viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2014

On Immigration Reform: My Thoughts and My Experience

I know that when you visit this blog you expect to read information about Venezuela; yet I've been living in the United States for over two years now so predictably, issues in this country affect me as well. Yesterday, the president announced an executive action on immigration. The topic is being discussed everywhere. I have read those discussions, some with hope and others with sadness and disappointment.

I understand that I came to this country because I wanted to and hence I must adhere to its current laws. So I have done since I got here. I have also made my best effort to adapt and I have grown to love and care about this country in the same way I do for Venezuela. Therefore, the thoughts I expose in the following lines only born from the desire to contribute to make this country even better, the debate on immigration more fruitful. It is never my intention to offend US citizens or anyone else for that matter.

In the lines that follow I will list a few topics or common opinions on immigration that I am concerned about.

1. “My ancestors came to this country legally. Why others come here illegally?”

Those ancestors should be commended for their hard work, sacrifices and contribution to shape this great country. They arrived in the first decades of the XX Century or earlier. There were immigration laws then, sure, but the system now is different and far more complicated for new arrivals. The “legal way” is simply not available for everyone (not that it should) but even for those qualified; the legal process is often hard, long, complicated, expensive and uncertain.

On the other hand, not only procedures are expensive but also, members of a household might spend years without being able to produce any money. Under certain visa status, husbands or wives of highly specialized workers spend years without being able to work, either for a company or self-employed so families have to rely on one income, and foreign professionals are forced to stay at home, pursue their hobbies and not much else. This is pretty much my case. The limitations of my visa status have taken most Americans I have met (from both parties and holding all sorts of opinions on the topic) by surprise. Many have asked me how do we cope with it, amazed that I can spend so much time without working and facing that dreadful and long gap growing in my resume. Last week, at a doctor's appointment, I explained her that I had checked in the form “unemployed” because it was the closest thing I could find to my actual status. “So how long do you have to wait to be authorized to work here?” - She asked and my honest answer was “I have no idea”. It could take years. As we say in Venezuela, her face was a poem.

I am lucky because my husband makes enough for the both of us. Plus, we have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to where we are that we will never risk it by doing something illegal. Having grown in a country where the lack of respect for the law is so rampant and witnessing the consequences of a government and a society that considers itself above the law, we believe in following the rules.

I have filled my time with all sorts of things: taking care of our apartment, learning how to cook, writing in my blogs, taking long photo-walks across town and doing volunteer work (like free Spanish lessons, something I love doing). My life is good and for the most part, happy but the limitations do take a toll on me sometimes. I am tired of people – family, friends, acquaintances, everyone – asking me what I am doing with my time and why I am not working. I want to be this perfect person who does not care about what others think, but I cannot help to hope that they are not judging me for spending so much time without earning a penny. My five-year education in a social sciences field and the work experience that I gained back in Venezuela now seem like a distant memory, like something I once was and I might never be again.

2. “Everyone who comes legally is welcome to stay in this country. It is with illegals that I have a problem with”

Often, after years of staying in this country legally, people are given months or even days to leave the United States not because they broke the law but because they lost their jobs or their applications for a certain visa or the Green Card even if they fulfilled all legal requirements, was rejected or not processed. This can happen when there are too many applications on a certain year or too many Green Cards have already been given to people from a certain country. For this reason, many legal immigrants (my husband and I included) live in fear of one day seeing all the life we have work so hard for, to simply vanish.

If one day, for any reason, my husband and I cannot longer keep our legal status, we will leave the country and either go back to Venezuela or apply somewhere else where the highly specialized skills of my husband and my studies are needed. The possibility of this undesirable outcome is something that sometimes does not let us sleep at night; if it happens it will not be easy for us to deal with it but either way, what it counts is that we can do it. Yet not everyone has a place to go back to or the possibility of going somewhere else like we do.

3. “Immigrants Do Not Want to Learn English”, And Other Prejudices

I understand that it pains many people who had done the immense effort and sacrifice to stay and thrive in this country in the legal way; to see others who did not follow the rules getting work permits and benefits while they still have to endure the complicated and long road I presented to you above. There are people who refuse to adapt to the mainstream culture and there are also members of whatever is considered the mainstream culture who refuse to truly welcome strangers. Also, some people have seen how their communities have changed forever, for the better or the worse, due to an influx of immigrants or have lose their jobs to immigrants. From those situations and the ignorance and the generalizations surrounding them, prejudices are born.

You know, for instance, that I've been writing this blog since 2007 so when we got to the United States (in 2012) I thought I had the language part pretty much covered. The truth is that my prior English instruction was poor, most of the English I knew by then I had learned it by myself by reading, watching TV and translating songs. Once here, I quickly discovered that one thing is to be able to write in a language and another is to speak it. I knew the words but no one could understood what I was saying, which was incredibly frustrating. I received many impatient stares, one teacher thought that I had said “war” when I really meant “weather”, I spend about half an hour asking to Walmart clerks to tell me where I could find a lunch-box...(things have got better now, but I still struggle with some words).

One day, looking for information on graduate programs, I entered the office of a certain sociology school. The secretary had a flyer attached to her board that had an Uncle Sam pointing and a list of items underneath including: “In this country we believe in God. If you do not believe in God, you are not welcome here” and “In The United States of America we speak English. Not Spanish or any other language. If you cannot speak English, go home”, the flyer had the words “illegal aliens” everywhere. It was a combination of things, more than just that flyer, what sparked my reaction: winter was approaching (it is not nice to deal with that cold for the first time in your life), I was missing my family, friends and my old job and I was growing tired of my unsuccessful attempts to adapt to my new life. Back to the flyer, I remember standing there like a statue while the lady was kindly asking me what I needed. Then I turned back and left. I cried on the bus back home. At that point I was not sure if I was going to be able to progress with my English pronunciation and also I could not believe such a sign was allowed at the entrance of a sociology school.

My friends told me that although it was wrong, it was probably not aimed at me so I should not take it personally. I am supposedly not the kind of immigrant they are after. I find this of small consolation.

4. Illegal or Not, We Are Talking About Human Beings.

The former leaves me to the last part of this story: what about the illegal immigrants? As someone who is staying in the country legally, I do not applaud those who do not follow the rules. Yet the situation is far more complicated. There are people who are desperate enough to come here, no matter how; simply because they do not have or do not see any other choice. There is a window of opportunity to design and try programs (if they have not already) that can be able to educate people on why going to America might not be the best choice for them and/or to improve their current situation so they lose incentive to risk their lives crossing the border. Above all, we are all humans and I do not understand how an “illegal status” is argument enough not to show compassion for someone who might be suffering in ways we can't imagine.

Yesterday, I met a men on Starbucks. He ordered a cafe Americano – Grande Size and was adding bag after bag of brown sugar to it while I was waiting to sweeten my Tall-Capuchino. He apologized and I told him not to worry, that I could wait. When he recognized my odd accent (his accent was as American as it can be), he asked me where I was from and in perfect Spanish he told me then that he was from Mexico. The reason why he was eager to drink that impressive amount of black coffee is because he only had had about three hours of sleep. He has three jobs: two swifts in different restaurants and a route delivering packages. Next time you receive the clothes on the next day you ordered them on Amazon, do not look down on the delivery men who might have come a long way to be here and works inhumanely hard for making possible the many comforts we enjoy here in the United States.

And finally...

When I was a little girl, Venezuela was still a country that received a great influx of immigrants. When we heard unfamiliar accents on the streets my parents would tell me: “this place is so good that so many people want to come. And we are lucky to be from here!”. Now, although most of my family still lives in Caracas, I hardly have any friends left back home. Leaving our country has been one of the most painful decisions my husband and I have ever made. Then I think about The United States and I wonder, if some people here know how lucky they are to belong to a country they might never need to leave, a country where people from afar want to stay.

It is no wonder why people want to stay here. The United States has a lot to offer: public libraries (probably my favorite thing), strong institutions, beautiful landscapes, kind people, interesting history, curious and rich traditions, crazy parades, Halloween, sports, Broadway Shows, pristine highways, four beautiful seasons (at least where we live), ingenious hacks that make your life a lot easier, ethnic food, great postage service, campuses that I thought only existed in movies...the list goes on and on. Yet, this country as any, is not perfect. There are issues that could be improved but this will not happen unless the debate about those issues is fruitful, respectful and well-informed. One of those issues is immigration. I believe that if people were more familiar with the intricacies of the system, the personal stories behind the immigration experience and how prejudices are ill-based and affect many; the debate could lead to a better system for everyone involved.

domingo, 11 de mayo de 2014

To Miss And To Wait

Here in the US I live a quiet, simple life. My husband studies for his masters (he graduates next week!) while I volunteer for a few hours as a Spanish teacher and spend the rest of the time between housework, meeting friends and most importantly, writing. Those writings might take me somewhere someday but for now they are just a hobby and in a sense, a therapy. After class or during the weekends, we take long walks throughout campus amused in long conversations about our bright future – possibly in the US, perhaps somewhere else – and sharing an ice cream or drinking an awful but addictive Starbucks’ beverage. Our town is small but has everything we need: some bars, a movie theater and a supermarket where you can find anything you want. Local news is usually about sports or deer encounters (we do have seen and lived more “serious” situation but nothing compares to the events back home). Most people here are nice and gentle, no matter how different their cultures are from my own. Almost every corner looks clean and pretty. My apartment is terribly old and small but more than enough for a newlywed couple. We will soon move to an even better place.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I cannot believe that I am here, that I will live here for at least one more year; that I am having, to a big extent, the exact kind of life I have always wanted to live. Considering where I come from, I am extremely lucky and lack of any reason to complain.

Yet, as dreamy as it might look, my life is not complete nor it will ever be. Something is always missing. To put it short: Venezuela is always missing. My city, Caracas, with its big mountains and its perfect weather, with the smells of just-baked bread and fresh fruit in the streets; and even with its chaos, its disorder, those things that used to annoy me. My family, with their distinct personalities, their music, their constant and endless gatherings because any excuse is a good excuse to meet; and their engaging conversations built in the history we all share. My friends – although most do no longer live there -, their discussions, their advices, their drinking games, the dances, walks through the city (dangerous parts or not), their stories, their dramas, the way they have to show they truly care. The food. The ease to be in a place that is yours and because it is yours, you are allowed to study and work, no complicated visa procedures in between… I miss all that. I am doing my best to adjust to the culture in the US (or “cultures”, because it is hard to come with a single “culture” in this place or any other) and even if I succeed, I am afraid I will still be hurt inside, longing for the place where I come from, the people I grew up with, the place where I was no outsider nor stranger.

Thanks to the aid of a smartphone, I am in contact with my family 24/7. I send them pictures of my husband taking the snow off the car or something I cooked that they would have never believed I was capable of cooking, had I not send the pictures. In return, they send me a short video of my niece singing her own strange version of “Let it go” (from the movie “Frozen) and pictures of those family occasions that I am missing. In Whats App, Skype and Facebook, the bad news also find their way here between what it only look like happy lives pictured in shining images. More than it pains me to be far from them, it pains me to see they are going through that while my daily life is completely different: calm, safe and happy.

Today I called my mom to congratulate her for Mother’s Day and she told me that she cannot find body lotion anywhere. “Not even a simple, cheap cream” – She says- “There is nothing. Nothing!” – Since food and medicine shortages have been with us for so long, she does no longer mentions them in our conversations. I know that the lack of a body lotion and other feminine cosmetics is the less of her worries. My family and all families in Venezuela have a hard time finding, if they can; basic products such as milk, chicken, eggs, butter, corn flour, all-purpose flour, bath soap, toilet paper etc.

Near my sister’ apartment, a group of students hanged a couple of dolls symbolizing the deaths this conflict has brought. My sister just happened to drive pass by, with her children in the back seat of the car. My three-year-old said “Look mama, is a piñata!”- Her older brother “corrected her”: “It is a dead piñata”. They soon started discussing about the death of this piñata and whether piñatas are allowed to go to heaven or not. My sister quick reaction was to turn on the music in an effort to end the conversation and make them forget, somehow, this “dead piñata” deal. The anecdote might be “cute” but it also says a lot about those daily moments where the children see or sense the violence that surrounds them, the way they deal with it and the way their relatives try to keep them safe in an effort to make their childhood last as long as possible.
About a week ago my Spanish class was about to start when I received the news that my alma mater was being attacked by Colectivos (government sponsored militias). It is not the first time something like this happens but it was the first time that the Colectivos actually found the way to enter campus. My dad works there but I figured that maybe at that time his classes were over. I texted my mom asking her about my dad, never expecting the answer I got: “He is locked in the lab with his students”. Some Tweets reported of shots being heard on campus, fireworks and gun shots. I panicked.
Next, my students were arriving to the class, waiting for me to speak about verb conjugations (a major issue in Spanish) and show them songs and anecdotes from the different Spanish-speaking countries. They were hoping to see my usual self, smiling and quickly writing a bunch of Spanish words and sentences in the board. Instead what they found is my “I- am- about-to- cry”-face, with my eyes bigger than usual ready to explode in tears. I cried for a bit while I thought of how embarrassing this is. I explained the situation and apologized to them for the need of keeping my cellphone on, waiting for news. From the classroom I could see some trees just showing their first bright green leaves of the year and a couple walking hand in hand. At the same time, my dad was in danger, my beloved campus summoned to the barbarism and tragedy that has characterized Venezuela this past few months; and my mind and spirits, there with them. One of my students quickly ran to fetch me a glass of water. I asked them for a few minutes and then I gave my class as good as I could. In the middle of the class I finally received the good news that my dad was able to get out of there safely.
It was that same night if I remember correctly, that I received the news that a friend of mine – a Human Rights activist – had been detained. He was granted conditional freedom a couple of days after that but if I am not mistaken he still faces a trial. The number of detainees for political reasons in Venezuela since February easily surpass two thousand people, so it is a matter of probability to end up having a friend, a relative, a friend of a relative, a relative of a friend, an acquaintance etc among that unlucky group. There are many people I know and I dearly care about, now living through situations I never thought they would. There are over a hundred documented cases of torture.
I wish I could bring all them here with me. I would have to bring a lot of people before being able to stop worrying about what is going on back home, and even then I would still be worried. I wish I could see them more often, that they could at least make a trip to my new home, taking a break of all the chaos they are living in. I wish I could go there to be with them for as long as possible, as if I could also lock in a bubble – “The Venezuela I remember”- type of bubble; a Venezuela that is no longer there. Such trip is impossible or almost impossible. Plane tickets are outrageously expensive or nonexistent. As of today I do not know where I am going to be able to go back to Venezuela. I do not know when I will be able to see my family and friends there either.

In the meantime I will send them pictures of my husband wearing a cap and gown, smiling under an arch that has the name of the university we have been living in for the last couple of years. They will send me pictures of them cheering for us. They will ask me for a video tour of my new rented apartment. I will add funny faces to the video. I will continue living my almost perfect life in a “divided way”: partly enjoying my luck, partly missing what I left behind, partly worrying about the news back home. They will continue maneuvering through the crisis for the sake of saving precious moments of joy that are always allowed, no matter the hardship. They will continue adjusting to the challenges life presents there, creating new routines and getting used to them.

We will continue missing each other. Until either this chaos ends (hopefully in a desirable way) or the unlikely possibility of a visit stops being so unlikely; they will wait for me. And I will wait for them.

domingo, 20 de abril de 2014

Testimonials from Venezuela: Antonio and Francesca

Today you will read the testimonial of a man wounded in the protests in  Merida and an Italian photographer briefly imprisoned during protests in Caracas.

These testimonials, as the others previously published here, have been collected by Roberto Mata, an outstanding Venezuelan photographer, who has spend these past weeks days in the quiet but valuable task of interviewing people who have experienced the horrible repression occurred during protests. His work was originally published in Prodavinci. (if you speak Spanish and want thoughtful, accurate analysis and testimonial of the Venezuelan situation, this is the place to go). I have received Roberto Mata' authorization to translate and publish his work in this space.
To preserve the value of the testimonials, I have tried to keep the texts as close as possible to the original which means that some expressions might seem odd for English native speakers. Where words and expressions were likely to get lost in translation, I looked for English equivalents and/or included small explanations between parenthesis.
Translations of previous testimonials from the conflict are available here:

19. “It does not hurt when you are being shot. It burns. It makes you angry”, Antonio

By Roberto Mata (read the original material in Spanish at Prodavinci:
March 26th, 2014
Antonio, 30. Law student and public service worker. Photo by Roberto Mata

The group of the Mérida Police; broke in two parts to allow the entrance of the ten members of the colectivos (civil militias). The sound changed: from pellets to gunshots.

 At night, A man out of ten, with the police backing him up, pointed and shot six time with a 9mm gun to Antonio’ body. The cabin of a public telephone was in the middle so the first three shots got in the cabin, saving his face and chest. The other shots came in and out of both of his legs. “It does not hurt when you are being shot. It burns. It makes you angry”.

The armed man did their job. Foot, calf and very near of the femur. It was three gunshots, a lot of blood, six holes. Antonio was helped in a nearby building, until he made it to the ambulance that would take him to the Medical Center at ULA (Los Andes University).

In the moment the ammunitions are over and National Guards are waiting for supplies, protesters start attacking the police. Antonio throws stones but his arm is not long enough to make them reach their goal. Most of them fall in the middle. That is why he prefers to protest using banners. 

On February 12th, in front of the Chinese market “Yuan Lin” located at “Las Américas” Avenue (Mérida city), protesters where winning the match. So the National Guard required the Colectivos (Militias) to step over.

- Antonio, are you violent?

- Only in my thoughts…

 Antonio assures that the barricades are being built to protect theirselves of the Colectivos.

Outside the conflict, Antonio’ work consists on regulates informal business in the city center. He does this part time. The rest of his days consist on “college life”, a life that is also part of the Colectivos. 

 1152 Kilometers separate Puerto Ordaz, birth city of Antonio; from Merida. One day he decided he would not pay 50.000 Bs., for a spot at the public university UDO (Universidad de Oriente). He also decided to take an admission test at the Los Andes University (ULA). He did a 28- hour long bus trip. When he was admitted, he rented a room with a shared bathroom.

Antonio is going to Law School. Paradoxically, he does not believe on denouncing his three gun wounds because if the police let the Colectivos act and the same Colectivos shot him, “what justice I can expect?

 He says this and then, he remains silent. 

20. “I was imprisoned. I still tremble when I think about it”, Francesca Commisari,

By Roberto Mata (Read the original material at Prodavinci here:
 April 2nd, 2014
Francesca, 35. Photojournalist. Picture by Roberto Mata

“I was imprisoned. I still tremble when I think about it”

Even though she feels she reacted well when she had no other choice but to turn herself over, everything that she knew went through her mind: repression, Colectivos, detentions, tortures, murders. All that in just one second.

Francesca, Italian- born, was carried by two National Guards after being taken out of a large plant pot in front of the Británica Tower (near Altamira, East of Caracas) where she was hidding on February, 28th. Once she was located, the National Guards shot pellets to the floor, about half a meter from her.

Francesca felt the effects like one starts awakening of the effects of the anesthesia. She saw how her body was trembling but she did not felt it.

She resisted for as long as she could. Then she dropped her camera bag. Francesca is a photographer.

“If this were the Fourth Republic*, you all would be dead by now”, the National Guards said over and over again to the forty one people detained that night.

The interrogatory began on the same night of the detention and continued until the next day. The same questions, no scales: Who are you? What do you do for a living? Where do you live? Spell your name!”

Being a foreigner allowed her to move as photographer with certain tranquility until Chavez died. From that moment everything changed. She started feeling with more rigor limitations to the press. She felt the blocking (of the press).

- What does your photographic work reveal?

- That there are a lot of people unhappy who are organizing in a pacific way and there are also less pacific people. That there is a strong response of the public order forces and even more, from those who are not public order forces.

Francesca house’ keys, a card reader, a thousand Bolívares, a new box of Lucky Strike cigarettes and all her photographic equipment, are now in possession of the National Guard. However, (to her surprise), her camera was put on sale on an online site.

The 36 hours that she spent detained with only two meals, the same clothes and an immense desire of making photographs of what she had just lived, do not come out of her head. The Italian Consul warned her about the possibility of being deported.

Francesca wants to leave Venezuela when she wants to, not because she is forced to.

 * The democratic period in Venezuelan history ranging from 1958 till 1998 is often refered to as the "Fourth Republic". Mr. Chavez' movement and political party in its early years was called "The Fifth Republic".

jueves, 17 de abril de 2014

Testimonials from Venezuela: Yuribi and María García

Today you will read the testimonial of a young leader of the protests - often turned into violent clashes with the police and the Colectivos (armed militcias) -in Chacao and the story of woman who contributes to the demonstration by cooking meals daily for protesters in Merida.

These testimonials, as the others previously published here, have been collected by Roberto Mata, an outstanding Venezuelan photographer, who has spend these past weeks days in the quiet but valuable task of interviewing people who have experienced the horrible repression occurred during protests. His work was originally published in Prodavinci. (if you speak Spanish and want thoughtful, accurate analysis and testimonial of the Venezuelan situation, this is the place to go). I have received Roberto Mata' authorization to translate and publish his work in this space.
To preserve the value of the testimonials, I have tried to keep the texts as close as possible to the original which means that some expressions might seem odd for English native speakers. Where words and expressions were likely to get lost in translation, I looked for English equivalents and/or included small explanations between parenthesis.
Translations of previous testimonials from the conflict are available here:

17. “The colectivos have the right to kill. I don’t”; Yubiry

By Roberto Mata (Read the original material at Prodavinci in Spanish here:

March 16th, 2014
Yuribi, 18. Breakdance dancer and Graphic Design student. Picture by Roberto Mata
Yubiry scampers National Guards. She attacks them with words and stones. She is careful to throw the stones at their bodies, not to their heads. She recognizes that the anger has allowed her to develop a great ability to reach the target that she must control.

She knows how to block street and put a stop on the Colectivos (militias) so they do not steal the water and the food of the protesters. She is the first one in her group picket. She achieves concrete actions.

Her pacific character, after frustrated attempts of dialogue, has opened the way to a newly radical Yubiri. The violence and injustice had made a brave Yuriby, to flourish as a leader.

She stopped participating actively at Altamira (East of Caracas) a few days ago. She needed to organize the Chacao Municipality to produce a distraction and diminish the Guards attack in other areas, but the strategy only worked the first day. Then the repression doubled and now the National Guards cover all the protests around.

After February 12th, Yuriby felt fear and recognize that with that fear she would not achieve anything. She decided to act. So far the damages she has suffered are a purple arm and a lot of mockery and insults

The day she found her room filled with food, water and first aid kits, she understood that she had become a leader. The neighbors ask her daily about the strategy.

Eighty and seven stiches on the head of a student, who was following her instructions, let her see how big her responsibility is.

The fear returned.

“The colectivos (armed militias) have the right to kill. I do not. The justice is not going to condemn them. My moral do not allow me (to kill)”

Yuriby fells, gets up and sees four characteristics that she the key to assure the protests achieve any goal: astuteness, radicalism, pacifism and dialogue.

Yuriby’ father has not talked to her for a year. He lives in Cojedes (central Venezuela) and the political differences do not allow reconciliation with his daughter. Her mother defines herself as apolitical.

Yuriby’ boyfriend left her on February 13th when he suspected what her new purpose of life was.

She now lives with her grandmother.

Yuriby sometimes feels alone but not enough to abandon her fight. “It is the future of my generation”.


18. “I cook for 25 protesters. I do it alone but I am not the only one”; María García

By Roberto Mata (Read the original material in Spanish here:

María Garcia, 27, Dental Technician. Picture by Roberto Mata
Maria is a dental technician but in the mornings, after very few hours of sleeping, Maria cooks lunches or dinners: pasta, rice and grains for about 35 protesters. She does this alone, but she is not the only one. There is network of people who, despite the shortage situation and the difficulties to go to one place to another in Merida city, supports the protests with time, food, medications and logistics.

During the nights, Maria takes shifts. She makes litters of coffee and waits near the barricades, at the Av. Cardenal Quintero, where she learned to take care of pellet wounds, with oxygenated water, alcohol or Gerdex and gauze. The first day she did this, on February 6th, most of the shots at protesters were at their faces. That is how she learned.

Her biological clock is inverted since then. Maria cannot stop supporting from where she thinks it is her duty: to cook and cure.

She studied to be a “Dental Technician” at the UNEFA (Armed Forces University). What she did not learned at the university, she learned it on her own, with a lot of practice. She finished her career but she has been waiting for two years for her degree.

In her career, her struggle is also against shortages. She does not find teeth to make dental prosthesis. They are no longer produced nationally, neither imported. She cannot work.

During her career she was offered to go to government rallies to get four extra points in each course in the final grades.

Maria never assisted to any government rally; she did not accept the offer. Those who marched got their degrees.

- Do you have a boyfriend, Maria?

- This is not the time to think about that

The only scape of Maria, her refuge, is her five year old boy. When she is with him, she tries not to think on everything she is risking.

When María hears the sound of Sexy and I know it, by LMFAO, she answers her phone. That is her ring tone. When she hears an explosion nearby she does not even move. She knows that it is only a mortar.

miércoles, 16 de abril de 2014

Testimonials from Venezuela: Doris and "Julio Coco"

Today you will read the story of the mother of one of the students detained at the protests and the profile of an unlikely leader-Youtube sensation that has emerged in the Venezuelan scene.

These testimonials, as the others previously published here, have been collected by Roberto Mata, an outstanding Venezuelan photographer, who has spend these past weeks days in the quiet but valuable task of interviewing people who have experienced the horrible repression occurred during protests. His work was originally published in Prodavinci. (if you speak Spanish and want thoughtful, accurate analysis and testimonial of the Venezuelan situation, this is the place to go). I have received Roberto Mata' authorization to translate and publish his work in this space.
To preserve the value of the testimonials, I have tried to keep the texts as close as possible to the original which means that some expressions might seem odd for English native speakers. Where words and expressions were likely to get lost in translation, I looked for English equivalents and/or included small explanations between parenthesis.
Translations of previous testimonials from the conflict are available here:

15. “And they said to him: ‘we are going to plant the evidence: say that you burnt those police patrols”; Doris Morillo

By Roberto Mata (Link to the original material at Prodavinci, in Spanish:
March 10th, 2014
Doris Morillo de Coello, 50. Lawyer, mother of a detainee. Picture by Roberto Mata 

Doris has lost 10 Kg. in 26 days: the time that her son Marco Aurelio Coello, an 18 year- old, high school student, has been imprisoned.

Marco Aurelio was in a bathroom and handcuffed when a CICPC (Scientific Police) officer put a gun on his head and said: “We are going to kill you. We are going to plant you evidence so say that you burn those police patrols”.

Marco Aurelio’ denial made everything worse. He was wrapped up with tape and a foam rubber mat. Five officers punched him, kicked him, threaten him: “Sign here. Say that you put that on fire”. Another denial and the officers thus sprayed gasoline on Marco Aurelio.

With two cables they applied electric discharges that made him pass out, until someone showed up and said “Do not kill him here! Not here where we can be seen”. Then, as entertainment, the officers played to apply smaller electric discharges to each other.

Marco Aurelio spent 48 hours uncommunicated before he was able to see a lawyer.

Marco Aurelio first protest was on a march on February 12th. He went with a friend and the mother of his friend. At Parque Carabobo (downtown Caracas) he found himself alone and trapped between the protesters and police officers with shields.

In an act of naivety, he looked the police for protection. A tear gas bomb got to his hip. Stunned and asphyxiated, he lost the ability to recognize what was happening around him and ended up on the floor. When he recovered he recounted three things: he did not know how much time it has passed, he was being handcuffed and he has seen some CICPC corps on fire.

Doris’ son is not alone. Six more young men are with him the same condition. They had never met before and now they are in the same space. All confined there.

Doris’ house is not disorganized but it is evident that stopped being a priority days ago. Marco Aurelio’ room is intact, the bed done, no laundry to do. A small truck got to the house with a newly upholstered sofa. The once long awaited sofa now looks out of place.

Sometimes, and only for short moments, Doris loses her faith.

16. “I hope to be alive in five years”; Julio Coco by Roberto Mata #Profiles

By Roberto Mata (Link to the original material at Prodavinci, in Spanish:

 March 17th, 2014

Julio "Coco", 36. Technical Degree in Chemistry - Political Activist. Picture by Roberto Mata

— In five years?

— In five years I hope to be alive. We are living in a dictatorship…

Over the table, in his living room, there are $120 US Dollars in cash. Julio needs a motorbike. He knows he has been targeted, so he feels vulnerable by using public transportation.

Those dollars comes from an Amazon gift-card he sold. He wants to save up to five hundred dollars to buy a new Skyline with guarantee; that a friend has already offered him.

The motorbike is automatic. Julio does not know how to drive in manual transmission.

- I would have liked to be a Rockstar but I am a “Barrio rocker” (Barrio: shanty town)

 - How is that?

- I do not go to the good concerts, I do not buy original records and my t-shirts come from informal markets…

He assures that it is not his place to assume the responsibility of the political leadership, but someone has to stand up and he does that.

He is a drummer, wears a piercing, dances salsa, did BMX and does not have more tattoos for lack of money. He has been formally unemployed for the last three years, although he does some policy advice. His political training was in the Bandera Roja (communist oriented) political party.

At El Tigre, in the Anzoátegui state (West of Venezuela), he was “adopted” by the school rebels when he was 13 years old. They told him how to smoke, drink, punch others and to play truco (a card game) and basketball. In return, he would explain to them Physics, Chemistry and Math. Julio was a “coco” ("coconut" in Spanish, used here as slang for “brain”) to them.

Now Julio lives in a 76 Square Meters- two bedroom apartment. It was there where his wife filmed the famous forty two minutes long video that has been online since February 12th.

At a demonstration at El Rosal (East of Caracas) people took him at least seven hundred pictures. To each person who approached him, he would spend from five to seven minutes to “speak clear and give an answer face to face”.

It took him two hours to walk only one block.

“This is like a tsunami. We are now living in something like a small wave but then this wave “picks it up” and then, the tsunami comes”.

He says he suffers just like any Venezuelan, and he think it is this which connects him to the people.

He speaks directly, likes to hang around without shirtless and opens his mouth when he is amazed by something.

He opens his mouth a lot.