I’m having coffee with a wide-eyed twenty-three year old. She begins telling me the story behind the spontaneous street protests that happened last month.
“Me and my friends were frustrated – still are – about the apathy in opposition circles. Why isn’t our leadership calling people to the streets to protest? Why have we demobilized? The country is going to hell in a handbasket and … what exactly are we doing about it?”
“We thought it would be great to try out how strong a weapon Twitter is in organizing a grass-roots protest movement. So, without anyone really knowing, we started the auto-convocados thing. The first one was held November 9th. That was the day Daka blew up – we like to tell ourselves we had something to do with the timing – so, in spite of a decent turnout, the news were drowned by that … and the Miss Universe election. Still, we felt it was a great first step. A couple of thousand people showed up in Plaza Venezuela, and many more in other parts of the country.”
“Then, we decided to amp it up and call people to Plaza Venezuela on November 30th.”
Her tone grows somber.
“We got to Plaza Venezuela mid-morning. There were about 600 people there, most of them housewives, older folks, retirees, and lots of young people. There was a heavy police presence. Just as we were getting our act together – some major politicians had supported the movement, so we were expecting a crowd – … they showed up.”
“There were about sixty guys, all of them very athletic, all of the wielding automatic weapons. They came in their motorcycles and they quickly surrounded the crowd.”
“The first thing they did was go for our cameras. Everyone’s cameras were smashed to the ground. Then they began beating us up with batons. I saw an old lady bleeding from her forehead, I saw old men getting their knees clobbered. It was all very brutal, done in broad daylight. The police didn’t care – they were there to protect them, not us.”
“These guys,” she says, “they had been trained. They are paramilitaries. And the first thing they care about … is not getting caught on camera. That’s why practically no media talked about the incident.”
“I came home and cried for days. I still can’t get the whole thing out of my mind – that because of something me and my friends started, old ladies got beaten up. The level of impunity … it’s really scary.”