sábado, 23 de junio de 2007

"Call me as soon as you get home"

Last night I went out with a few friends to celebrate the birthday of one of them. We sat at a table on the outside part of some random place to have a few beers and talk about nothing. The night went by like normal until about 2 am when we were a little bit surprised by a lot of police patrols just turning around the corner where we were sitting over and over again; until they finally stopped.Right next to us the police officers surrounded a few guys on their motorbikes and the next second, one of the policemen took his gun out and pointed it at one of the guys, a possible thief at the motorcycles. When we saw that, we all, by instinct, got up from the table and stood inside the local, a little bit farther from the whole mess.
Nothing happened: the police officers detained some of them and about 20 minutes later, the street looked as empty and calm as normal. What amazed us the most is that we were the only group who left temporally the table in the whole place; perhaps because we were at the closest table to the street or more likely, because those episodes are very normal. Since my groups of friends in particular do not go out at night too often, we are not quite used to it. Probably all the people at the other tables laughed of us.
It could have turned into a shooting, it has happened before, you never know. While the “action” remained on the street, we decided to calm down a little and with the help of some brownies, a friend of mine brought, and to sing happy birthday. “This probably has been the strangest birthday I have ever had”- My friend told me.

After tasting the brownies, we asked for the check and left. The police officers were just leaving the surrounding streets as well.
Here’s when it comes the challenge that is implied making our way back home at night, specially because of a group of like 20 people, at least last night, only two had car of their own (Yes Mr. Chavez, we are definitely rich kids). The rest were looking for taxis to get back home. “Make sure it’s a company cab, not a random one”, “Please call me or write me a message as soon as you get home”. Those last few minutes, we all feel a bit desperate to pass from the red zone, (which means the whole city of Caracas) to the orange zone; until inside our doors, in the warmth of our homes.
And it always happen the same way: while I’m eating something to pass the alcohol effects if that’s the case and getting ready for bed, I have the mobile phone right next to me, ready to receive messages or call from my friends, telling me they all made it back home and safe.
Since the delinquency has grown so high in my city, we would rather go out when the sky is still clear, or if we want to drink and dance, our houses become improvised discotheques.
Every time we go out, we know the big risks we are taking. Most of the time nothing happens but it really does not matter: the statistics and those episodes are more than enough to create an environment of fear and paranoia.Before the whole police persecution, another friend decided to go back home early.
A few minutes later, we notice that the cab he took was still parked at one side of the street. We imagine a million things that could happen: “why does the cab driver just not turn on his car and leave?” We immediately stand up and the taxi to check everything is fine. When the taxi driver sees our faces, he immediately tells us without letting us speak first “Oh… I was just changing the music” then finally leaves. The way the taxi driver noticed our fears made me trust a little. But my other friends are still paranoid “Call him - (the friend who left)- in 10 minutes, make sure he’s back home and ok”. I finally listen to my friends request and make the call.
I wonder since when just going out at night to have a fun time mean all this long list of precautions and fear. With calls and messages from the very beginning of the night, when your mom is asking you all over again how are you going to come back home, at what time, Where are you going exactly and then asks you a dozen times to take care of yourself (and this are not exactly the typical mom’ demands worried about the bad influence of your friend, sex or anything like that, I’m 22 so that’s over… Its about the country situation, only) … till the very end of the evening when you find yourself busy checking everyone came back home safe and praying that nothing happens in the road.
And yet, the government seems to like this awkward situation where it finds itself with a country paralyzed with fear. No serious politics to face delinquency and the most incredible theories to justify the killings we see everyday. Take for example the case of an actor from Venevision (a TV channel, now with a pro- government vision that always shared the rating competence with RCTV, the channel that the government closed almost one month ago). This actor was killed a few weeks ago when some guys tried to kidnap a friend of his daughter and their family. However, for some pro-government leaders such as Lina Ron, the theory is that since he is an actor from Venevision, his death is the result of a conspiracy lead by Globovision, the last opposition TV channel that remains. Another example is my classmate case.
She was certainly killed because of some passionate issues and no common delinquency or politics but the government was incredible fast to find the killers even the intellectuals and published that case to show that is not delinquency or insecurity that is the trouble, but just some crazy people combined with enemies of the government.
In the meantime, the people have lost the idea of a “red zone” in Caracas, like all cities have. Even in the fanciest places I have heard of gunshots, thief, kidnaps and so on. The only place we consider safe is at home (even if sometimes is not safe at all), so we gathered there the best we can and if we have money, we build the most incredible security systems for nothing.
The fear remains anyway and it leaves you to a state of mind that you would rather not move before taking the risk of losing everything you have. The people distrust each other so highly, they are fearful when a person simply approaches them in the streets to ask for the hour. The tension, even if we are not always thinking about it, and we are laughing, dancing and asking for another beer, is constant, and extreme.
One friend, last night, commented: “And there is this law of social responsibility for Radio and TV and what for? The children do not need to turn on the TVs to watch something not suitable for their ages. They just need to go out, to the street”.

sábado, 16 de junio de 2007

(Part III) Rich kids are not people

To blame a stance such as the one it has been given by the White Hand movement with the class or race argument, it is to not only kill the stance from the very beginning but also the people who hold it (since if we are from certain ethnicity or class we can’t change it) and therefore, it becomes a non political weapon who made the debate impossible and who only left space for the suppression of stances such as the one the White Hand movement holds.
Because if democracy is the government of the people, it shouldn’t the government of the poor, or the government of the rich, or the government of the ones who support a social project; it should be the government of the people. Democracy is the place where you are able to vote and think with no other label on your forehead than the one that establish the fact that you are a citizen. I don’t think that a democracy can work by stances like “Oh, you want to protest? Let me see your income. No, you are too rich to protest. Why would you want to protest if you have such a great quality of life? Next!!!”
A guy at one students assembly at my university said once “When I’m protesting and a person approaches me saying “you are just mom and dad’s son” – I answer with irony – Well, I’m not a clone, I must have come from somewhere… and if a person says “You are just a rich kid”- I answer – Yes, I’m a rich kid. I have just recently abandoned my childhood and I still keep the innocence and the pure heart kids have. And I’m rich because I have a lot of things to give to this country. No question about it, I am a rich kid”. Outstanding words from a student that if I remember correctly, this is just his first year of university.
A famous quote from the Bible says “Not only of bread lives the man”. The missing part of the quote says something like “but also of the word of God”; but since I’m not religious, I will stick only the first part of that quote. Thinking than the man is happier only because his finance situation it’s outstanding is to deny the human condition. It is to think that the man is like a dog: it’s almost enough to put some food and water so it can moves his tail as a sign of joy and thanks. That’s what many populist governments tend to think and that’s why I distrust of stats as the only way of seeing how a country is doing. A man is a man because he needs freedom, consideration and respect just as he needs food, sex and water.
That’s why I won’t applaud ever a government with great accomplish on social programs if it denies basic Civil Rights, if it imposed those programs on the people without any real right to vote about them. For me, it is a regime who is treating the ones under its rule like animals and therefore, not valuable as a legitimate government for humans.
The reader most know that when I’m so passionate put my stances against the government and use my life stories for supporting my argument I’m not making an effort to erase the poor people off the political agenda. I’m not saying that I’m against the impressive amount of social programs promoted by Chavez called “Misiones”. It doesn’t bother me to see that the poor people are having things they never had before and reaching to a more dignity way of life.
I’m not against a government who creates new universities, new health care places, and cultural institutions. Bravo! Cheers to that! That’s exactly what a government should do specially with the impressive oil income we have and the critical poverty situation we most face. I don’t want to hear a single commenter from the left saying all over again that all that I’m doing is to defend a status quo.
If you are desperately searching for the origins of my opposition to the government, let me give you a clue: is not there where you can find them. It’s beyond there. My critics (surprise!) at the beginning are not focused on the fact that those many government programs doesn’t have real accomplishments and the level of poverty and the decrease of life conditions from all social classes besides the insecurity situation has become more and more evident every day. I’m not focused on reviewing how efficient a government is in terms of filling the physical needs of their population because I already stand that for me it is a very limited and non valid criterion when it comes to judge a regime.
My problem is that those social programs have not being made for really helping a population in need but for getting more votes and support from that population in need. Free health care and education are not privileges, are rights and people shouldn’t be wearing a red t-shirt for having access to those rights. And to preserve that right is exactly what a government should take care of, it is because of that among other things, why we vote for a president and he receives a salary every month.
A friend of mine always wisely says “A bakery man is not saying every day: Look folks! I made the bread! Neither is everyone constantly saying “Thank you Mr. Bakery guy for making us the bread every day”. No! That’s his job: he makes the bread, we buy it and the biggest compliment we could express to the bakery guy is about maybe the flavor or the quality of the bread; not the bread itself. But Chavez has displayed an impressive propaganda just everywhere so that everyone can know that the good Chavez is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do. Only the people are not quite aware that he’s supposed to do that, but they think he’s making something absolutely outstanding and because of this, we should be all be in debt with him (means, how can you dare to oppose the government if you are receiving all this benefits? – Well it is because they are not my benefits, they are my rights. And the human been is not a product to be build by any social program. Same as we shouldn’t be slavers of the empire, we shouldn’t be slavers of any social program).

(Part II) Rich kids are not people

Venezuelans are mixed races, darker skin; therefore white skinned Venezuelans are not Venezuelans. Venezuelans are poor, therefore, non poor Venezuelans are not Venezuelans. Venezuelans are low educated, therefore, the lucky ones who had the opportunity of being educated are not Venezuelans.Venezuelans support Chavez, all Venezuelans with a little sense of logic and social justice have to support Chavez, otherwise they are white, rich, traditionally educated and therefore, they are not Venezuelans. If you make a list and check the items you will end up wondering; “So If you are not Venezuelan, What the hell are you?” and my answer would be something like “I have no idea, but according to the government I must be something very bad”.

“Sometimes” – I told a friend the other day – “The government and the left intellectuality just want me to disappear”. What else if I have no right to speak and even less right to access the government programs? What else if I’m guilty as charged from the day I was born from all the bad things that this country has? Maybe it is a “middle class paranoia” but I strongly believe the government wants to systematically suppress the ones who are against him or that he believes they are against him.

Mr. Chavez wants to suppress the high educated middle class and the traditional or not so traditional politicians on any way he can. He has already succeed in suppress them politically and slowly, he’s already starting to use some other ways to make us disappear. Is just a matter of time for me, without any intention of being alarmist, I think it’s time to openly say it.

I have not written about this very controversial issue to victimize myself. I’m obviously making a serious pronouncement of discrimination, won’t ever hide it, this was my clear intention. But by making this pronouncement I’m not making the suggestion that the poor are well threatened and the rich are discriminated by this government. The world is not a video game, things are not that easy.
The thing is that this discrimination practice goes beyond class and race to politics and its politics indeed the basis of all the discrimination itself. In other words, the discrimination starts when you have made clear your stance of not being a Chavez supporter. From there, the government makes the story about class and race to paint the types of their supporters and the enemies (if you are against him you are an enemy).

This means, if you support Chavez it must be because you are certainly poor and tired of the oblivion on which the governments before Chavez left you or, you are not poor but you have a clear sense of what the elites have done to this country and you want to make justice by considering the “Venezuelan people” (means, the poor people) in a fair way. But if you don’t support Chavez it must be because you are an upper class person, very used to the oppression and oblivion and you don’t want to see the poor people more wealthier and more educated because they could become a threat to the power you hold, or maybe you are poor, but too blind to see the reality and used to be in the service of upper classes. Those upper classes who, at the same time, are in service of the imperialism and oh, specially, the CIA. Never forget the CIA.

From there it is a piece of cake to jump to a simple conclusion: the ones who support Chávez are good people and the ones who don’t support Chavez, are, well, like Darth Devil: bad rich selfish antipatriotic (no wonder why my URL address is called “antipatriotic Venezuelan” by the way) people. And that’s the beginning of a terrific machine displayed by the government to build hate between Venezuelans besides the inexact (and therefore dangerous) pictures of the Venezuelan society.
This model has also made an influence on some Chavez opponents who now consider that the “people of Venezuela” are only the poor who support the president and you hear more often than not, and this students movement has not been the exception “we must convince the people, they are the ones who support Chavez, we must look at them when we protest”- Referring, always, to the people, as the poor ones.

And when I ask them if they are not part of “the people” as well, they move their shoulders and tell me back things like “we are not of the majority”. From there to me getting absolutely mad and start quoting political theory authors and democracy models screaming “the people are everybody! From the upper rich to the most poor at all and everybody should be considered as citizens!” there’s only one tiny step that I never learn, and more often than not, I cross.

Of course, Chavez has not built this model from scratch. We do have a history of inequality, of many areas never considered for social programs. Of elites too busy with themselves living a life of ignorance about the not so lucky people who surround them. People who has called the poor “marginales” (same as in English, “marginal”) and who have seriously considered to just bring down all poor slums of the big cities like Caracas and move the people who live there to empty counties inside Venezuela. In one word: people who has consider as a solution to poverty to just get rid off the poor people and take them somewhere else. And there are people, from middle and upper classes who are still very ignorant about other ways of living, much less wealthier than the one they have.

So when Chavez built the model and made denounces about class oppression is not something just made up. But from making the pronouncements to promote a hate filled environment with revenge as an idea that pushes aside anyone who could look like it comes from an upper class, including obviously these students from the movement, it’s a big distance. If Chavez has any contribution that has been to make others turn their heads to the badly treated poverty issue; and if Chavez has done something absolutely terrible to this country that will take us years to recover, that has being to build hate from a reality.

A left pro-government foreign professor told me once “The poor ones finally have a voice of their own, and after all the things they have going through, Do you expect them to sing to you about love?” First of all, I don’t think this is a “Who came first, the eggs or the chicken?” question. Everyone, from the government till the opposition believe they got by some magic gift, the “voice of the poor” and they are ready to speak it out. Everyone, seems to know exactly what they want and what they need. To make simplifications of both groups, to look at the poor as good and oppressed people and at the rich as bad people only built hate, but never a country. It only built a black white vision of good and evil instead of a reality. It forgets that no matter where you look at it, we all are humans and the people’s personality; good or bad, criminal or hard worker is not an exclusive direct relation with the class condition.

Reading a book the other day, I found the sentence: “With violence you can destroy and clear up the place, nothing else” (a quote from AI Herzen). I would add that the same works with hate (and as the matter of fact, where does violence finds their origins?). There most be obviously some social resentment from many sides across Venezuela, mistakes of the past we are now obligated to carry on.

But when we ran into an unfair situation such as the poverty; instead of asking ourselves: “Which ones are guilty of this?” and make a list of people and groups to blame; why we don’t change the question to: “What can we do to fix it?” and make a list of people and groups ready to contribute to the construction of a different country. What if we learn of the mistakes from the past without making new mistakes? Because according to some (although I’m not exactly sure) Venezuelan used to be governed only for the rich and now seems to be only an intention to govern for the poor. No matter which one is the group affected, it is still a government for some and not for everybody.

I personally don’t like revolutions. I like changes, I like new things, but I have a strong suspicion when the speeches of “big changes, everything new” arrives because they definitely means that, before making those new things, one has to get rid off the old things first no matter if they are good or bad (what was I thinking? They are all bad because they are old). Among those “old bad” things you can destroy from good social programs that only needed a stronger support from people who labeled as responsible of the old things. At the end you just destroy everything and have a dozen times more work and if you combine it with a massive campaign of “hate all the old things” you have build the land for a war and this means a million times more work, a work that you don’t know if you can ever finish it.

Venezuela it is a country where poverty, life conditions and inequality must be definitely considered. But that work can’t be done with a political hate and a class prejudice in the middle. It can’t be done in an atmosphere of exclusion and disrespect, in a place where one of the political actors involved only wants the opposed to disappear. It can't be done if people from all sides of the political spectrum think that the people are only the poor who support the government and that a government must be done only over the ones who are part of the majority.

One day, about a year ago, I was in a hurry to attending a job interview unusually well dressed (with high heels and everything) when a very heavy rain surprised me out of nowhere just a few blocks away from home.
The only place to refugee was a small roof, part of the entrance of a very high class house. Three humble workers shared the refugee with me for about ten minutes. We all give suspicious looks to each other and I felt a little bit awkward because beyond the ideals I had found myself in an unexpected and awkward situation. While I was there, waiting for the rain to pass, I started thinking that there was nothing more democratic than the rain that when it falls it just falls for everybody no matter if you are a humble worker or an upper class girl with high heels. And even more, it can make the hard encounter on other circumstances of humble workers and rich girls.

When the rain stopped, each one of us continued on their way. The workers back to the construction they were working at just near by and me, back to my job interview without even saying a word to them. The way we build our roof to protect ourselves from the rain makes all the differences. I’m not referring here to some socialist utopia of the origins of the private property although that metaphor could logically fit here. I’m talking about the things (good or bad) that are common for everyone and the ways we push ourselves away from those things. And the hate, suppression and revenging desire is just one of the many ways of doing that.

The way we ignore or suppress the ways others have managed to protect themselves from the rain is just one of the many ways of doing that. And the only guilty of the rain is perhaps, that it's nature. We need to stop finding guilty as charged and pointing with our fingers to who ever doesn't think like us. We need to stop looking at the colors other people wears with suspicion and start looking through their eyes more often.

PS: The picture was taken 7 months after this entry was originally published. Is a graffiti I found against the rich people “hang in there” it says, like a warning. I thought it was more than suitable for re-ilustrate this entry.

(Part I) Rich kids are not people

When I try to make an intellectual exercise and start thinking about a possible and genuine argument that the government could use against the white hand (students) movement, I can’t honestly think of any.Of course we must consider here, that no matter how hard I try, I’m a judge and a part of this issue. But the usual arguments that the government screams against any adversary such as connections with the imperialism and attempts to bring down the government doesn’t seem to apply in the students case. Neither do we have connections with the imperialism although that’s a government paranoia hard to prove sometimes and we have stated several times that we are not looking for ways to bring down the government as many opposition groups pretend; we just want the civil rights to be respected, no matter who is in command.
That issue, hasn’t stopped the government from using those couple of typical arguments against us. As a result we have established a new joke in our daily conversations: “Hey!, Did you get your pay check from the CIA?” – “Oh, damn… I forgot to check my bank account deposits yesterday, they should have paid me something since I attended the last students demonstration” – “Nah, I checked already, the CIA sucks with payments, we should start looking for another agency to manipulate us”
But the strongest excuse to take credit and legitimacy of this students movement instead of discussing their proposals from both government and pro government media (foreign and local) and even from a few skeptically who don’t like Chavez policies at all but they also have their doubts about the real progress of the movement; it’s the following: those students who filled the streets with their hands painted with white and message of peace and freedom are only rich kids.
First, in terms of the Venezuelan population as a whole, the number of students from the universities and even more involved with the movement is almost imperceptible if you compare it with other groups, for example with the poor. Therefore, that student movement doesn’t have any significant impact statistically speaking. Besides that those kids are only there in the defense of the status quo and the preservation of their rich condition that is a legacy from the oppression that a huge majority of the population suffered before Chavez government.
Those kids just don’t accept that a new class is rising to power and taking the rights the rich people once denied to them. Those kids are in the streets for defending a TV network such as RCTV, channel that contributed to the oppression the government constantly denounces. They are mostly white skinned and live in the middle of a life of luxuries, and had managed to enter into the very exclusive traditional education system.
When we answer to that attack if we ever do we start it by saying that most of us are neither rich or white, and there are students from the “barrios” (slums) just as they are students from places like “La Lagunita” (traditional very high class area in Caracas) and above all, middle class students which families work hard every day to keep a decent life standard without many luxuries.
When I first thought about writing an entry to bring down the general picture about life conditions in Venezuela that some foreigners has, I thought about displaying with details my current economical and finance situation explaining that many things on the surface (such as the fact that I live in an upper class area in Caracas and attend to a private university) are different on the inside (such as the fact that the house were we live at is not ours because we can't afford one and I only attend to a private university because I’m lucky to have a scholarship). But then, I thought that telling this story in order to say that I’m not so rich and therefore justify my right to protest was pointless or even worse; was a way to justify government’s speech.
I wont talk about the race variety among the students movement (because specially in Venezuela, no matter how much the government and the foreign left that does not get our culture insists, it is pointless to discuss race as an issue in the same way that its being discussed in other countries such as South Africa or even United States) neither am I going to speak about the variety of the finance incomes that the members of the white hand movement haves. I’m not going to do it because no matter how rich, how wealthy a person is, everybody should be equal at the eyes of the law and therefore everyone should have the right to protest.
The laws treatment can’t depend on economical or more likely class criteria (because no matter how poor I get through the complicated years of this revolution, I’ll be always considered as part of an upper middle class) because that’s called just discrimination. And the discrimination can be practiced both sides, from rich to poor and backwards.
What the government, specially the person at its head: Mr Chavez call as “people” shouldn’t be only the poor, only the humble, or only the people who support him, should be everybody. I should have the right to be considered part of the “Venezuelan people” just like anyone else. Simply because despite my birth, my class, and my skin condition; I was born and raised here and so has my family for more than four generations. But the “chavismo” (Chavez ideology) works hard to make us feel every day, less Venezuelan and some other Venezuelans even if they don’t fully support “Chavismo” tend to be implicit agree with this argument.

martes, 12 de junio de 2007

The White Hand movement speech at the National Assembly

For me, a promise is a debt. On a previous entry I promised that I would transcript, translate and finally post here for the non-Spanish speakers, the speech that Douglas Barrios read last Thursday at the National Assemblyand that, personally, I think is one of the best speeches I have ever heard. If you have any doubt about what the student's movement is really about, what do we really want to do, this is definitely a must read. For the translation I received thankfully, the help of a friend who is fluent in both languages, in order to make it as literal as possible. If anyone is interested on the transcript in Spanish, just tell me so, and I’ll be more than glad to send the document. Now, here comes the speech, enjoy!

Members of the National Assembly, parents, brothers and sisters, classmates, and whoever may be listening to this.Today, we address you because we have been given the responsibility of trying to express the feelings and thoughts of the Venezuelan youth in the context of this socio-political situation. We have been given the opportunity to vindicate the purpose of our proposal before this assembly and the country. It is a complex and noble task, but we assume it gladly because we consider as necessary the work of causing the message of our fight to reach others in a clear and understandable way, to whomever wants to listen to it.

In the first place, we would like to extend our most sincere congratulations to all Venezuelan students, because for the first time we have conquered a dissident and plural voice in this National Assembly. This is thanks to our constant, strong, and peaceful fight. We should feel proud about it, we did it, we begin to make history.
We find ourselves here at this podium to state our repudiation to the arbitrary closing of RCTV, to the criminalization with which it has meant to stain the student protest, to the insults that we have received in this very same parliament, all the students and to the systematic violations of our basic rights.

We, the university students, did not come today to this public arena to debate. The student movement's agenda is only defined by the student movement. We came here today to vindicate our civil rights. Make no mistake: the debate between and of the university students for the country will, without question, be carried out. The debate between the university students must be done in the universities, in the streets, in the slums ("barrios"), and in the towns of the country.

The debate between and from the university students must be carried out with a clear agenda and with public knowledge. The university students' debate must be done under rules which will be made with the complete knowledge of the participants. It must be carried out with impartial moderation. The debate between the university students must be carried out in such way which reflects our own student conditions, that is to say, in an organized, planned, intelligent, fair way on its own initiative.
We would also like to clarify that we did not come here to present our political tendencies nor to present a project for our country; simply, as a collective, we are still developing it .

This does not mean that the students who are not in agreement with the things that are currently happening in the country do not possess critical or analytical lines of thinking, nor are we unable to create proposals. The truth is that we are not part of an single ideological system nor do we possess a single line of thinking.
It is for that reason that today, in front of the Assembly and the country, that the doors have been opened to debate, dialogue and serious discussion. And it is within this plural framework of ideas that we present from which a common vision emerges: a vision of freedom and democracy. A common vision, that according to us, defines the students. A vision in which, according to us, we, the students, are not socialists, we are social beings; we do not follow the political economic ideology of neo-liberalism, we are free beings; the students do not make opposition, we make propositions.

We do not seek to be part of popular mythology nor do we wish for our image to adorn the walls of the universities and the t-shirts of young students. Neither have we meant to adorn the pages of the textbooks that are leafed through by the high school students throughout the national territory. Nor that a splendid highway carries our name. We do not wish to be a "could have been" or "has been," we wish to be something more, an "is" and a "will be."

We, as members of the future of this country, have the moral duty to watch out for the present, we have the moral duty to work for the future. We have the moral duty of never letting our guard down, because that responsibility is not to ourselves, it is to those who have gone before us, it is to those who will take our places, it is to those who today are with us, bringing life to this country. And to let them down would be cowardly. And to let them down would be stateless, and letting them down is not an option.

Because of that, the youth are in the streets today. We are not fighting for the interests of a corporate group, we are not fighting in the name of international interests, and we are not fighting in support of a political tendency. We are in the streets practicing politics without the traditional politicians. We are setting up a daily struggle in the name of our nation and safeguarding the interests of a whole society.

In the beginning, our mobilization was born as an answer to the unfair measure taken against RCTV. Our actions in the street are an answer to the threat of free expression that measure represents. It is an answer to the emptiness and the nostalgia that one feels in Venezuelan homes. It is an answer to the reality which 3,000 workers whose livelihood is at risk face, and of whose cause we are absolutely supportive. We will maintain the RCTV flag until the signal of the channel 2 returns to its legitimate frecuency. Along the way, we have come to realize that our responsibility to the country goes beyond that.

It is for that reason that today we are still in the streets. We are convinced that all Venezuelans should be treated in the same way, without discrimination and without value judgements which distinguish between "the good" and "the bad." We believe in equality and equity. We feel that if some Venezuelans have the right to go to Miraflores (the government palace) then all Venezuelans should have the right to do so. We feel that if some Venezuelans have the right to travel from the interior of the country to the capital to attend a demonstration, then all Venezuelans should have the opportunity to do so.

We feel that all citizens, despite their political stance, have the right to work and advance as a state employee. We feel that we must reject any form of international interference in the internal affairs of the country, no matter if it comes from the United States, Nicaragua, or Cuba.

We feel that now, once it for all, the divisions, the double-speak, and the discrimination must come to an end. We are in the streets because we are democrats and therefore we do not believe in authoritarianism on any level, we do not believe in hegemony on the part of either the majority or the minority.

We categorically reproach any form of government, past or present, that goes against the right of the citizen to live, and even beyond, to live freely. Today our classes are in the streets. Today, we not only ask but we demand and promote the vindication of the civil rights, it is our right and it is our duty to do so.

We say; ¡Enough of this discrimination! We demand and promote national reconciliation. Let us express and demonstrate in a free way. Consider our propositions on issues of national interest because it will be our generation that will have to face the consequences. Do not criminalize the protest from the start. Do not underestimate and insult the student initiative, and free and give respect to those who have been unfairly persecuted and publicly humiliated as in the case of the student Nixon Moreno and the more than 200 detainees since the last protests; under these auspices we demand the immediate revocation of our court presentation orders.

We believe in the work for safety, well-being, and the greatest possible happiness for our people. It is because of that that we demand, with the same strength that the right to choose be guarded and guaranteed. Understanding the right to choose from the most simple thing, like the right to choose which clothes to wear, what to eat, and which road to take to go to work, to the most complex thing, like choosing their religion, their ideology, and their political authorities, even including the right to choose what do you wish to read in the newspaper, listen to on the radio and to watch on TV, because that choice at the end falls on the individual, on the citizens and not on the state, nor on the government.

That right to choose whatever we consider best for us is what makes the man truly a man, truly free. And a life without elections, a life without decisions, has little freedom, little humanity, little life. That would be an robotic, singular existence, it would be, in the end, meaningless.

That is the goal of our struggle. It is a struggle without those who aim to participate in coups or destabilize the current situation. It is a struggle for freedom, a struggle for choices. A struggle that as men, women, students, university students and above all, as Venezuelans, we cannot stop fighting. It is our right, it is our duty, it is our responsibility, it is our moral obligation.

We belong to a generation without a dark past, a generation without hatred and desires of revenge, a generation that has overcome the short-term mentality. We, the youth of Venezuela are armed. We are armed with conscience, with strength, heart, temperance, solidarity, joy, optimism, and humility. A generation ready to fail and get up again. A generation ready to start from scratch. A generation able to really make freedom and even more, create a reality. A generation that will not rest until we become the country that we can be, and the society we should be. A generation that will fight, today, tomorrow and forever to be free and truly humanistic.
We dream about a country where we can be validated without having to wear a uniform (that was the moment when the student Douglas Barrios took off his red t-shirt).
Without anything else left to say, we leave, for now"

PS: The speech, in spanish only, it's also available on Youtube. Click here to see it.
PS1: The pic used for start this entry was taken at the demonstration of last friday, 08th, 06- 2007 in Caracas

domingo, 10 de junio de 2007

The right to laugh

The student movement will continue despite classes. I feel some sense of normality and tranquility in the air; but the things we have built during the last few days cannot be easily forgotten; and the White Hands movement hardly has a way back now. Life will go on, in the only way it can for us:combining class with protest, pamphlets, discussions… it’s a long and constant political struggle for our civil rights.
The train of time can not be stopped. In less than one week I must attend to classes, read the material assigned on those classes and to finish a thesis project without (ever!) letting the protest and the work with the movement behind. But the reader must not consider this situation as awkward (although it is specially challenging); for me it’s almost as normal as brushing my teeth every morning.
Just make the countdown: my last year of high school was briefly interrupted by the events of April, 2002; then I went straight to the university just for seeing my first year of my major interrupted because of the strike (during December 2002, January and part of February, 2003).
Then, more moments of tension were about to be expected because of the hard struggle the opposition passed to demand a referendum just for lose it on doubting circumstances in August of 2004; at the end of my second academic year. Comes third year: also briefly interrupted by the events called “guarimba” which consisted of a series of radical protest that I will tell in detail later in this blog.
Fourth year, a little bit more calm than the previous year just to welcoming the 5th and the last year of my career where we lost the past elections on December, 2006 and now we are facing a world where the students lead the protest against the media monopoly of the government and the lack of other basic civil rights.
They have not been exactly the easiest university years one can think of. The school of life has been rougher for us than probably for other western students across the globe. I can almost lose count of the times when I wonder if the circumstances would ever going to let me come back to class and keep up a normal life. And I feel lucky because even with all that I was able (as the rest of my classmates, mostly) to reach to my final year of the university without failing or losing any previous year.
We have reached to a new sense of normality. And I don’t think many of the things that we live should be normal but you must take it as normal for surviving the suicide routine of spending your days crying in the corners. Two years ago, during a discussion in class about a movie that tells the story of a family in the Soviet Union under Stalin’s regime; a classmate reached her hand and say “I think this movie shows the man’s ability to get used to even the worse things. Seems like one can get used to everything” – A moment of silence filled the class for a few seconds; in my head one question kept repeating and repeating: “Do you think we’ll ever going to reach that point?”
A few days ago I was at a demonstration with some classmates. The start point was the square of a public university in Caracas, at 10 am. All of the soon we hear some explosions: “Wonder what’s happening…” Then we see from the distance the clear image of the tear gas smoke. The people just walk (not running, not screaming) only a few steps away and you hear things like “Hey! Pass me the vinegar! Who took the toothpaste?”, - “Mom, I’ll call you right back, they are dropping some bombs here”, - “Tear gas bombs for breakfast at 10 am? Please folks, don’t be that rude and wait at least till lunch…” All those phrases spoken in the most relaxed, and calm tone; the same you use when you are comfortable sitting with a friend having a coffee.
A couple of more tear gas bombs were dropped and a few minutes later a mass of students as relaxed as they were going to the beach, walk through the streets for showing their request for civil rights.
I didn’t walk till the end of that demonstration, I was feeling hungry and tired so I decided to take the subway like one block ahead from the end of the demonstration and met a friend for lunch. At the restaurant there were some tables around us filled with students which were visible also coming back from the demonstration.
They were joking and laughing while they ordered one or two “arepas” (Venezuelan meal which consists on a corn round bread, kind of, filled with almost whatever you want: from chicken to jam…). My friend looked at them and then he asked me: “How many students that attend to the demonstrations do you think take this as serious as it is?” I thought a little and then I answered: “80% I think…” – “80%?!” – “They might be laughing on the outside but it’s a different story on the inside”.
I know it because I laughed and joked like they do even in the most terrible times. I’m familiar with the empty feeling made of questions that fills your soul even on the happiest times: “Are they going to close the university?”; “Are we going to start experience the shortage of… (Put here any product you would expect to find in the supermarket like toilet paper or rice)? “Could someone steal the car where we just parked it?”, “Are these friends going to leave the country eventually?” In the meantime you just ask for another beer, cheers and continue looking for ways on having a good time.
Along with the terrible events that have filled my university years, I have also lived the best parties and moments of pure joy. I don’t think it’s fair to let the government take us away even our right to laugh. And in an ironic way, to joke over the tear gas bombs falling and the pain behind it’s also a political laugh: it it’s a way of resistance. The tears fall us apart long before we can bring the democracy back to our country. The fear, paralyze you before you can even start thinking on facing it. Many people look at the pictures of demonstrations and they make stances like “this looks like a carnival” but the laugh of the moment is not enough point to reject the pain of every day. No matter what happens, one most still have the right to laugh, and therefore, to live.

The White Hand movement speaks at the National Assembly

The day the students decided to go to the National Assembly after asking for a right of answer on the insults some deputies made about the movement, a general nervousness filled the university.A big screen was installed in the main auditorium and the students gathered there to see the historical events. “Are they really going to debate?” In the meantime, the news just brought more disappointing to the students as the images of a pro- government demonstration outside the National Assembly were shown.


The reader must remember that a few days ago the students try to do the same: to make a demonstration outside the National Assembly (Parliament) and the response we got was a police ring of more than a hundred men kidnapping us inside my university. And those guys who support the government, just because they were wearing red shirts had the right, or more likely, the privilege of protest anywhere they want to. Even outside the National Assembly. For them, there are no security zones or even permissions. They are Venezuelans, its their territory. We are the ones who need to get down in our knees to request an always limited permission to say what we think at some streets of Caracas, because for us there is not even a permission option: is just Chavez territory and is strictly forbidden.

Suddenly, I hear the students clapping their hands like a famous movie actor just had entered the auditorium: the TV shows the leaders of our movement entering the National Assembly. And they are entering in a very unusual way: wearing red t-shirts, like they were government supporters.

A few minutes later the debate starts. The government decides to make of this debate a “cadena” (Spanish word for chain). Means, all TV Channels including the private ones and all radio stations are forced to broadcast the debate at the same time.

The “cadenas” are very common in the Venezuela under Chavez since a very long time and they often consist on Chavez speeches or just plain government propaganda which can last for hours (even three or four hours). By making the debate at the National Assembly a “cadena” the government wants to send a clear message: that they respect free of expression so much that they dare to make a “cadena” even when the students who oppose to the recent Chavez measures are making their stances at the National Assembly. They are so respectful of free of expression that they even let some students to speak at such an important place as the National Assembly.

But by making of this debate a “cadena”, the message can’t be reached, at least to the student’s ears. We don’t understand how free of expression can begin by forcing all TV Channels and radio stations to broadcast at the same time whatever the government wants for hours. The contents of the “cadena” doesn’t matter for us, even the longest “cadena” with only the hardest attack against the president (this is only an utopian example, by the way) is still a “cadena”, an authoritarian move, impossible to justify under “free of expression” argument.

The president of the National Assembly gives the welcoming speech of the debate. In one side there’s like 20 students, most of them wearing red t-shirts, sitting. Half of them fully support the government and the other half belong to the White Hands movement. It is my third reason for disgust, after seeing pro- government supporters freely making a demonstration outside the National Assembly and the debate turned into a “cadena”; I have to see now how the government promotes division all over again.

By inviting some pro- government students to debate against us, we are immediately labeled as “opposition students”, as enemies. The government wants the country to see things as black and white, or red and other colors, as two sides in a constant fight were only one side, the red one, holds the truth. But besides asking for our civil rights we are not trying to bring down the government as other opposition groups tries, we want to find a common ground where both, opposition and government can build a country together, we are requesting for common values for both sides such as freedom, tolerance and democracy. And therefore we sense that label as totally unfair.

The Cilia Flores (president of the National Assembly) speech starts by making a huge propaganda of the government education programs (“misiones”, Spanish word for missions) such as “misión Robinson”, “Misión Ribas” and “Misión Sucre”. “And what does have to do with the debate?” – Some students ask at the university auditorium.

We know what Cilia Flores is doing, sending a warning, her words has a message like this one behind: “look how ungrateful some students are, look all the things that the government has done for the education and yet this student’s complain. They want to keep the monopoly of education without letting the poor the right of a good education. And you, the one who is watching this, must always be aware of how good the government is, and how bad are the others”.

Finally one of the students from the White Hands movement has the right to speak, the university auditorium remains in silence, visible nervous about the events developing at the National Assembly. It’s Douglas Barrios. I have never seen this guy before, he goes to another university. He reads a paper carefully, feeling every word and looking straight to the Assembly as he speaks about the Students Movement, which ones are our goals and why are we doing what we are doing.

The speech (that I want to re-write and translate to post it as soon as I can) is carefully written and spoken, every word finds their right place. He doesn’t waste time making the big gestures or jokes Chavez uses, he speaks calm and humble. It’s a brand new way of making politics: a short prepared speech with no other purpose that let the others know the reason of our existence as a movement, plus our demands. “Today our classes are in the streets” – He says – “If some Venezuelans has the right of protest at certain places…- obviously referring to events such as the one of last Friday where we were forced to stay at our university because we are not allowed to protest outside the Assembly, just to find a few pro- government supporters protesting there like nothing – “then all Venezuelans should have the right to do it”.

At the end he reads: “I dream about a country … where I can be considered despite an uniform” (or something like that). Immediately he takes off his red t-shirt, showing a white one with the word “libertad” (freedom) that he had underneath. The other students from the movement also get rid off their red t-shirts. It’s an amazing moment I’ll never forget. The university auditorium burst in applauses and cheers.

For the first time in almost ten years (if you go back to 1998 when Chavez first rise to power), in a “cadena”, a guy tells the country they shouldn’t have to wear a red t-shirt to feel their rights are respected or to access to some government benefits such as “misiones” or scholarships.

For the first time, a guy says “enough!” and get ride off the classical red t-shirt and the whole country is able to see it. Inside a red Assembly, the only ones who are wearing for a minute a different color are showing you that there is now a posibility of liberation . And we want to laugh, and we want to cry. We want to scream. I call my best friend and my dad, I want to hug someone. That’s how our seconds of freedom feels.

After that event, everything goes back to red. A pro- government student has the right to speak now at the Assembly. She has the look on her face of someone who thinks the world belongs to her and so she begins with this blah blah blah speech we all know by memory.

A friend of mine joked about it the other day at some Students Assembly: “they seem to have a hat like those from the lottery or TV contest shows with the words “imperialism”, “people’s power”, “fascism”, “socialism”, “CIA”, “manipulated strategy of the media”… and so on and they just choose randomly those words and combines them over and over again through the speech”.

After that combination of pro- government words, another student from the movement, Yon Goicoechea, takes his right to speak at the Assembly just to notify that its time for them to go. They have not come for a debate, they have not come for another government- opposition fight and the conditions for a debate in a 100% Red Assembly are not exactly given. They ask for a right to speak at the Assembly, because of the insults some deputies made by taking away credit from the movement a few days ago. And they have made that right. Nothing less and nothing more. They abandon the National Assembly; we are expecting them at the university.

The group from my university that went to the National Assembly finally arrives to our house of studies. They are chanting “Estudiantes! Estudiantes!” (“students!, students!”). While most of the students wait inside the auditorium, I decide to receive them outside, clapping my hands. In that way I’m finally able to say hello and congratulate one of the leaders, who is my friend.

A hard criticism is waiting inside for them. The opinions are divided, not all were agree with the actions at the National Assembly or more likely, not all understood why they did that. They explain. In my case, I don’t need explanations, I wasn’t expecting any less.

The ones who are not agree were expecting a huge exhibition of the student through the several hours that the “cadena” lasted (the pro- government students stayed for hours at the National Assembly speaking, with all the country forced to watch them; and after that, the country was forced again to presence another three hour “cadena”, this time from Chavez itself congratulating the pro-government students), they were expecting a bigger impact. They are skeptical, they think the population didn’t get the message clearly, they are afraid we might lose an opportunity.

At the Students Assembly of the next morning a girl explains her concern, she thinks that the speech was way too complicated to reach the ears of the “people” and criticize that the leaders choose Douglas Barrios, a student of a very high class university to give such a speech.

I take the microphone afterwards to speak: “I’m tired of the ideology that pretends that the “people” are the poor and ignorant we must treat like children. This ideology belongs to the government and by making such stances we are copying it. I’m middle class and I’m also part of the “people” just like anyone else and the “people” even the most poor and humble ones are not ignorant or stupid. They don’t need an extra special more simple language to understand. Yesterday, the Venezuelans from Guasdalito till Santa Elena de Guairén (two very distant towns) saw a guy on “cadena” getting rid off the red t-shirt and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that!”

Little by little the discussion ends. The ones who are agree with the move like me, and the ones who are not, we all are still in the movement with the same goals we once established. We have all make our stances, pass the page and discuss about future organization and activities. We have decided to return to class on Monday with a much more organized structure of the movement and new creative activities on the way. “This is a long struggle” – Another student says – “It can last weeks, months, even years before we seen that our civil rights are being respected by the government”. We are more politically mature than what I was expecting to see from my own generation.

I came back home late that day, the day of the speech at the National Assembly; after a press conference at another university for explaining the world our decisions, to find my sister smiling: “I don’t know what’s going to happen but at least I feel like an air now”. I smiled aswell. Our young and crazy actions have brought some hope to a country who once thought everything was lost. I’m proud. It feels so good to be a student!.

martes, 5 de junio de 2007

(Part III) The non lucky ones: episodes from the White Hands movement

Another student demonstration, this time finally with government’s permission, is going to start in less than an hour. But after that fight and further reconciliation, my best friend and I are not exactly in the mood for going so we take the subway instead.Her subway stop is before mine. She came down the subway and went straight home. I was planning to do the same but then I decided to buy some oil pastels I needed at the same place where the student demonstration was supposed to start. In that way, I could watch the demonstration start, buy my pastels and keep on my way home.
After I bought the pastels, I met loads of friends there and they convinced me to join them at least a few blocks away – “Okay” – I finally said – “But I’ll leave you guys on the next subway station that we find along”… They painted my hands with white wall painting and wrote with a black marker the name of my university and my career (major) in my arms. The damage was pretty much done.
Turns out that we didn’t find a single subway station along the route because of avoiding Chavez supporter’s protests, the demonstration took a very long distance at least from the subway line route. It was also risky to leave the demonstration and walk alone a few blocks away till the station with my hands painted with white. After a few streets walking I understood that I was there for a reason and that I should stop looking for subway stations to turn my way back home. Ironic, it's June, 4, same day of the Massacre at Tiananmen Square (China), 18 years ago. We just hope to have better luck than them. And we made the terrible mistake of not mention it during the demonstration, I think.
It was just one of the most amazing demonstrations I have ever attended. Along our way, the people throw pieces of white paper and showed white handkerchiefs or more likely peaces of cloth on the windows and balconies. Executives came out of their offices and with huge hope smiles on their faces; clapped their hands and screamed “valientes” (“braves”) or “estudiantes” (“students”). Housewives, poor people, rich people; everyone ran to the sidewalk to do the same. Others just looked from one side to another like they were asking to the air if they should join or not for suddenly joining the demonstration like they were just another student screaming “¡Viva la Universidad!” (“Long live University!”).
An old man came out of his house and stood in one corner showing a handwriting banner on which you could read this: “Los estudiantes del 28 no han muerto, estaban dormidos. Ahora despiertan. Estudiantes, revivan glorias de ayer, revivan a Venezuela” (translation: “The students of 28 (referring to the Generation of 1928, a famous generation of Venezuelan students who fight against the dictatorship of Gómez, one of the last dictators of the XX century in Venezuela) are not dead, they were asleep. Now they wake up. Students, bring back the glories of yesterday, bring Venezuela back to life”).
Each one of us had a flower, a carnation to be exact. We were supposed to give the flowers to the policemen but since the students leaders said that flowers were for “the people doesn’t respect our right to protest”, I slightly changed my plans. At some point of the demonstration, on the opposite sidewalk, outside a government’s local office; there was a group of like ten Chavez supporters, showing their red flags and screaming. The people at the student's demonstration screamed back things like “Yo vine porque quise, a mí no me pagaron” (“I came here because I wanted to, not because someone pay me for it”) and “Pueblo! Madura! Esto es dictadura!” (“People! Grow up! This is a dictatorship!”).
I quickly took the hand of a friend and asked her to join me. Crossed the street and stretched my arm a little to offer to one of the Chavez supporters my carnation; thinking from one side “What the hell am I doing?” and from another “I hope I’m doing the right thing”. I just felt tired about all that hate accumulated over the years and I knew that a flower couldn’t end it, but at least it was better than just scream back at them and continue the vicious circle. He took it, with an ironic laugh while I was telling him: “Todos somos venezolanos” (“We are all Venezuelan”). He kept moving the red flag; laughing and telling me “Keep with that ideology girl… and you’ll…”. A journalist started taking pictures of me and my friend giving flowers to the Chavez supporters. I think other students followed us and did the same thing for about two minutes and then we all came back quickly to the demonstration.
“You got balls!” – Another friend said – “Do you think it was ok?” – I asked him – “Yes” – He answered.
A few minutes and streets later, there we were, a block away from the Supreme Court (impossible to get to the Supreme Court and an amazing amount of police men and soldiers were standing there to remind us); loads of students, my classmates, my friends and the people who joined the students along the way. The students who still had carnations in their hands quickly approached to the police ring to give flowers to them.
And while we were waiting for some students leaders authorized to get in the Supreme Court and make our requests, we continued chanting and showing our white hands: “¡Y aquí están, aquí están, los estudiantes que querían libertad!” which means: “And here they are, here they are, the students that were asking for freedom!” …

(Part II) The non lucky ones: episodes from the White Hands movement

Three days later I can finally come back to the university and find myself almost in a foreign land. The people are very enthusiastic about the movement.I’m impressed to meet friends who have never attended a single demonstration before and criticized me one or two times in the past for doing so. One of my classmates says that we are lucky to live things like these, that we should look at it on the positive side. Our professor, a passionate intellectual woman who is like a mentor for many of us, interrupts him all of the soon and almost screams:
- “No! You guys are not lucky at all! You guys should be busy writing the best thesis that someone ever wrote, researching, thinking on ways of helping the poor and developing the country; not fighting about basic Civil Rights that you guys should take for granted. But the truth is, that you have to do it, because those rights doesn’t exist anymore in Venezuela. When I was a university student I was worried about other things…I could even have an ice cream at 2 am without feeling the fear or being mugged or even killed. You guys are definitely not lucky!” – My professor is about to be interrupted by another classmate who is trying to understand a desperate phone call: “Who???? Who died????” – She puts the cell phone aside and ask us – “Does anyone know...?”- (and next tell us the name of a student) - “They are telling me that she was shot at a gas station near by, just now”- “Her????????????????? Of course I know her, or I knew her! Oh my… Is she really dead?”- My professor screams. My classmates and I are desperately trying to remember and we succeed: “That girl, with brown long hair…” We knew her, some of us better than others. We all surround the desk of my professor trying to calm her down. She’s shocked- “This is exactly what I was talking about” – She says.
All professors and several students are crying. It is true, she’s really dead and at the worse possible time. Everyone immediately thinks her death is related with the recent student protest. But we know it isn’t related with politics. She didn’t attend to the demonstrations during this week, she was busy with her thesis and concerned about graduating as soon as possible. She went that morning, same morning I came back to the university after three days of absence from both campus and the students’ movement, just to give a chapter of her thesis to her tutor. It was a passionate crime or something like that, a product of the “Sicariato” (Spanish word for a hired way to commit assassins). You used to hear of “sicarios” perhaps only in Colombia or at some rural distant areas of Venezuela; never in the middle class of Caracas. And that girl was the last person I could possible imagine as a victim of such a crime. And people who knew her better than me agree.
“Is just another death”, people say with the same tone they use when they go to buy the bread every day. Another example of how the insecurity is threatening our lives every single minute, even if you are not attending to the political demonstrations. And its probably one of the reasons of why the students’ movement exists: her death is not political related, but violent death even at day light from one day to another; shouldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be normal.
I come back home late that night after the funeral and wake up early next morning to attend to the Students Assembly and probably next, another street demonstration. We receive students from all over: Our university was the meeting and starting point of the street demonstration planned for that day. It’s Friday, first day of June. It’s a Friday obviously not for going to the movies, ice cream or dancing, like normal students are supposed to do.
We didn’t get the government’s permission we needed to walk till the National Assembly (is like the Parliament here). – “Well” – One of the students’ leaders says at the assembly – “We have to protect our right to protest, a right that the government is constantly denying. But we are a peaceful movement and we cannot jump over the law. So we cannot have a demonstration on the streets because that, if we don’t have permission to do it, goes against the right of free movement (traffic) of others. What we can do, then, is to appeal to that right and walk only on the sidewalks because we are Venezuelan citizens and we have the right to walk over the sidewalks of Caracas as everyone else does. So we will walk from here till the National Assembly but only, please be careful with this, only over the sidewalks”.
We all are agree in this point, even counting with the logistical difficulty that the demonstration will probably take longer than usual, since there are a lot of students for walking only over the sidewalks. But we are determinate to respect the law. The route that we will take is carefully explained, together with the places where we can go to protect ourselves in case of any complications, a guide of the legal steps we should know in case the police illegally detain us as it has done with many and then, we paint our hands with white wall painting mostly and we are ready to leave.
Then, a police ring is waiting for us right at the doors of the university. We can count at least more than a hundred of them. There’s also one “ballena” (Spanish word for “whale”, this is how we call the truck that the police uses to throw water when they have to disperse a demonstration) and eight “jaulas” (means, “cage”, trucks for taking the prisoners). This is obviously not a game, and a few tense hours are about to be expected.
We stay at the entrance, saving a few meters of distance from the police ring screaming things like: “libertad” (freedom), “No somos golpistas, somos estudiantes” (“we are not pro-coups, we are students”) and raising our white hands; some with the peace symbol or just simply the word “paz” (peace) written on the hand palm. We heard rumors that the other way out off the university, the subway, is been closed temporarily. The student leaders try to negotiate, and we waited and waited; calm but frustrated, wondering when did we lost our basic rights so dramatically and so fast, when did I start living a life where one day a classmate is shot and just the next day loads of students find themselves kidnapped inside my campus by the police for hours because we had the “terrible and criminal” pretension of walking on the sidewalks to the Parliament of our country.
The students’ negotiation finally succeed half ways: the police will retire and let us walk one or two blocks away because instead of going to the National Assembly we are only allowed to walk to the Episcopal See located near by the university. A few deputies (all government supporters, the reader must remember that the Assembly is completely red by now) are going to meet the students there. We reached at least some part of our goal: the members of the Assembly had no other choice but listen to us. And no tear gas bomb was dropped in the way. We are part sad, part proud.
More demonstrations take place during the weekend. One includes sitting next to each other on a highway (which is usually closed on Sunday morning and used as a park) in a way that the word “libertad” (freedom) could be able to read from the air, or more likely from the rail car which it’s located just near by. Just after that, we move in perfect silence, covering our mouths till another TV private TV Channel called “Venevision” and we sit around their building for a while just clapping our hands, as a way of protesting against the self censorship that this channel and many others has been doing part because of being afraid to possible government reprisals (in short words: being the followers of RCTV bad luck) but also a big part because for no one is a secret that they have business with the government now.
And the next Monday arrives and I find myself on another Assembly and next fighting with my best friend at a bench in campus. Because of all the students movement, combined with my nephew’s birth; she and I didn’t had time to talk about what happened on the day of the RCTV closure before.
She reminds me a scary episode that took place just a few weeks ago: his brother picked her up at night of a party and before she had chance to jump in the car; two men did it instead and kidnapped his brother. A few minutes later his brother came back, scared as hell.
The thieves were actually “good ones”, they notice that his car was old and cheap and that he didn’t have much money. It wasn’t worth it. So they let him go and they even let him keep his car. “Gracias a Dios” (means “Thank God"). An Aunt joked at a family meeting the other day saying that we passed from living in Venezuela to live in the “País of “Gracias a Dios”” (“The country of “Thank God””). “Gracias a Dios” that he wasn’t robbed, or killed; that it was just a short kidnapped; “gracias a Dios” that It was a classmate and not me or my best friend; “gracias a Dios” that it was only tear gas bombs at the manifestation and not pellets or gun shots, "gracias a Dios" that no one died, there were only several wounded.
“In this country you can die because of a car or a pair of shoes. At least, if I die on a demonstration, I’ll die with dignity” – She said – “You are taking all the value that life should have!” – I screamed at her – “Please understand, is not that. If others are fighting, why I’m going to be the coward and hide and let that always be the others who pay the consequences? I been in more risky situations”…And we kept and kept argument until we both almost disarmed each other with screams. We talked about the recent students detained and probably tortured, according to some rumors and we talked about the insecurity, about the lack of freedom.
The discussion easily went to a death point when she finally said “I don’t want to fight anymore”. We stand one in front to the other, looking at each other straight to the eyes. I could read a lot of things in her eyes: sadness, anger and specially fear. Our first fight indeed and was because of someone that easily escapes our control. And she was right, and I was right. We have to protect ourselves, but it seems, like she says, that wherever you go, and whatever you do, you are in constant risk anyways. Nothing is safe, and no one is safe. We cry and hug each other immediately almost by instinct – “This is just so hard. I’m just so afraid of losing you. I couldn’t take it. There have been two persons already that I knew and that are gone now on this situation. Please, don’t be the third” – I beg her and she, always more calmed and balanced than me, answers – “Don’t worry, I’m not leaving” and we kept crying for a few minutes more. We realized that it was the fear we felt who was fighting and argument instead of us.
PS: About the picture, it was taken during the demonstration of last sunday, May 27. It means: "If we leave, we fuck" (excuses about the rude word, I'm just translating!)

(Part I) The non lucky ones: episodes from the White Hands movement

I had a huge fight with my best friend yesterday. The first one we ever had, I think, in our five years of friendship. We attended to the university early in the morning and sat at the auditorium to hear another Student’s Assembly (since one week ago, instead of class, we are part of a student movement demanding the president to respect civil rights and especially the freedom of their citizens)After the student leaders talked about several recent events related to the movement; they exposed the plans for that day: another demonstration, this time to the Supreme Court. My friend and I left the assembly just a few minutes after, and sat on a bench to talk and decided whether to go or not to that demonstration.


And while we were doing that, some old and not so old fears came out in our conversation.

The day of the RCTV closure(about a week and a day ago) we met with a few other friends at a demonstration the opposition planned to protest against the measure. I raised my eyes to look and noticed a few people making signs to us from a bridge just over the demonstration – “Something’s not right” – I thought and from one minute to another, the protesters around me started running in different directions, in a way that the crowd almost could ran over you. My friends and I just walked a little, then one of them gave us all a little bit of toothpaste to put inside the eyes and the nose; just in case it was a tear gas bomb, this will calm the effects of the gas. But we don’t sense the smell – “It was probably just water, dropped from the police truck” – He said. Then we heard two or three shots and we recognized the smell immediately: it must had been tear gas bombs.

For me its time to run, but my best friend would not agree: “If the others are staying, why we shouldn’t stay as well?”- I tell her that my leg hurts a little and in case of a major danger, I’m afraid I won’t be able to run so much, so we better run and hide now. But she wants to look for some other friends here and there and I find myself in a desperate situation. My best friend is insisting to just stay in the middle of street while tear gas bombs are being dropped and I can’t convince her otherwise. A minute later we see a police line that we didn’t know where it came from, moving against us with their shields. It’s kind of weird, since we are not at the end of the demonstration which was the government’s communication office: CONATEL but near by some mall at the beginning of that street. “So why are the policeman attacking on that side too?” – I asked to my friends. But we don’t have time to discuss it now, and another friend and me take my best friend’s arm and force her to run with us and get inside a hotel lobby (first place we luckily found to hide), and prohibited her to go out to the demonstration.

She calls her family and tries to find the way to come back home. We are even afraid to let her and her sister come back to her place just like that. She lives in an area considered as a “Chavista” one (Chavez supporters place). Although I’m not sure that it’s actually a “Chavista” place anymore, it’s certainly dangerous especially counting the fact that the night of the RCTV closure is just starting and there’s policeman, soldiers, and probably Chavez supporters armed hanging around with their motorcycles everywhere. She insists, we argued a little and then she just turns the corner and leaves. I looked at another friend, we were visible frustrated. She came back home safe, as the matter of fact, our other common friend and I came back home much later than when she did and we probably exposed ourselves to a bigger risk; even counting that we live in an safer area than hers.

A few hours later everyone is at home, with tears in our eyes, as the last minutes of the first TV channel are approaching and what’s even more important: our freedom of speech is officially dying. The signal stops at 12:00 am after the National Anthem has been sung by the crew of RCTV. The logo of TVES, the new TV government’s sponsored channel turns around the scream. My mom turns off the TV and hugs my dad and the alarms, used as a new way of protest, just sound everywhere. The news or the rumors we can hear talks about riots everywhere. I cannot stop thinking that in a free country I would be still with my best friends protesting at the street until the RCTV signal stops instead of crying at home. Actually, in a free country, I could still turn on the TV and watch the RCTV journalist criticize the government anytime I want to. But, “get down off that cloud, girl”: this is not a free country anymore.

Next morning, it is Monday again: May, 28th of 2007. But not just another Monday: the students are not attending to class as they used to. Instead, they are filling the biggest auditorium of the university in order to attend to an unusual and brand new “Asamblea de Estudiantes” (“Students assembly”). Soon, they will be ready to attend to several street peaceful demonstrations and they will repeat the same equation all week long.

On the road, they will change their goals from just protesting against RCTV closure to ask for freedom, pure and general. They are soon going to realize that they are not part of any political party and they have a different agenda from the one the current opposition haves. They are a political movement but above all they are a civil rights movement. In the road they will meet with an even stronger police repression: illegal detentions, tear gas bombs and cartridge pellets that will force them to paint their hands with white painting as a request for peace. Soon, they will be called "el movimiento de las manos blancas" (the “white hands movement”) and the movement will spread from universities in Caracas to universities all over the country: private and public, poor and rich, bad called “Chavistas” and “non-Chavistas” institutions and even high schools.

My best friend gets quickly involved with the movement and religiously attends to every single assembly and every single demonstration. But life has other plans for me: my sister has a terrible pain and she cannot wait any longer: my nephew is born the same day that freedom of speech dies. And while I see all my friends protesting, running, and giving speeches on TV, I stay in the hospital part envious, part scared, part excited and divided between my family and my desperate need to join the movement. You cannot be on two places at the same time and I feel that my family needs me more at the moment. My best friend is running of the tear gas while I’m holding in my arms a new member of my family.