Photo: Unidad Venezuela
When the Frente Amplio Nacional (Broad National Front) was launched on March 8, bringing together professional sectors and civil society to organize the recovery of democracy, we thought and hoped that society’s united forces would once again take to the streets. More than a month later, the Broad Front called for protests that ended being far beneath the coalition’s expectations.
The protest was on April 27 but everything remained just like the day before: people struggling to find transport in congested bus stops, long lines in ATMs, scattered garbage because the Caracas Mayor’s Office doesn’t bother to collect it anymore. Nothing changed despite the Broad National Front’s insistence.
Everyone out for themselves
Scarcely hours ahead of the protest, the promoters said that it’d be a great nationwide social demonstration. Some communities would protest for electric power failures, others for water or gas, for the CLAP, for crime, the state of public roads, the lack of garbage collection, the shortage of food, supplies and cash.
The demonstrations were essentially left to each community’s interpretation and, of course, only those with some sort of organization would actually come forth.
Political scientist and dissident chavista Nícmer Evans pointed out that they didn’t call for blocking streets, while Primero Justicia’s (PJ) lawmaker Jorge Millán urged the population to “dedicate” two hours on Friday to protest for their most pressing needs.
“Those who are not getting water must protest, those who have trouble with poor salaries must protest, those who suffer constant blackouts must protest,” said Millán on April 26.
I don’t think people don’t want to take to the streets. In fact, people protested at Miraflores last April 26 for lack of water. Most demonstrations were controlled.
Those propositions weren’t convincing enough. Taking two hours to protest for a problem that’s being suffered 24 hours a day was absurd. There were no protests in El Valle, Catia, Antímano, La Vega, Caricuao or San Martín, areas of the Libertador municipality where neighbors constantly complain about poor quality of public utilities.
“Maybe the rallying call wasn’t enough,” mused Andrés Rivero, a community leader in San Martín. “I don’t think people don’t want to take to the streets. In fact, people protested at Miraflores last April 26 for lack of water. Most demonstrations were controlled. The one we did at the J.M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital was privately organized by Voluntad Popular (VP), Primero Justicia and Acción Democrática, precisely to avoid sabotage.”
The only protest that carried some weight was precisely the one that took place at 10:00 a.m. in the aforementioned children’s hospital. Lawmakers Dinorah Figuera (PJ) and Winston Flores (VP), and political leaders such as councilman Jesús Armas (PJ) and José Gregorio Graterol were there, but the protagonists were the patients who demanded medicines.
At noon, everything was normal. There were few National Police and National Guard officers on the streets.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS) recorded 1,414 protests in the first 90 days of 2018, which is an average of 26 protests daily, a 93% increase compared with the same period last year.
What we can surmise from OVCS data is that Venezuela has entered a stage of collapsing public services, food and health, and labor conflicts have spiked. The fight for political vindication is scarcely 15% of the drive of protests, the priority is food guarantees. Politics are second-place.
Political leader and journalist Jesús “Chúo” Torrealba, who coordinated the Democratic Unity Roundtable for two years, studied the results of April 27:
“Those who call for protest determine its credibility and people respond in kind. The Broad Front is led by the same G4 leaders who caused the failure in 2016, 2017 and 2018. They appear with a new name, a new format and they put unknown faces in the vanguard, who have traction on social media, but no support from the people.”
According to him, every poll shows that many people are willing to vote, but this group works mostly on a field highly dependent on social media.
The fight for political vindication is scarcely 15% of the drive of protests, the priority is food guarantees. Politics are second-place.
“That’s not the real country, however, because in Venezuela, if someone’s phone gets stolen, they would need 10 years to buy a new one. Internet connection’s also weak. This group isn’t reaching the people, and it’s not about apathy, because people protest here every day, the Broad Front is simply disconnected from society. They always call for the defense of political rights, for democracy, and they push aside the real social fight that keeps people on the streets protesting for basic utilities, food and medicines. I think the political leadership is wasting valuable opportunities.”
Chúo believes that tying social issues with politics isn’t about marketing; it’s about creating a cultural infrastructure that reaches all levels of society.
“The Front’s activities don’t make it to the news. Ever since it was created, they’ve failed to do everything they said they’d do. The democratic sectors must reinvent themselves, connect with the people and work side by side with them. Now, if you only show up when there’s an election and you try to use people’s problems, you’re going to fail, because the people will see you as an opportunist. The problem is that nobody’s taking the measure of real issues in society and nobody’s creating trust.”
This isn’t new at all. Since 2014, there’s been a rift between political and social issues. Back then, there were street protests demanding Maduro’s resignation.
Opposition politicians weren’t talking about scarcity back then. They focused their work on political solutions and they failed to connect with labor protests taking place all over the country. Now, our social crisis is far more intense, and Venezuelans did everything: we marched, we collected signatures, re collected them again, many died, were imprisoned or exiled. People laid on the scorching pavement, they left their schools, and there’s still no result precisely because there’s no opposition leadership with a serious strategy.
What we saw on April 27 is a clear evidence of this. Now, only 20 days before presidential “elections”, we’re still waiting. The agenda advanced by the Broad Front or any other group standing against Maduro, will have to be solid but most importantly, credible.