viernes, 8 de febrero de 2008

(Last thoughts) Reaction and Revolution: The students are the Revolution

“The students are the Revolution”… Well… I must confess that I never liked that slogan before. It is logical that I have certain reserve to the word “Revolution” itself but if we are talking about a change on making things, about a new hope of staying in the country and make a future in it, about a new generation with a more politically developed conscience; then the students might be the Revolution.
Also, if the students (from the White Hand movement) are the revolution, this means they can’t stay forever. And I certainly don’t want them to stay forever. Isn’t it funny that I waited five years for this and now I’m wishing their end? Well, the truth is that its not my desire to see my kids painting their hands with white painting as I did because they can’t do it for the same reasons, because it would mean that the kids of this country still have to fight for the things we should take for granted and I certainly don’t want that for the future generations.

I trust the movement to only last the necessary time to achieve their goals, or to build the field that allows other generations to achieve them in a different way, in case we fail. I would rather see the movement as a platform to reach higher things than as end itself. From this movement even when you stop seeing kids with their white hands can come out interesting things for my country’s political scene.

I’m talking about political parties, or current political parties seeing their structure modify; more elaborated projects, political leaders and so on. Those can be works to see in the future by students who once belong to the movement. Like one of my friends and member of the movement told me the other day I ran with him in campus: “Politics is like a bad habit, like a bag of Tostitos… once you taste it… you can’t leave it behind”.

I think there’s something good to be expected from a generation (not just a few brilliant kids) who sees politics like something as normal and “tasty” as a Tostitos bag and not as something you have to run from it. And that’s really some Revolution for a country like this one, were ever since I have any memory, politics have been seeing as a virus you must run away from it .

That’s the only conclusion I can make out of this story. I bet the reader can make many more.

Last but no least I must clarify that since this is MY story of the White Hand (student) movement, this is pretty much the story of how the White Hand (student) movement developed inside my university: UCAB.I thought this could be taken from granted at the minute I put this as “my” story, but later I had doubts about my assumptions.

The movement has grown strong at other universities but I don’t think I have the authority or the knowledge to speak about them, because the varieties of universities in Venezuela that belong to the movement have very different inside dynamics.

Plus, in order to defend my story I must say that there’s a lot of UCAB in the way the White Hand (student) movement was conceived and I think my university it’s a key piece to understand the movement.

At the end this is my blog and I wanted to stay attached to its nature of not being absolute, just personal.

(VIII) Reaction and Revolution: The reaction

I will answer now to the most common accusations the government, the opposition and others have made on the student movement.

First, there’s a pretty strong pro- Chavez accusation that points out a possible connection between OTPOR and the White Hand movement … although the similarities cannot be hidden; as well as many students believed in OTPOR, many others didn’t. I saw on a documentary a testimony that assure our white hands were simply the OTPOR punch opened.

I actually know the person who might had been the one who said “Hey… why we don’t paint our hands with white painting?” and it’s not a passionate OTPOR fan and is well known for being that kind of people who do things out of nowhere.

When I came back to the university, I was painting my hands with white for going to a protest and a friend of mine refused to paint his hands “Why not?” – I asked him – “Well… it’s a personal issue really… was (put the name of the person here) idea”. He did not like this person much but no one else ever spoke again about the “creator” of the White Hand symbol. Both ways this student didn’t wanted any credit from it, and also to protect its privacy I will not say its name.

Many others have discussed our goals, saying that focusing a fight on “Civil Rights” is an empty and a very general way to approach to the difficult Venezuelan situation. It has also being said that this is our way to “hide” our real intentions: to put Mr. Chavez out of power on another state coup.

But, to focus the pain my generation felt over the difficult circumstances my country is, and lead a struggle for the Civil Rights instead of thinking about a possible end of the Revolution was the key for the success of the White Hand (student movement). A struggle for Civil Rights is vague enough to include the short struggle for the insecurity made a year earlier, the respect for the vote made months earlier and the freedom of speech request made because of the RCTV closure; all together. But it means so much more than that.

My generation doesn’t have a strong memory of a “pre-revolutionary” Venezuela. Just sweet childhood memories and some ideas because a strong memory can only be built when you have a certain age and a certain conscience. We were raised in a country changing by the minute and the political responses our parents saw as “new”, were the first we ever saw and we considered them as “normal”.

We saw the past generations fighting for us with no real success until we grow up and realize that the country was not exclusive of our parents and maybe it was our turn now.

Some might said we waited too long for that but, after waiting my whole university career to see what I saw, I cannot help but saying that some things can’t be rushed.
We realize that to only fight against, against Chavez, against the revolution… could only bring more harm.

We told the country that we suffered from certain issues that a Venezuela with or without Chavez need to solve. And it all made the fight to be focused not on fighting against, but on fighting for. Without the weight of the history upon us, like our parents experienced it, we were able to be more flexible in our ways to approach to the government to present our requests.

And the government till the day it closed RCTV was used to lead with a reactionary opposition that thought always on endings instead of beginnings, that complained instead of creating, that was not ready to negotiate because they were right and the Revolution was wrong. I’m not saying that the opposition only made mistakes until the White Hand (student) movement came.

I’m not saying that the White Hand (student) alone changed the way politics were made in our society. I’m saying that we grow up, politically speaking as a society and after seeing a painful track of political defeats; the White Hand (student) movement could only come as the result of what a generation saw and lived during that track.

I’m basically talking about two crucial things my generation saw and that has been trying to fight against. Those two things are related: one leaves to another. The first one I’m talking about is desperation and the second, radicalism.

The goal inside most of the opposition heads was to put an end to the revolution, to see the president out of his office. Of course we had other plans, many ideas about what to do with the country but we were sure that our only possibility to apply those ideas was in a Venezuela without Chavez. To simply finish with Chavez regime was a must, and all the efforts focused on that. We were pretty sure that if we didn’t succeed, it was over.

And if we were thinking about putting an end to Chavez, it meant also to put an end to the revolution and to everyone involved. So if Chavez started with a speech filled with hate and exclusion, the opposition answered in almost the exact same way. Elder generations could have continued with this vicious circle, because they had a good memory of the past and they wanted to make sure to recover it, but we didn’t.

The lives of our generation consisted on nothing else and nothing more than radicalism all around us.

From those two painful observations and experiences the White Hand (student) movement was defined by two things: the patient fight for the Civil Rights as an answer to the desperate fight that came before, and the peace and reconciliation as values to answer to the radicalism that we had to deal with.

I heard more than one comment demanding more radicalism from the movement, saying that we were too “come flor” (“flower eaters”, it means like too peaceful… too dumb). We are not naïve “come flor”.

The peace isn’t an empty concept and maybe this is better understood by someone who has felt the presence of its opposite. The peace was the only choice we found available if we wanted the movement to survive and to achieve the goals we had. It wasn’t because we are “good people” really. We were tired of the hate around us plus we didn’t want to give the government more arguments to attack us instead of focusing on our ideas (with their creativity we have enough).

At the end, the effort cheered by some and attacked by others, pay in general with good results. The electoral defeat Chavez had last December, the first one in 9 years (that’s all the years he has been in power) was due to a variety of reasons and a more serious study is needed to see which of those reasons made a major effect. Chavez built his own grave when he decided to close RCTV and definitely the food shortages can’t help anyone to win an electoral process. Apparently they were too many mistakes in the Chavez campaign and “the people was not prepared” for socialism. But you can speak about the defeat Chavez had in December without mentioning the White Hand (student) movement.

You might say this success of the White Hand (student) movement has been also due to a favorable media treatment to it worldwide. I honestly can’t tell if the advertisement has been good or bad. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it makes us look like a sort of Gods and Goddess with magic solutions to save Venezuela from the Chavez era. And that’s certainly something we are not.

Whenever someone holds those expectations I give a very simple answer: “Yon doesn’t have the legal age to become president” - The people usually laughs at first but then they understand what’s behind my comment and is that “Hey… we are kids!” No matter how adults we might look sometimes we are still passionate and irrational, we still love to date and party. We are odd kids that spend more time on political activities than dating and partying but kids none the less. We are not your Jesus Christ and I certainly hope you are not waiting for us to grow up so we can be old enough to be your saviors.

The student movement leaders are certainly special but they are not precisely aliens so I’m not exactly trilled about a media focused on their life and personalities. My opinion on Yon, Freddy and Manuela for example, among other leaders is bound to be always subjective because the first and strongest reference I have on them is as friends and not as political leaders.

And as I know them and trust them to be very talented, passionate and as people that are going to make great things in the future, I know at least 20 more who can equally fill their seats. You don’t trust me on that one? Go to one UCAB assembly at the Aula Magna and stay until the end of it, see the presentation of the student leaders you don’t often see on TV and see the intervention of the students who are not leaders, making critics on the microphone. That should be enough.
Either way, I often wonder in what kind of country I’m into, If a part of the society expect their kids to solve their troubles… (Sigh… we still have some work to do…)

Plus, as a movement, we have certainly made mistakes: like attacking the political parties during the first days (thing that could be fixed afterwards) or making some senseless crowd concert that I did not liked the way it was organized but in general terms the movement made a way of opposition so original, so balanced and so democratic that the government found itself hands attached to deal with and therefore the accusations of CIA influence and other no sense less arguments were brought to the table.

About those accusations, I can’t really know where all the finance comes from, because the movement involves a lot of people and a lot of universities working together but to say we support the “Empire” and that we want to overthrow Chavez regime is simply stupid. At the end, some eyes see only what they want to see and they are going to look at us as puppets of anyone no matter what arguments I put here in return. So I won’t waste anymore lines, and I won’t make the reader to waste its time. At the end those who call us puppets, no matter from which side of the political spectrum they belong too, are simply mad because we are not their puppets.

As for the government in particular, too bad for them, that to a smart opposition they can’t answer with a smart government in return but yet only react in a very negative and destructive way to the movement initiatives. “If you think about it” – I told my friend the other day- “The government’ behavior since the White Hand (student) movement was born has been merely reactionary, to call them spawns of Washington, to create an “alternative” and artificial pro- government movement, to base the campaign for the reform on the critics the opposition and the students made…” – “Same as the opposition was before the RCTV closure” – He replied – “we were more into a desperate reaction to the change than an attempt of proposing anything, it was all “we hate Chavez”” – “Roles has changed: the opposition was acting in a merely reactionary way and now, it’s the government who acts in a reactionary way while the students….” – And I thought on a popular sticker made during the first protest of June that said: “the students are the Revolution”.

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:

martes, 5 de febrero de 2008

(VI) Reaction and Revolution: Laying down for life

One day, at the beginning of April of 2006, I went to class as usual to realize that my university entrance was blocked as a protest for the Faddoul brothers case (three brothers none of them older than 17 and a man were kidnapped and executed). Now is almost routine to see the university entrance blocked, but that was the first time ever that I found myself in that situation.
I didn’t quite understood this reaction, specially because just a few weeks earlier three students from the Santa María university were killed under horrible circumstances and there was no reaction at all from any university. So I was wondering why this case and not any other, made the students block the entrance. A friend asked me to calm down and think positive, at least they were finally waking up. From the university, we marched a few blocks and then joined in the highway the people who personally knew the Faddoul brothers, the school community at least. We heard that similar actions were taking place at the Central University.
Then, I don’t remember if it was the same day or the day after, we stopped blocking streets and took a few buses (it is possible to find buses even on spontaneous marches, you just talk to the guy who drives it and he calls others, it’s a good business) and went to the “Nunciatura Apostólica” were we met with students from the Central University (UCV) mostly, and if I’m not mistaken, students from other universities as well.
I was still giving second thoughts to that protest, I think I was truly the soul of the disagreement in that protest. As we sat in the Nunciatura Apostólica, and made chants and rhymes about insecurity, I could not stop wondering why we were asking for security to the church authority except to go and ask that to the ones who are bound to guarantee our security (the government for example? The ministry of internal affairs and justice? The police?).It had no sense at all. “Be patient” – My friend asked me again, as he saw me sending killer looks to my friends of Política- UCAB who were leading that protest.
Nevertheless, from that senseless protest something interesting came: the students from the different organizations of the “Venezuelan youth for…” (put whatever you want in the “…”) worked together for a single goal: the fight against insecurity in a single way: they managed to met the different authorities in order to exchange ideas about how to reduce crime in the country and then they organized a larger protest called “Acuéstate por la vida” (“Lay down for life”) – an original way to call the country’s attention on the insecurity issue.
The idea was to reunite at least 67.000 people in representation for the 67.000 deaths of violent cases that the country had suffered till that day (the number is obviously higher now). The protesters lay in the ground for a few minutes in silence while a funeral song and a simulation of gun shots was played. That moment of being lay in the ground, with an unbearable sun on my face, had a special meaning for me because maybe for the first time I thought not only on Chavez government itself but in a trouble that affected us beyond Chavez and that it was not going to be solved if Chavez government simply ended one day.
As for the student movement, there was no such thing as a “student movement” back then but it was the first time that a coordination between different universities for doing something was tested with some results. At the end, no real plan was implemented for solving the insecurity situation despite all that effort of making one. The media and certainly everybody did not focused the news about those days on the students. And as horrible as the murder of the Faddoul brothers was, the response was high but short in time, there was no second demonstration about it that I heard of to make some real pressure on the government. It all stayed in a brief act of good will. My friend asked me for some more patience, but my university years were coming to an end and I’m not exactly known for being a “patient” person.
About the picture: I took it on the day the students blocked my university entrance for the first time since I entered the university.
Now here is the video of the "Acuéstate por la vida" event. Its in spanish but you should go to the minute 07:25 to see what the protest was all about. Enjoy

sábado, 2 de febrero de 2008

(V) Reaction and Revolution: The "hot" heads

I’m going to speak now about certain students organizations created or developed since 2004 in my university at least (UCAB) that provided a certain structure and a ideology to the White Hand (student) movement as is known today, they were also the places were many of the actual White Hand (student) movement leaders started. I’m also going to speak about my relations with those organizations, but always making the necessary precautions to protect my friends’ privacy and my own.
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.

viernes, 1 de febrero de 2008

(IV) Reaction and Revolution: The recall hangover

Even counting I have talked about the 2004 recall against Chavez in this blog before, I only discussed some technical aspects related to the credibility of that electoral process but I did not focus in the sentimental aspect of those events. But, in order to understand the nature of the White Hand (student) movement, it is inevitable to speak about the effects this lost recall brought for the Venezuelan opposition.I wouldn’t be over reacting if I stand that the opposition suffered a strong depression after the defeat. A depression of the same irrational nature of a 15 year old girl after being fooled by the most popular guy of the school.
Only weeks after the recall, the “Coordinadora Democrática” (an opposition political alliance that worked altogether against Chavez government at least since 2002) revealed a weak structure and started to simply disappear. The parties and the organizations one by one, took separate ways and retire of the Coordinadora. I guess is only in the hard times when the defects are revealed and is harder to stay together.
The next move of a big part of the opposition was to retire their candidates of the upcoming parliamentary elections as a protest of an electoral fraud (that could never be proven, in part because it was impossible to proof) during the past recall against Chavez and specially for showing their distrust to the electoral institution (CNE). This explains why our current parliament – National Assembly is “roja rojita”, red-red: the Chavistas simply elected themselves and half of the country slept during those elections.
The party I belong to back then: Primero Justicia took both the decision of leaving the opposition alliance and to retire their candidates of the elections without consulting to the basis of the party. It was a decision only taken by the leaders. “If we want to build a democracy outside, we must start on the inside” – I told to my youth group during the last official meeting I had with them. Soon one by one left the party as well. We were not sure if our reason was a legitimate reason to resign but over all, we did not felt identify with the party anymore.
In the meantime, our society was still a prisoner of an increasing radicalism. In my environment, all government supporters were taken as “bad people” simply because they supported the government and it worked the same way on the pro-government side. This “recall” hangover had its maximum expression during the “guarimbas”, a series of radical protest that spread for two weeks or so at least in my city. Several wounded and death came as a result of those protest and the government took the term “guarimbero” (from guarimbas) as a yet another insult for the opposition. But I won’t discuss those protest here, my duty for the moment is to only mention them in regards of the effect they might had for the White Hand student movement.
When the “guarimbas” finally ended, my calm and quiet street looked like a war zone with burned stuff everywhere. I met my boyfriend –back then- there after a week or so of not being able to see each other because we lived in two distant neighbourhoods of Caracas and must of the streets were blocked, we asked to ourselves “What happened?”. It looked more like we burned ourselves rather than burning the government.
I think many university students politically active might lived similar events, and experienced similar feelings during those months. The kids who proudly went with their parents to several demonstrations from 2002 till the recall of 2004, although they didn’t reacted at all or even contradict their parents, at least got the feeling that maybe things should had be done in a different way and the fight should had been focused on different purposes. We were not sure of what those “purposes” should be yet but this can explain to the reader why the White Hand (student) movement claimed autonomy from the traditional opposition (despite if its media, political parties, organizations etc) and pretended to be original from the start. But over all, if you wonder why to simply bring down Chavez regime (like the opposition proposed as a goal during 2002-2004) was never an objective of the movement, I hope you have found your answers now: the goal of simply bringing down the government proved to be not only impossible to get but also a useless one to look for.
In short words, this “recall hangover”, like I like to call those months after the recall, caused two feelings in my generation if I’m not mistaken: on one side, the typical depressive “all is lost” one and on another, a slight idea that it was going to grow later that this was the wrong path to follow.
On the next couple of years (my 3rd and my 4th year of university to be exact) many youth organizations were created (or I started to get to know them), aside of the political parties. Some had a very diffuse or none political aspiration at all, some were just a small group of university students with a certain not well defined “project”. But all of them had very similar concerns: how damaged our country was in all possible senses (especially social and political) and what the members, as young and educated people, could possible to about it. Must of those initiatives stayed on paper or were too small to be relevant except for their members but some others were the ideological content that feed the White Hand (student) movement for not talking about the structure of the movement itself. Therefore, I will dedicate the next entry to talk about them.
About the picture: The man on the left lost his 17 year old son during the events of April, 2002. The man on the right who’s talking to the TV lost his wife when a group of pro-government shooters surprised an opposition group gathered at Altamira Square during the “Guarimbas” of 2004. I took the picture on the anniversary of her death (August 18, 2005).