Chaos and Understanding on Both Sides of the Barricade

After the euphoria of last Sunday, we plunge into chaos and confusion – and the worst of it happens between voices on the same side.

With kids on board, Twitter checked and the radio on, I took to the east of the city for a regular diligencia, only to find myself trapped with a hyperventilating, terrified boy, begging me for safety. The entire Los Chorros area was barricaded and we were in a hamster labyrinth, always taking us to where we began.

Streets were closed with ropes or plastic tape like those on TV crime scenes. Garbage, old furniture, sticks and blocks of cement were also used, preventing cars from getting through. Barricades were manned by two, maybe three kids, standing with a “no” to those asking for permission to cross. Some were polite, most were not.

Few radio stations reported what was going on. It was impossible to get information on which way to take in order to escape and, at Los Galpones, a barricade blocked the access to the Cota Mil highway. Hoping for a way out, I followed the cars turning back with a normally risky u-turn, which was easy this time, since no cars were coming from the other side. As we entered the highway, my son kept saying how relieved he was to be “safe.”

Barricades were manned by two, maybe three kids, standing with a “no” to those asking for permission to cross.

Tuesday’s barricades set off heated arguments everywhere, at times bitter and aggressive, in social media, offices and neighborhoods, making the excitement of Sunday’s consultation just two days earlier feel like a remote memory. The week since that high has been nothing but confusing.

An Intense 48 hours

After Freddy Guevara said the Hora Cero would start on Thursday, not Monday as many expected, reactions via Twitter ranged from the respectful to the aggressive. The radical tuiteros went to town on MUD leaders, calling them cowards, traitors, liars and collaborators with the regime. Part of that discontent seems to have moved Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles to take sides, affirming that actions announced by MUD were “not enough”.

Just hours earlier, calls to block the streets made the rounds on social media. Signed by the Resistencia or alluded to by Óscar Pérez, the (in)famous helicopter pilot. It’s not clear whether or not they were coordinated.

So Tuesday morning we found the streets blocked and growing concerns about how this could jeopardize the gains from Sunday, which was the product of patient and concerted action by MUD. Spontaneous, disorganized actions, critics said, could create a volatile environment favorable for a regime thirsty of “terrorist acts”.

Nobody really knows who’s behind these calls, as the Resistencia does not have a clear, identifiable speaker or “official” communication channel. They claim to fight for freedom, but truth is, anyone could be behind the Resistencia, just as anyone could be behind Óscar Pérez. Let’s not forget that Maduro’s regime, while weak, is still standing and will not hesitate to use whatever dirty trick it might have under the sleeve to create chaos, especially if it divides an opposition that just gave an incredible display of unity.

The antipolitica light bulb seems to be on again, after Guevara’s Monday announcement: political parties are useless, the MUD is filled with collaborationists, out with the MUD. But without MUD’s leadership, Sunday’s event wouldn’t have happened at all.

After I bitterly complained about the street blockades, one woman told me this chaos puts pressure on both the regime and the opposition to bring about the political change everyone demands. The country “needs to be ungovernable,” she said, as if urban chaos and political crisis were the same. Yet the fact is that people are empowered and inspired by the true spirit of 350, civil disobedience. So if they take their protest to the street in whatever shape they deem appropriate, they want and deserve to be supported and understood. Perhaps those of us who aren’t that convinced need to look at this closely.  

Many fear, with good cause, that if actions from MUD take too long, the protest will disappear, and the regime wins.

There’s also the feeling that “they” want to lower the volume of the protest. “Quisieron apagar la calle” many say, and that’s unacceptable. It’d mean going back to “normal” while they kill us, when the Constituyente will end the country as we know it, when people are eating from the trash and there are no medicines. This is a very difficult point to argue against. Just what is “normal” in Venezuela anymore? Many fear, with good cause, that if actions from MUD take too long, the protest will disappear, and the regime wins.

While the majority of the country is angry at Maduro and friends, a good chunk is also frustrated with MUD they have little patience to trust the political leadership, after last year’s failed dialogue. Not creating the Government of National Unity called for by the Consulta Popular right away, placing the start of the Hora Cero for Thursday, made them feel validated in their suspicions.

And you have to understand: when people are told they follow orders from an unknown guy with shady motives and blue eyes, or that the Resistencia might have someone from the regime behind the curtain, the response angry at times is that they are not following anyone but their own conscience. They are angry and they want Maduro to go now. Blocking the street, they feel, is their only option to be heard.

On the same boat

The MUD needs to work on how to communicate, connect and rebuild trust with those on their side who yearn for a regime change but distrust negotiations. Our part of the deal is to be vigilant and think things through before shooting from the hip. After all, the only way in which our common goal will be achieved is by working together, above and despite our differences. The stakes are too high to lose the last window we have to end this cruel regime. I’ve always had this cartoon picture in my mind of people on the same side insulting each other while someone in Miraflores rubs his hands like Mr. Burns.

So, as Tulio Hernández recommends in his great article, if we don’t want to become like Diosdado, we better put our heads in the refrigerator from time to time and chill out.

And just as Tulio did after finishing his article, putting my head in the refrigerator is what I intend to do after I finish my own.