“It’s that vaina in the Constitution about freedom, right?”, a friend says to me as I ask him if he knows article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution. He’s around 30 and well-educated.
“I think so,” he continues, “I heard something about that but I haven’t had the chance to read it.” He’s always checking the news and, from time to time, he goes to opposition protests with friends.
For the last few days, I made it my mission to go out onto the streets of Caracas and ask everyone I met how they understood those three magic numbers. At times, article 350 felt more like an urban legend than a legal principle. Something that everyone talks about but no one can pin down in detail.
“It’s our right to stand up and defend our rights. it’s the opportunity that the Constitution gives us to defend democracy,” a 40-something blonde lady with a tricolor baseball hat explained at a protest in Caracas. She was looking confident and pretty posh in her white shirt, skinny jeans and white tennis shoes.
For her, this right must be exercised on the streets, through non-violence.
“The key here is the resistance. We need to stick together and resist, on the streets, without violence, and send a message to the world,” she told me before rejoining her group of friends.
For the opposition, the trescincuenta is a key to the process of changing the government…But a week after its invocation, some still have their doubts.
“I’m a lawyer —though I’ve not been doing anything related to law for years,” an older man in a suit explained to me while he was walking in the east of Caracas. “I read the article. It’s very vague. This Constitution has a lot of mistakes. I think that it would be appropriate to convene a Constituent Assembly —not like the one that Maduro is calling now, of course— but after everything is finished, we need to take care of this.” After that he explained to me that he was always “against Chávez”, because he would never vote for a military man.
For the opposition, the trescincuenta is a key to the process of changing the government —the article that would help “restore democracy in our country”, according to the speaker of the National Assembly, Julio Borges. But a week after its invocation, some still have their doubts.
“I’m not sure how, but I know that this article gives us the opportunity to get Maduro out of Miraflores. That’s the reason we’re here, to ask for a better country,” a young guy told me as he was a part of a protest. His skin was looking tanned, maybe due to all these days of protests.
“I believe that the 350 explains the right that we have to do everything possible to change this government, like taking the streets. It’s the article that protects democracy in Venezuela, and that’s the reason we have to defend that, for our future,” a young girl explained to me as she was carrying a big placard with the numbers 350 on it. She was wearing a black shirt and her hair in a ponytail, trying to cool off from the tropical heat.
“I know that the 350 talks about democracy in Venezuela but, how can you do that in a country where all the powers are taken over? I mean, that can work on paper, but the reality is different,” an elderly lady told me on a camionetica. She was carrying groceries from the market — with ketchup, pasta, tuna — maybe she spent half of her pensión on that.
We need to stick together and resist, on the streets, without violence, and send a message to the world
She was just one of several people I talked to who seemed to be running low on hope.
“To change the government you need people, people with bolas and that’s what’s missing in our country,” a taxi driver told me. “We’re dealing with bad people, people in the government who are not playing games.” In his beat up old car with its estampitas of the Virgin, he complained about traffic and the prices all through our 40-minute ride.
Meanwhile, the chavistas have their own views about el trescincuenta.
“All of a sudden, MUD is defending the Constitution, the one that they called on us to vote against. First they wanted a Constituent Assembly and now they say it’s illegal. They don’t know what they want, they are fighting with each other,” an old guy with a red shirt explained to me from a bench in Plaza Bolívar.
Around the center of Caracas you can find a few toldos rojos, where you can get information about the Constituent Assembly. I screwed up my timing, though: I was there too early in the morning, and the spots weren’t staffed yet.
“The Constitution is the weapon that our President Chávez left us to protect ourselves from the enemies, and they are the enemies, they don’t know what they’re asking for,” a lady who sells coffee in the center of Caracas said to me.
Later that day, 350 —that number embodying our right to disobey any government that undermines democracy and human rights— made its appearance in the sky over Caracas — next to a maniac shooting a gun and tossing out grenades. Back on the ground, we’re pretty sure that’s not the right way to invoke the trescincuenta.
But the right way? The right way is elusive.