Photos: Nina Rancel & Victor Drax.
“You may interview me later,” deputy Gilber Caro tells me. “There’s hooded guys ahead, I can’t right now.”
I accept his non-answer — satisfy myself with photos, not the interview. Everyone can see the day can still crash and burn in dramatic fashion — in fact, you could say the same of the whole forward-leaning strategy the opposition has taken, starting on January 23rd.
As we approach the very spot where Robert Redman was murdered on February 12th, 2014, I tell Nina (Rancel), my partner today: we can smell the stale piss on street corners, but the smoke of burning tires and tear gas is oddly absent.
Gilber (he’s walking among homeless children, I swear to God) is still expecting it, and how can you not, with those guys in hoods giving you all sorts of flashbacks?
We know up in the barrios it’s a different story. But here, in the formal city, the lack of violence keeps shocking us all. In 2014, this subway stations taking you to the Sambil mall was a hotspot for makeshift barricades. Three years earlier, it’s where colectivos would drive by, guns blazing. Today, it belongs to us. To peaceful protest. To the future.
My attention shifts to Carlos Rodríguez, standing in the middle of the crowd. Bible in hand, in full pastor attire, a tricolor flag resting on his shoulders. “I’ve seen the flocks getting thinner,” he tells me. “I used to work for the subway, and I was proud of it, but what pride can you get from what the Metro is today?”
“Is that why Nicolás Maduro should quit?” I ask.
“He has to quit, and I have no doubt he will.”
Lilian Tintori is right there, a few feet from us, her skin sporting the irregular tan of the demonstrator, that she tries to disguise with layers of makeup. It’s okay, Lilian: I have it, Carlos has it, folks have it. We don’t get many badges of service, but this is one of them.
“I’ll go get her,” says Nina, and she’s already rushing, turning into a little mole digging through arms and legs and women banging pots, bearded fellows shouting slogans. I follow as best as I can, but I can only watch. She crouches, gets a take of Lilian from below, just when Lilian is speaking the Queen’s:
“This is why we’re protesting,” she holds a sheet with the three goals we all know by heart (Cese de la usurpación, gobierno de transición, etc). “We’re working, everybody, together, for this.”
I’d like to tell you that we went to her, showed her our Caracas Chronicles press credentials, and she gave us the exclusive for all of you, but truth is, there’s a lot of foreign journos making the rounds and, right now, we all want a piece of her mind. The good news is, if one of us gets lucky, all of us get lucky.
“My husband, Leopoldo López, is still in jail. Leopoldo denounced Maduro in 2014 as a dictator, a corrupt and inefficient [sic]. And five years later, now we have a new president, Juan Guaidó. Our constitutional President. Of course, Maduro can take him to jail. But Guaidó is our President, he’s constitutional, and the international community supports him. More important than that, all the people, our people, support Guaidó, listen!”
She sings about the caretaker President and, sure enough, the crowd joins.
While this goes on, cars honk, motorbikes drive by. Spirits are super high, take a deep breath and you fill yourself with this very unusual hope. We’re taking pictures and videos with our phones, and it isn’t odd for phones to vanish at these things, courtesy of the verdadero malandreo caraqueño. Not even that comes. If there’s gangsters here, we’re all dancing the same song. For today, that’s enough.
Nina was disappointed when it all began. The call was for 12.00 p.m., and the street then was the same as it was at 11.30 a.m. We went out at 12:15 p.m., and there were just pockets of people, sprinkled here and there, some flags, someone shouting, but nothing to warrant a piece like this. Fifteen minutes later, Altamira Sq., the unofficial opposition central of Caracas, is full of mostly corporate folks. About 20 minutes later, there’s everyone from middle class demonstrators to obviously homeless kids, laughing at the festival vibe of the street, their feet black and bare on the pavement. Little carts of ice cream, of soda, street vendors with t-shirts. “YO SOY GUAIDÓ,” they read. The caretaker President isn’t physically here, but he’s everywhere.
We walked further into Chacao, and that’s where we met Lilian and our colleagues in trade and protest. Deputy Renzo Prieto is here, you recognize him for the long hair he grew at El Helicoide. In the USSR, they used to say that the Lubyanka prison was the tallest building in Russia, because you could see all of the Union from there. If the same can be said about our tropical gulag, that overwhelming power didn’t intimidate Renzo. His gocho accent is super thick; he smiles a lot and sort of struggles to talk to us while keeping an eye on everything that’s going on. From what we talked about after the interview, I personally get the feeling that he knows they all can be arrested again. Maybe they expect it. That could explain Gilber’s apprehension, another oppo deputy arrested in a mockery of due process.
“Deputy Prieto,” Nina asks in all the hassle, “how can you explain this revival the opposition is having? What is needed to complete the transition?”
“We only need the Armed Forces to join us, it’s the only step missing. We know they wanna join, freedom is for all the nation, and they’re part of this nation. We must all be united to kick the killer out of Miraflores and celebrate, finally celebrate.”
Part of this talk is what you’d expect from a politician, but his joy as he imagines breaks that character, and it’s hard not to identify with it, as Venezuelans ourselves.
“It’s gonna be a crazy huge joy,” Renzo says, “we’re gonna last like six months celebrating. Picture it. I think I’m gonna cry all those months.”
We reach Altamira Sq.; oddly enough for Venezuela, everything goes according to plan. We sing the national anthem and, at 2.00 p.m. sharp, a man part of Lilian’s crew walks by with a megaphone: “We’re done for today, fellows. Stay off the streets, go back to work, we’ll meet again on Saturday!”
This, I’ve never seen at any of the demonstrations I’ve been at.
“We want no violence, we don’t need more blood. Go back to work, guys!”
And everyone complies. As I write this, it’s 4:06 p.m. and Caracas looks as if nothing happened. There were no big stages, no big trucks blasting songs, but it all felt way, way more organized than ever, from both politicians and citizens.
It’s boring and normal and I love it. If this isn’t enough to give you hope, I don’t know what could.
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