Strike’s Back, 15 Years On

I’m old enough to remember the last time we went for a Paro Cívico Nacional. It was an enormous fiasco. Here’s how to sidestep the mistakes of the past.

It’s January, 2003, and I’m drinking Coca Cola with the crazed abandonment of a crackhead getting his fix. The Paro Cívico is in full swing, I’m a high school senior and this stuff hasn’t been on the shelves for weeks.

In December of 2002, the Coordinadora Democrática (a kind of proto-MUD) called for an ill-advised, indefinite general strike demanding Hugo Chávez’ resignation from presidency. I don’t know it yet, but this will end in tears.

The strike, which went on for over two months and severely impacted the economy, was crazy unpopular. Many companies, including Coca-Cola, supported the action by shutting down, causing their products to disappear from the shelves. That January day when my mom scored an imported bottle of Coke? We partied like it was 1999.  

Looking back, even by the crazy life standards of chavismo, the strike stands out in my memory as a powerful reminder of how chavismo learned to get results by deranging its opponents first.

At that time, my 17 year old self focused on trivial stuff the shortages of your favorite snacks, hours upon hours watching TV. I remember gas becoming, for the first time in Venezuela, a precious, expensive product that we would endure long lines in the car to secure. I also remember every shop in eastern Caracas closed and the hysterical reaction to anybody breaking the strike. The boredom, the overall tension and hysteria and the naïf hope that this self-defeating hissy-fit was going to make chavismo go away.

It’s time for the oppo leadership to speak softly and carry the stick against the looming threat of the Constituyente.

Now, almost 15 years later, MUD has called for a 24 hour national strike, a notion that has been taboo since the 2002 crash. Although we don’t know the details, looks like a 24-hour event, unlike the Ghost of Christmas past, making me realize how far we’ve come as a political movement. We’ve learned not despair and let hysteria get the better of us. We’ve organized, protested and scored major political victories. Unlike 2002, the opposition now stands as defenders of liberal democracy and human rights against a declared military kleptocracy. We have gained the support of the country that saw us in 2002 as doñas del cafetal.

However, the self-destructive impulse that birthed the 2002 strike lives on. Chavismo is doing its best to back us against a corner and provoke a fatal misstep and, as long as we are run by warchiefs who conceive politics as a game of domination, there’ll be the allure of 2002, this time spiced with colectivos and their dance macabre.

I, for one, feel encouraged. Sunday’s self-organized election was a reminder of the rational, inclusive, hard-working opposition that has fought against chavismo for a better country but let’s always remember the nature of the beast. It’s time for the oppo leadership to speak softly and carry the stick against the looming threat of the Constituyente.

We cannot afford blunders like the 2016 fiasco, an ending that would make 2002’s disaster feel as sweet as the finest Coke you’ve tried.

César Crespo

Evil corporate lawyer. Amateur adult person. Political news junkie. Economics dilettante.