miércoles, 21 de noviembre de 2007

50 years later, this is a day to remember

Before I continue with my long stories about protests and political inconveniences, I better make a break and bookmark this day in this blog. It was 1957 and my country lived under the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez who was the last dictator we had... well... before this lunatic. On a day like today, a student strike against the regime exploited and was one of the many events that made the country; just a few days later (on January, 24 of 1958) give it a try with the democracy (a "try" that lasted for 45 years, not matter how much the Chavismo wants to condemn these years now with a distorted vision of history). The students planned huge demonstrations across the country in order to remember the 50th anniversary of the Student Day but, unfortunately, I couldn't leave work for attending them.
We had always celebrate the Student Day. In high school it was a day for going to the school to basically hear a boring speech and watch (in the case of more talented girls, play) a volleyball match. But obviously today this anniversary is more relevant than ever, and not just because its the 50th year anniversary.
I grew up hearing the stories of the repression under Pérez Jiménez dictatorship because my family (specially my mom's side but my dad's side as well) were strongly against. My uncle told me the story of the day my great-aunt was detained (the first woman detained for political reasons under that regime). He was a kid then, sitting on the stairs in front of my great-grandmother's house when my great-aunt told him not to worry if she didn't come back. He waited for her but her warnings were real. She was at a protest and the police came to repress the demonstration as usual and everybody ran away, except her. She stayed waving a flag and screaming "¡Viva la libertad!" ("Long live freedom!"), over and over... the policeman, surprised for this behavior, asked her to calm down: "Por favor señorita..." but she continued screaming and went to jail for a while (don't remember the exact time). She wasn't put in a real prison but in a convent instead and release at the end of the regime, on 1958. My great-grandmother brought her once one "Hallaca", our traditional Christmas dish that is covered with plantain leafs. The guards destroyed the beautiful presentation of the dish by checking inside the plantain leafs if there was something not allowed.
Another great-uncle was also detained and tortured. I got the feeling that many details of his story are lost in the mouths of one generation to another: I know that many "horrible things" were done to him, but like I said, I don't know what those "horrible things" were exactly. My great-grandmother received on December of 1957 the terrible news that his son was death. Yet, his body could not be found. My mom was about 8 years old back then and she remember the mass that were made in his name. Turns out that the "death son" came back home when democracy started, he wasn't death after all but you couldn't tell what was worse.
With at least two members in prison, the rest of the family was carefully watched. My grandmother got saved from going to prison because she was pregnant but the government sent a man to stand in the door of her house to watch what my family' life day after day. My mom remembers that man, sitting at the "zaguán" (entrance, of old houses) all day long and my grandmother, who even felt sorry for him, offering some coffee... yes, to her own spy!
When the regime finally fall, the political prisoners were quickly released. My grandparents house back then was located nearby Miraflores (the government Palace) and therefore next to a prison. So my mom saw from her balcony a crowd of man walking; she said they looked like they haven't took a bath in years, and with their sad faces it was certainly a scary image for a kid: my mom did not liked them, no matter how hard my grandmother try to explain her that they were good people, victims of a terrible situation... She gave both my uncle and my mom, white handkerchiefs to show at the former political prisoners while they were walking by. My mom waved the handkerchief because she thought that if she didn't, those men could do something bad to her.
Many people in Venezuela remembers Pérez-Jiménez with some nostalgia. I can even bet that some of them would want to have him back because he was highly efficient on making several public works specially those concerning infrastructure, those everyone can see, those buildings of "Pérez-Jiménez times" that impressed readers of a fallen country; myself included. I can also bet that many will cheer Chávez in the future, his social programs (no matter if they are effective or not), his speeches and his ideology and people will talk about "Chávez times".
But the memories of my family are not related with buildings, even though we like the 50's architecture a lot. And the memories of my family are somehow, my own, even if my birth came a lot of time after... Hope the memories of the next generation of my family are able to look at "Chávez times" as I look at the "Pérez Jiménez times" beyond the public opinion impressed about big works who can easily forgot the freedom they cost.
About the picture: I found an old magazine in my house the other day, called Elite, from 1955, two years before that student strike I remembered know. It was the closest graphic material to the event I could publish..

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