On April of 2005 (during my third year of the university) I was selected – among with other 24 students- to represent my university on the Latin American United Nations Model that it was going to take place in Mexico, on March of 2006. My fellow delegates studied different careers, from engineering to law or social communications; at least three of them were student leaders elected for very important charges and some others about to run for elections. Some were the typical intellectual nerds, and some were so politically active that hardly ever enter their classrooms and pass their subjects out of pure luck.
As soon as we were chosen, we had to met at least once a week and even more as the trip to Mexico approached. The meetings usually lasted 4 hours or longer and during that time we learned about issues like international law, UN history and protocols, international topics, politics, positions, debate strategies, oratory and leadership. Doing all this was quite hard for many of us, if you consider that you had to combine it with your normal classes, papers, exams and such. But it was all worth it: we traveled to Mexico in March of 2006 (sponsored by many companies) and came back home with many awards including the award of the "Best university of the event".
Being part of that delegation gave me more than a award: it also allowed me to stay in touch with many other outstanding students that were part for example, from other UN delegations (at least 5 different delegations are prepared in my university to go to different international events), from a special class called “cátedra de honor” (honor class), from many volunteer groups and from the student representations. Usually the same students belong to more than one of those organizations at once and they were called by some people the “university elite” (despite of how polemic that name might sound) because of being students who were not happy about limit their university life to just attending the regular classes.
About a couple of months after I started going to LAMUN meetings; a group of delegates made a project for running to the Law Student Centre (similar as I did a year before in my school) and managed to win the elections beating another group who had been consecutive winning the elections on the previous years. One of the members of this group was a second year law student called Yon Goicoechea.
He was just entering that “university elite” and was not exactly the kind of people who would fit in immediately. He was tall enough to be visible in an UN debate – which was extremely convenient for us- and extremely talented and with a lot of knowledge about international law. But he didn’t talk much, had a slight stammer and only opened his mouth if he considered it extremely necessary to make a point. He was the kind of guy who always think before talk and more often than not, he said the things the people did not want to hear but that were the right things to say at the end. Perhaps, because of that rebelliousness he wasn’t as popular as other delegates. He seemed like another of the crowd, but at the same time I thought he was too mature for being a second year student, always gave me the impression of someone who has lived more than others of the same age. He was –and still is- a good friend also, the kind of guy who can hear your stupid girly stories for hours without making any judgments and even if he has bigger concerns at the moment. Back then I had no clue of what he was going to become only a couple of years later. For being honest I used to think that his speech was never going to be popular enough because it was a truthful but yet inconvenient speech. It wasn't hard to fall in the conclusion he was going to get far in life, but back then I did not pictured that path in politics.
While Yon and others were starting to emerge as leaders, the people working on the student representations of UCAB started to concern about the structure this representation had.
In academic year of 2004 – 2005 (perhaps I’m mistaken about the exact year, maybe it was a year before, I’m not sure) they created the COGRES (In Spanish: Congress of the Student Representation)that in the future would served temporarily as the structure of the White Hand (student) movement. The idea was to organize the huge variety of student representations that made life inside the university– the Students Centre of Law, Social Communications, Literature, Engineering, Social Sciences, Psychology, Economy, Accounting and Philosophy; plus the Students representations to the Schools and Faculties board, to the dean of Student Development and finally the University Board – which until that moment acted mostly separated ways making the Student Representation of UCAB very distorted and disorganized sometimes; under one single structure. For the Venezuelans: this is something similar to the FCU (Federación de Centros Universitarios) of the Central University of Venezuela, but with some differences, but this isn’t the place to explain them.
Months after the COGRES was created, another LAMUN delegate created a political discussion group called “Política- UCAB” (I know, quite unoriginal but we never came up with a better name). The philosophy of that group was “poner a las cabezas calientes a pensar” (means “to put the hot heads to think”). We used the name of “hot heads” for the students leaders who were more likely to take action (go to a protest, give a speech or so) passionately, without putting their heads “cold” first to reflect about the situation. So the group consisted in a once a week discussion that lasted no more than two hours of the “hot heads” (mostly members of COGRES) and some “cold heads” like this blogger. We usually invited one professor or a political analyst to talk to us around a square table placed in a classroom that is located right next to the Student Center offices or we simply gathered there to talk about the hottest political topic of the moment. Sometimes we came up with an interesting idea, sometimes it was just a series of complaints and unanswered questions about “What to do?”. We had many discussions about what this group was really about: if it was only a discussion group (like I wanted it to be) or if we could take action. What I liked about that group is that I was able to see there the same I intern desire that I held ever since I entered the university: to see the students actually doing something instead of just complaining and seeing our parents going to the demonstrations over and over again. Student leaders such as Manuela Bolívar (yes I know...what a name...)and Freddy Guevara were part of this group, I must clear up that Yon wasn’t a part of this group in particular, because his schedule never fit with our meetings.
On September of 2006 I asked my sister- who’s a graphic designer- to design a logo for “Política-UCAB” . I sat with her at the computer talking about what the group was really about. I wanted a logos that meant people, politics, friendship, participation and in the process the hand came as an idea. She designed about 5 different logos: some with points, some with hands etc and I sent those samples to the members of the group. The logo you see in the beginning of this entry got the majority of votes and was finally selected as the official logo of “Política-UCAB”. Unfortunately the group was discontinued about three months later because their members were busier in other projects.
At some point of August of last year, months after the protest of the White Hand movement; I had a coffee with a few Política-UCAB members and was only then when we remembered our logo and laughed: “Oh my… it has a white hand on it! Ha! We thought it first”. We didn’t thought about it first, at least as a group. I'm sure we didn’t came with the idea of painting our hands with white but this white hand in our logo, made a year before the actual movement started, its a funny anecdote that symbolize how crucial the role of some of the members of Política UCAB (and their training inside the group) was in regards to the White Hand (student) movement.
Last but not least, other groups that were not strictly part of UCAB but had many UCAB students as their founders and members, deserve to be mentioned in this story because they had a small influence in the White Hand (student) movement. I’m talking about groups such as Cambio (means “change”) a group very inspired in the OTPOR movement that was vital to bring down Milosevic regime and a smaller group called Opción Venezuela which main philosophy was to “stay and make of this a better country”, they had some social work plans and such.
As the months passed by, we heard about more and more student groups being created almost everyday with similar concerns and similar purposes but always acting separate ways. A common joke in the Política-UCAB meetings was if the group “Venezuelan youth group for saving the dolphins” had been not created yet. This joke was also made of our concern of seeing those groups acting separate ways just like the UCAB student representation seemed to act before COGRES. More often than not, different activities of different groups took place on the very same day, therefore less students could attend tom them and so the activities had less significant impact.
And so, another friend, fellow LAMUN delegate, Student leader and another “hot head” of Política –UCAB, got a little bit mad because of the situation and created a web site that had the purpose of informing everybody about the activities that each “Venezuelan youth group for…” planned to assure some coordination. But her effort was a total failure.
We knew we had the structures, we knew we have the political will of at least some of the students in order to do something of a greater impact. We just had to put all that together and it seemed quite hard at the moment.
At some point I realized that this not depended on us but rather we had to keep working and patiently wait for a circumstance that could allow the students to wake up in such a way, that they would be forced to work together.
I didn’t wait for long, soon two moments dramatically came and somehow woke up the students, and made all those structures I’ve been talking about on this entry and their leaders to work all together with not only common concerns as they always had but also common goals. The first moment wasn’t enough to see the White Hand (student) movement emerging as a significant force but it served as preparation: I'm talking about the Faddoul brothers case and the concern over the insecurity. The second moment finally allowed the student movement to stay and caught the country’s attention: the RCTV closure. I’m going to speak in detail about those moments (separated exactly by one year of distance, first in May-June of 2006 and second in May-June of 2007) and about what happened in between on the next entry.