. For one thing, I’m scared to death of law enforcement. My baby-face is a sure prompt for cops at alcabalas (police checkpoints) to look for bounty. As a defense mechanism, I decided I needed to figure out how to strike up conversations with them. How to just talk. Just like doing fieldwork for my Sociology classes. I made a conscious decision to show an interest. To ask them about their lives, about their families, about where they’re from and what matters to them and what they like and hate and why. And to listen —really listen— to what they to those questions.

It was after many of these chats that it started to occur to me. Isn’t this what MUD should be doing, too?

Theory suggests large-scale desertions are one tipping point for non-violent regime change. Chenoweth has measured that nonviolent campaigns that elicit substantial defections are forty-six times more likely to succeed than nonviolent campaigns where that fail to elicit them. And the key to setting off defections? Winning over those who do the repression.  

But how do you get large scale desertions and loyalty shifts from the security forces?

The officers I chat up at the average alcabala are nothing like the main actors of the protests. Most of them have been living on the margins of society. They come from places like Guadalupe (a small town in Lara) and Guasipati (a mining town in Bolivar state) or slums like La Vega (Caracas).

The crisis is hitting the middle class hard, but it’s hitting the working class much, much harder.

They don’t have many lived experiences in common with the middle class protesters they’re sent to tear-gas. We hate to admit it, but there’s a ethnic aspect to this. You can see it. Their ancestors aren’t the typical faces you see in Tovar y Tovar’s paintings, the lords of the valley who had long ruled our country.

It’s no coincidence that the government has invested so much in portraying protesters as non-Venezuelans, as Other.

As Gene Sharp put it (P.122),

The greater the barrier of social distance the stronger the barriers to ‘fellow feeling’ mutual understanding, and empathy, between the contending groups, the less possibility of conversion. Some nonviolent resisters have taken steps to reduce or remove the social distance between the contending groups.

Don’t fret, it’s not a calle ciega. We know glossing the protests as a fight of the privileged vs the marginalized is a gross distortion — especially this time around. Neomar Lander was out protesting because his family couldn’t find enough food: describing him as some spoiled rich kid is a grotesque slander.

Venezuela as a whole is discontented. The ENCOVI 2016 household survey shows why: people’s living standards have catastrophically collapsed. Datanálisis collects numbers on the collective arrechera. And the spasm is nationwide, too: while there have been around 60 protests in Caracas since April, there have been 1,791 protests all over the country in the same time.

But still, the defections from the government side have come in a trickle, not a flood. How do we change that?

We need to focus the protests on food shortages, inflation and homicides.

For starters, by centering our message the things that matter to the kinds of people who join the security forces: we need to focus the protests on food shortages, inflation and homicides. Central Caracas (Municipio Libertador) has close to 120 violent deaths per 100,000 people while better off El Hatillo is nearer 15 per 100,000. The crisis is hitting the middle class hard, but it’s hitting the working class much, much harder.

Guardia, a tus panas también los matan.

It took a work for me to learn how to talk to Guardias at checkpoints naturally enough for them not to shake me down. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, because I felt I had to do it and I had a strategy to do it. I figured out a way to talk across our social differences, and that makes all the difference.

Maybe the opposition is like me: the minute they figure out they’re better off establishing fellow-feeling between repressors and the repressed is the minute the escalation stops cold. But I can tell you from experience: it takes work, but it pays off. Not as a human strategy to win, but as a realization of the necessity to fight for others’ rights too of not only reading numbers on the crisis but feeling their stories of stuggle. It’s only if we make a decision to commit to that work that this will work. Pa’ ayer es tarde.

29 COMMENTS

      • sorry for the terrible spanish but “clean faced” = shaven or something else. Most of my spanish comes from spending time in Colombia and the slang is far different from that used on these blogs/Venezuela.

        • Haven’t heard the term “cara de limpio”, but here in this pueblo they use the term “limpio” when they have no money in their pockets. Ando limpio.

  1. Well said. Many have attempted to state the same in this comments section over the years. I recall the efforts to reach out to rural Venezuelans a few years back, for example with many posts about their situation and lack of medical supplies. However it all falls short because there is not a true desire from opposition leaders to address the massive and evident lack of social cohesion. The common sense is still “get rid of Chavismo, get back into capitalism, go” well there is a reason why Chavez won in 1998, and you hit the nail on the head.

    • Yeah. There is a reason he won [by buying votes/taking advantage of ignorance], that is the ONE point I’ll ever concede to. A step at a time. But why can’t I shake the strong feeling that poor people will continue to be denied opportunities? [Maybe cuz I live in the USA.]

  2. I have talked my way out several times. But the first thing was to have my cedula (National ID), driver’s license, Medical Certificate, el M3 (Car registration), el RAP (another car registration), the municipal tax stub (paid), the bill of sale of the car, the sale bill of the repro (Stereo), lie about where I live, and 500 bolos por si acaso (the good ones circa 1994). Once the GN did not have any place to bite, then I will go my way.

    Engaging a small talk is BS unless you sort of appeal to them at that moment… AND they understand how much leverage you may have on screwing them up via “my uncle the Coronel”. On the checkpoint they do not have the same exposure or risk as on a big demonstration with cohesive people throwing stones at you or puputov.

    Yes, the GN is also people (although Guardia no es gente) and they do suffer as well as anyone. But they are also dumb, some by nature and some by training. Between them, you and 7 days in jail for not being asshole and by disobeying orders; they will shot at you “as per the order of my commander”.

      • Empathy is a must. You might have to share frescos/beer…and they can tell a phony a mile away.
        Nowadays the “get out jail free card” in most places in L.A. is about $50 although if the “crime” is “bad”….it certainly helps having a lot of empathy and a few Benjamins stashed in a secret compartment. Again, when in Rome…..

  3. Driving an old beat-up car, wearing old beat-up clothes, and putting a little Shinola on the face helps, being only partly facetious (you can’t get Shinola anymore). But, more seriously–if you are a lower-level military, you need the relatively better military food you’re eating than you would be eating out of the military (worse yet,you might be jailed, as the Tachira official for publicly renouncing the mlitary/tearing up his military ID card). For lower-level military officers, there are also possible perks, like a Chinese Chery car, Mision Vivienda housing, even full-equipped by “Tu Casa Bien Equipada”. And, for the 2m+ fat cat Generals, there are Govt. Ministries/jobs/guisos/commissions/preferential $/ Arco Minera ripoffs/similar ad infinitum. Meanwhile, you’re being spied on by the Cuban G-2, subject to dismissal/being jailed at any moment….

  4. “Their ancestors were slaves and Amerindians, not the lords of the valley.”

    The racial spectrum that makes up Venezuela doesn’t go from African/Slaves – Amerindians – Amos del Valle…

    White European = Amos del Valle is a Chavista construct put out there to sustain their “We the colored poor vs. them the rich white” narrative. D

    • Correct! Chavez was an agitator and needed to blame inequalities in something obvious, like you are of a slightly paler skin or complexion (remember “escualidos!”). Of course, deep inside there are also inferiority complexes and just plain resentment.
      They’ll also gratuitously comment “se mejoro la raza” when a baby arrives with lighter skin color. And “salto atras” when the opposite happens. The facts are that, Venezuela is probably 85% mestizo!
      Many criollos mistreat/abuse their own house help…yes, there might be reasons for resentment…Los polvos que nos trajeron estos lodos…

    • Actually, it’s the other way around. Chávez’s discourse was originally effective because it was true at the core. Chavismo twisted and misrepresented the facts to suit their narrative, but there IS racism in Venezuela and it IS associated with social status. This is simply a historical fact, not a political statement.

      • Truth in the message? At the core, HC was a phony with an ego that prevented him from grasping his own intergalactic ignorance. Thanks to his undeniable charisma, he could sell shoes to a snake. Whatever message that sounded or seemed “true”, was empty. And yes, he used racism and prejudice to his benefit, fanning the ugly monster of hate.

        Too bad we, society as a whole, did not heed the warnings from the people that got to peek through his mask. Fast forward, to 2017 with 200K dead and counting, hunger and sickness rampant…

        • I can’t believe how some people is just stuck in the 2002 misguided opposition posture and insists on denying the social inequalities of Venezuelan society. Doing so is just slight less unethical than the government’s denying of the outstanding generalized crisis and scarcity in food and medicine. If we don’t recognize this reality we risk repeating the whole chavista nightmare in the mid term.

          • It’s not that “people wants to deny the social inequality”, the fact is that the most aggravated people by chavismo were precisely those who had little to no blame for said social inequalities, while those who are to blame, simply changed their shirts and positioned themselves among the chavista elite.

            The working middle class has always been the target for chavismo’s destructive policies, they have been the most hated enemy for chavistas, not because middle class people were seen as “racist blondes”, but because the resented saw them as “people who thought they were entilted to aspire to more in life than being content with living in utter poverty as themselves”

            You just have to read the most virulent chavista commenters in noticiero digital so you can realize that they couldn’t care less about racism, but they channel a demential amount of hatred towards the middle class because “they want to live as something they’re not”

            Racism in Venezuela has been always absurd, a bunch of stupid stereotypes kept by a bunch of stupid people, in a country where over 90% of the population is mestizo with brown skin, big noses and dark hair.

  5. A megaphone in the hands of the protesters is a weapon hundreds of times more dangerous for chavismo than a nuke.

      • That if they don’t shoot a tear gas bomb straight to the speaker’s face, you know, because those “humane rubber bombs vanish in mid air”

        That was what a chavista told me, boy, some of those folks are going full blown cuckoo lately.

  6. I bet Pizarro has been doing just that, chatting the GN, and with good reason came to the attention of the higher up

  7. The divide is not a natural one chamo.

    I understand your points and agree with them. I was bought up with values of treating everyone the same. In Venezuela that held for the most part. You were going to get screwed up by your east Caracas school mate or by your summer vacation rural circumstantial local kid the same- if you were a pajuo or pendejo that is.

    In other words, Chavez et al had to work a lot on their propaganda to highlight a rift that was just not there, not as bad as they made it to look, nothing like the skin colour rift in the USA or SAR, or in the ethnic rift in countries like Mexico or Peru, etc.

    They worked hard at it and with a lot of money and have succeeded, amen demographics (20 year purge) in creating entry and middle level military that are brain washed and self selected,

    The escalation in their strategy has reached des-humanization of the enemy (read about Rwanda! it could help you understand, or read the book The Fear! from former Rhodesia)

    What comes next can be very ugly!

    We have dehumanization of protesters, with a brain sawed repression, driven by non -nationals with different agendas to the nation’s best interests, and lots of weapons and criminals and violence un sensitized society and you are one step removed from major genocide.

    its happening already, but propaganda and attention deficits (trump, Brexit, Africa famine, terrorism, etc) in world audiences prevents it from sinking in.

    Non violent, massive demonstrations and inside defections might prevent the genocide from going FUBAR.

    May God bless us and protect Venezuela.

  8. Igna I’m really proud of you!

    I always thought we needed to talk to el otro lado de la moneda, but I didn’t know how or was a bit afraid to be the first one I guess. But I agree 100% with you! We need to listen to people who don’t think like us or like the people we surround ourselves with, because in the end, son más las cosas que nos unen que las que nos separan…

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