martes, 5 de junio de 2007

(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!)

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