There were, of course, some restrictions as an early sign of authoritarian moves such as the security zones decree (that I have talked about on previous stories) which consists on declare certain areas as “security zones” that include streets around military installations and government buildings. Caracas, as the capital of Venezuela it has a lot of government offices and also (this bothers me a little but that’s material for another story) at least a couple of important military installations so as a result; any important building, any place where people needed to be heard was declared a security zone, and therefore, any protest on those areas is illegal and strictly prohibited (well, as we have notice, strictly prohibited for the people against the government only).
But now, the security zones decree sounds like a meanless thing if you compare it the rest of the restrictions we have to deal with. Those restrictions have grown in a matter of months. I don’t think many people are consciously aware of this terrible change.
Today, despiting the public announces of the previous years about demonstrations, you can only have the luck to be informed of an upcoming demonstration if you know someone who has also information about it and that person knows another who knows and so it goes, via text messages; the night before or even a few hours before the event. No mass media news revealing the plans, no one informing you of the route that you are not quite aware of until maybe the very same day and the very same moment that the demonstration is starting.
Those text messages flying from one cell phone to another are not only the substitute of mass media since RCTV (the oldest Venezuelan TV network) was closed by the government and Globovision (only opposition channel that remains) it’s constantly under the “revolutionary” menace eyes. Publishing our upcoming plans even if we had the media to do it's now very inconvenient.
Some demonstrations are legal, and some others (on governments opinion, of course) are not or at least, “not totally legal” (only at some streets for example). And even the legal ones, the totally legal ones are received at the end by an extremely big contingent of policemen and/ or some military (National Guard, Military Police…).
Before feeling a non justify fear, I always quickly check all that “army” that is waiting for us: their shields, the weapons that I can see sometime (shouldn’t this be illegal?), the tanks, or the trucks for spreading water called “whales” and you can’t forget the cages (“jaulas”, trucks for taking the detained people).
I must make a parenthesis here and say that I never saw those cages or maybe never notice them before, until the several protest about the RCTV closure at the end of May; another change on the demonstration dynamics of my country.
Anyway, the arsenal I mentioned varies on the case and sometimes all that is combined with a group of Chavez supporters wearing red t-shirts and yelling for say the least; physically separated from us by a police line. Or also, another group of Chavez supporters giving circles around the demonstration in their motorcycles.
Yet, most of that doesn’t scare me at all and I don’t think it scares anyone by now. They are actually, only a few moments (three for being exact) that can happen (or not) at the end of a demonstration and if they do happen, the tense peace is broken. Of those three, one doesn’t even requires to break the peace because its part of the army. Anyway, I will detail one by one the moments or things I’m afraid of when I get to where a demonstration ends:
1) WHEN THE POLICE OR THE GUARDS PUT ON THEIR BIG ANTI GAS MASKS
When this happens, it always takes me out of nowhere, by surprise. I’m sitting with a few friends, talking, even a little bit bored or feeling dizzy because of the unbearable noon heat and boom: those guys a few seconds ago just standing there like statues move and puts on their masks.
They look like horrible robots, my heart beats fast because I know what’s coming. I hate when they, just after put on their masks, start marching with their big shields against the people protesting. The next might sound funny, but at least the reader can understand now the odd title that I choose for this story: I always comment with my mom that for me, when they do that, they look like a bunch of black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles moving against you.
2) WHEN I HEAR AN EXPLOSION OR A FEW ONES
With the adrenaline of the moment and some experience, of course; you might know what that explosion mean: a tear gas bomb shouted (tear gas bombs don’t produce a sound by themselves, only if they are shouted) or pellets or gunshots… The scariest thing about it is not the explosion itself, but the fact that you don’t know where that explosion comes from. Is it from…the police line? But suddenly those guys are just everywhere! Or does it come from the Chavez supporters group? Or from someone who passed by in a motorcycle? What if they come from a building? I think I could feel less fear on those moments If I knew the answer to the “Who is shooting and from where?” question because then I could know where to hide, where to run and from who I should run of first. But you always play with luck in those cases instead.
3) THE PRESENCE OF THE “JAULAS” (CAGES)
I warned that in those three moments one wasn’t exactly a moment but part of the army. Before the RCTV closure I was not used to see those cages and maybe I’m not get used to them, but I do hate to see those because in case you are detained and taken to those cages; the uncertainly level compared with the previous couple of moments about possible risk or consequences its just over the top.
If the policemen suddenly put on their masks you know that some tear gas is coming. You have to run a little, maybe, if you can’t stand the gas or just smell a handkerchief filled with vinegar and (or) spread some toothpaste under your eyes and nose, and you are done. That’s easy.
In the case of an explosion you are quite aware of even the worse scenario, you know the possible injuries of a bomb, a pellet cartridge can cause; even death. Yes, that is desperately tragic but what I’m trying to say here is that in those cases, at least, you know.
But, what if a policeman decides to detain you in the middle of a demonstration and take you to one of those cages? What do you could possible know about your destiny then? People might argue that probably after they detained you they are going to take you somewhere to start a process. The thing is: Where? For how long?, And under what conditions? Are they going to let you speak to an attorney and /or your family? Under what charges they are going to justify your detention?
In a constitutional and democratic republic I should certainly have the answer to all those questions since they respond to basic civil rights. They should be simply obvious.
A few days ago a couple of brothers, also students, were giving some pamphlets with Bolivar phrases to the people outside a football stadium (yes, the famous Copa America). They were detained, for being released afterwards and forced to present to the court every single week under very weird charges. The charges usually are “sabotage”, “betrayal to the country”, “public disorder”…
The truth is (and one must tell things as they are without having the fear of being accused of extremism or over reacting) that there are no rights and no law in Venezuela. The only law that is carefully obey here comes from the mood Chavez wakes up one morning.
Since I don’t know how Chavez and his combo is going to wake up tomorrow; the future its pathetically uncertain for me and that’s what its truly killing some of us inside. Is not all the madness that has happen already but the things that could eventually happen. And there is only one thing for sure about this issue: whatever might happen in the future doesn’t look good at all; even more, it looks worse than the current situation.
A foreigner asked me once just like that: “How do you feel about Hugo Chavez?” and I answered: “How would you feel if someone comes and takes you away everything you once loved or hoped for?” – “Bad, I guess” – He said – “Well, that’s how”.
What matters is not that he is messing up the country because it was starting to mess up like ten years before Chavez. Is that he is messing up the possibilities as well: means our hopes of some day being able improve the current state of things.
No, you have to agree with him and even more, work on his own way even if you know the disadvantage and the damage that way can cause (therefore, this phenomenon can be even more dramatic among educated people). Chavez is the perfect example of the famous slang: “Ni lava ni presta la batea”. This means, “neither he wash, neither be borrows the tray to others” (or let others use it). Neither has he ruled well, neither he let others try.
Another foreigner asked me to make a post about my daily life here and the best I can do for describing it is to talk as I’m doing now, about uncertainly.
The black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I mentioned are not only waiting for you at the end of a demonstration, but you also feel that they seem to be waiting for you at the end of your life. There are black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles walking against you on every single moment: when you go out and see an empty street and fear being mugged; when you study and hear about decrees against university autonomy coming; when someone from your family loses its job because it has fallen under the siege of the government.
Maybe the fear increases when you are going to a protest, but you go to a protest because you feel that fear all the time and you want to see the end of it someday. You know you are risking a lot. Most of the times you go to a protest and you come back home like nothing. The demonstration was almost like a fun carnival. But some other times is not fun at all and there is the possibility of not coming back home.
You don’t know what day the carnival will end and even so, it always seems to take you by surprise. You notice a terrible fear by just making the “what if” imagination exercise. A few minutes later you take a deep breath and just pack your things and go either to a protest, to your classes, a party or your job. Once you are there, you don’t think about it much, there is no turning back.
This general mood of the people, or at least most of the people I’m in touch with (I’m not using statistics for writing this entry) is very convenient for the government and probably that’s why the government is constantly making menaces that maybe are not going to be real until a few months or even years later.
Through these years, between reality and future possibilities I have certainly experienced a lot for choosing from the big amount of news about the upcoming news of the government; just some issues that might truly concern me or even nothing at all. Many things that concern the foreigners and that are the starting points of quite long discussion don’t make me even move off my seat (like the news about Chavez possible buying Russian submarines). And is not because I’m ignorant, naïve, or don’t worry about my country. It is called “getting used to” or maybe, “trying to survive in a sanity mood”. In a good way, you might also say I’m stronger, I can live around things that probably people outside Venezuela (on countries of better conditions, of course) can’t.
People usually say that what doesn’t kills you make you stronger. It’s probably a nice consolation prize for those who spend their lives in the unbearable wonder of “What if this does kills me?” I don’t want strength really. Possibly being stronger doesn’t make me proud at all. I would happily change anytime all my “strength” built as a product of many encounters with different black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in my life for some peace in return.