miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2008

(VII) Reaction and Revolution: The "V" plan

I began the last and perhaps the hardest year of my career, the 5th, on October of 2006. I kept going to the Política-UCAB meetings but those meetings started being every time less frequent and at some point in the middle of November we stopped having meetings because most of the members were busy with the presidential campaign for Manuel Rosales, hoping that their strategies could help that man to reach to the presidency in a context of clean and democratic elections. Manuel Rosales reunited the opposition and became an important force perhaps able to win over Chavez on elections in a matter of just a few months.

The students, instead of focusing on making a simple political campaign showing the advantages of the Zulia governor decided to create two organizations (all made separate ways… again this created many jokes of how many student organizations were being created for doing exactly the same thing): one was more focused on preventing a possible fraud (“Plan V”) and one that had as their only goal to fight against abstention and apathy (“Vota o Bota”)

The “Plan V” (the “V” was of “Venezuela”, not of “Victory” in case you wonder) was basically a short Power Point presentation that some Política-UCAB members made and it consisted on recommendations to the citizens in order to protect their votes, based on the laws. They started with the presumption of an electoral fraud in the recall of 2004 and what could be done to prevent a second fraud. The recommendations included to stay in the voting centers, to see the voting auditory when the centers closed, to keep an eye on the box that kept the electronic print of every vote (in 2004 apparently many soldiers took those boxes illegally) and to make sure the voting machines were working properly.

Next, they recommended some tactics to make sure the “Plan V” message could be spread everywhere in Venezuela. Who ever went to see a “Plan V” presentation could ask for a CD copy of that presentation and without asking for permission, could anonymously present that CD in its community, in whatever place they wanted to. The “Plan V” members traveled to the main cities of the country to make sure their message was properly spread and they make some funny activities like jogging in front of a military base in Caracas wearing T-shirts with the “Plan V” logo on them. (you can find a video of the original presentation in spanish here, somehow it got to the hands of a Pro-Chávez TV reporter, we were kind of scared but at the end it served as an advertisement for us).

The “Plan V” was pretty much inspired in the “OTPOR” movement of Serbia that overthrow president Milosevic but not in the way the people from the government wants to see that influence. The group “Cambio” (link in spanish) that I talked about on a previous part of this story, one of the many youth groups that was created during those years, borrowed to the people of “Plan V” a video of the OTPOR group and from there they took the idea of spray painting on every corner they could the logo of “Plan V” and to throw pamphlets from high places such as a the last floor of the buildings without being noticed. They also took from that group the idea that something big can start of only a small group of people. It was more a sort of inspiration than a direct influence.

“Vota o bota” was a game of words: in Spanish “vota” means vote and “bota” : boot; but in the phrase we associate the word “bota” with the military boot in particular, the same one Chavez uses… It was an allegory of how much influence and power the military has in this revolution (perhaps more than in the previous years of democracy) So the message was “go to vote, otherwise you will have to stand this military style government”. Also, the word “bota” means to throw something, the garbage for example but enough with the analysis of the phrase content. Another slogan was "vota o cállate" ("vote or shut up")

The activities of the “Vota or bota” campaign included putting posters everywhere with their message and going to the Shakira concert to give pamphlets to the people who were there, asking them to participate on the elections and vote “for the candidate you prefer”. The organizers of that concert throw them out after they gave almost all the pamphlets but who cares? (go here for a video of the event, again sorry... in spanish)...Mission accomplished. They also took the shopping malls and the discos, well, the places where the young people hang out to promote their campaign. The creators of “Vota o bota” took the main ideas from a similar campaign made in Mexico that very same year.

But the students only performed those activities during the six weeks before the elections and that’s really a short time when you want to convince many voters specially in the context of a country still recovering of the “Recall hangover” (that’s how I like to call the reaction the opposition had after the Recall against Chavez rule on 2004, that he won. The opposition claimed a fraud, perhaps real but impossible to be proven and in protest of that fraud must of them abstain to participate in the next parliamentary and then on the governors and majors elections).

The “Plan-V” could not have the influence they wanted to have, and the “Vota or bota” message could not convince the people who distrusted the electoral centre. At the beginning of December, Chavez won the elections, all the people from the opposition I know cried in their beds, and Rosales admitted his defeat and let the page pass in what I think was a brave act that finally heal the “Recall hangover” damages. We were too depressed on the days that followed to see what that defeat meant in terms of growing up politically speaking.

Same as happened with the “Acuéstate por la vida” effort, “Plan V” and “Vota or bota” were only temporal campaigns and not, as the creators wanted them to be, student movements. They died as soon as the circumstances that made those initiatives born ended as well. The game was over and there was nothing to be done except to wondering around the hallways with sad faces and funeral like conversations with no “Política-UCAB” meetings available to turn our complaints into at least interesting intellectual exercises.

During the first three months of 2007 I focused on my career and stayed out of politics. My goal was to simply graduate and leave the country since there was no space for me here anymore. Probably many students took the same strategy but like we say in Spanish “árbol que nace torcido, jamás su tronco endereza” (someone told me that a properly way to put that the equivalent slang in English is: "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree", but I’m not sure…).

The politics inside was maybe damaged but impossible to be killed. Soon an event made me realize that it was still something to fight for and soon the reaction to that event made me recover the hope that I thought – and many students thought as well – that I had lost forever.

The event was the RCTV (biggest opposition TV network) closure announced by Chavez on December of 2006 and bound to happen on May 28th of 2007. At first we didn’t took it seriously: Chavez is well known for making several threats on his passionate speeches and not all of those threats passed beyond the speech. We didn’t thought he could get that far, or maybe we didn’t wanted to think about it. But since he made the threat on December, he did not took one step back on his decision.

In the meantime, a few weeks before the RCTV closure, the UCAB students were preparing themselves for the intern elections for a Student Representation of that period.

And so one day, I randomly met Yon Goicoechea at one of the campus gardens “I’m going to ran for the University Council”- (the higher charge a student leader can aspire to, in my university) – “What do you think?”. I put my usual skeptical face, I once tried to persuade him on making a very similar decision and all that he said was “You have a point… and I’m still going to do it” – So I knew was basically pointless to convince him otherwise – “Do it if you want to and good luck” – I told him with my “not so sure” particular look I have sometimes. And I thought to myself “hope they don’t kill you in the process”. By “they” I was referring to many members of the “UCAB- elite” who didn’t seemed to like “different people”. Its really an argument hard to explain and its more personal than anything else. Some students had a tendency of being very conformist and to hold similar ideas and similar speeches year after year. Yon was not disagree with them but luckily he has a strong personality, he doesn’t simply accepts something because the majority does.

Anyway, that was the last time we talked before he became the personality he is nowadays. Yon was chosen on the next week as one of the three students (Geraldine Álvarez and Claudia Márquez were the other ones) of the representation to the University Council for the next year.

I’m not sure if they imagine the responsibility that would soon crash on their shoulders and that certainly went beyond their intern and limited university plans but either way, before they could celebrate their victory, they were leading a national wide student movement.

It all started one Friday: two days before the RCTV closure, when the students of not only UCAB but also other universities at least in Caracas, blocked their campuses entrances as a protest for the Chavez arbitrary decision of closing RCTV that in our opinion was an act against free speech. After blocking their campuses, they marched (for the first time in the Revolution, students from all universities actually marched) till the main state owned TV channel: “Venezolana de Televisión” (better known as “VTV”) and asked, right next to a strong police cord, to be broadcasted for some minutes in that channel since the opposition has literally no voice in VTV: its plain government propaganda 24 hours a day, no joke. I wasn’t agree with this march that it was planned hours earlier by a member of Política-UCAB among others. For me it was the same pointless act we performed when we protested against the insecurity around the Catholic Church building just a year before: “Ugh…we are protesting outside the wrong building all over again” – I told my best friend, who laughed at my acid comments.

But I was amazed by seeing a bigger crowd of only students in that protest and as we walked and approached to the building; I saw the smiling faces of the people who lived or worked at those streets and stayed in the sidewalks simply looking at us, I knew that there was something special and different about this new “student awakening”.

As the reader knows, on Sunday (May, 28th, 2007), Chavez made his more radical and also clumsy act – if you look at the consequences it has - of shutting down the biggest opposition TV network: RCTV. And morning after the country welcomed even more stronger student protests against the measure.

As the reader might remember, my god child was born on that morning. I will let him decide, when he grows up, if he was born on the same day that TVES – the government sponsored TV channel made as a replacement for RCTV (that if he becomes a revolutionary) or if he was born on the same day of the White Hand (student) movement officially somehow started (if he decides he doesn’t like Chavez so much).
Either way, he was born on an historical date and it was in the clinic were I watched my friends one by one, speaking on TV and raising their voices in representation of something bigger than them.

I remember one funny moment at the waiting room of the clinic when I heard a conversation that went like “So who’s that guy “Yon Goico….” anyway, has anyone see him before? Oh he’s so gorgeous… Did you saw what he said on CNN?”. I finished my orange juice faster than usual trying not to laugh at their comments. “So Yon is the new “Venezuelan Idol” and Manuela is in front page and …” – Well, believe me: I was probably more stunned and shocked than those people after seeing my intimate university world becoming a national political reference from one day to another.
I was gone for three days and I came back to the university (on June 1st of 2007) finding a whole new environment: the campus filled with students but none of them in classes but rather gathered in the auditorium for an assembly, everyone telling stories about the last police repression and planning the next moves.

I was amazed by meeting many classmates that never attended to a single demonstration before and that more than once criticize me for doing it making placards and signs for the next demonstration. I was gone for three days and I came back to find a student movement. Of what I saw that day, some things were to be expected and some others surprised me. The organization it had was to be expected, same as the people who were leading the movement at least in my university (the Student representation of the period of 2006-2007 and the newly elected representation of the next period of 2007-2008 shared tasks and leadership of the movement) except for Yon Goicoechea.

Still makes me laugh the comment of one friend telling me months after the movement were born: “he had a stammer! He has been always smart but… “that”… that was not in my plans”. At the end of one UCAB assembly there were girls of first year taken pictures of him and he was simply smiling back, testing his patience. I approached him on one side and teased him “So, “Latin American Idol”… how’s it going?” – “I hope this photo session ends soon” – He told me without changing the smile for a second.

Some of the strategies were another surprise.

Things like the student’s assemblies (were many vital decisions for the movement is discussed) were something new due to the number of students we had to deal with now.
The symbols were another unexpected issue. As I said, there’s no direct relation between the Política UCAB logo hand and the students painting their palms with white months later.

Finally, maybe the goals were to be expected but their way to approach them was another surprise as the reader will notice on the next entry.
About the pic: Was taken on the last day of Rosales Campaign, for being exact on Nov, 25th, 2006.

Here's the video of the "Vota or Bota" student campaign, many of my friends and future White-hand leaders decided to go to a Shakira concert to invite the people to vote at the upcoming presidential elections:

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