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!.