Look, I know it’s easy to get caught up in the YouTube videos, easy to cheer on the unbelievably brave gochos. Facing down a budding military dictatorship is no child’s play, and no one with a feel for liberty can failed to be moved by their derring-do. A mi tampoco me da la gana una dictadura igualita a la cubana.
Still, some things need to be said, and said forcefully: enough nodding-at-winking at violent tactics. No more molotov cocktails. No more wires-across-the-road. No more fireworks-as-weapons. Ni un muerto más, coño.
We can’t let our judgment be too clouded by the dopamine rush we get from those YouTube videos. This movement either gets serious about non-violence or it will fail.
The sugar high of the guarimba will dissipate, as it must. When it does, will we be left with a Venezuela that’s closer to democratic transition, or further away?
Long-term thinking isn’t exactly the forté of a movement that is genuinely auto-convocado, and just doesn’t report to any of the traditional structures of what’s conventionally called “the opposition”. But we need to dismount-that-cloud and face it: putting up a barricade and setting it on fire is violence, not a political strategy. Having no one in overall charge is not an asset, it’s a liability.
A movement that can’t be led is a movement that can’t maneuver, can’t make smart choices, can’t retreat tactically when that’s what’s needed or sacrifice a short-term protest dopamine-rush for a more sustainable longer-term goal.
Asking the people setting up guarimbas to try to envision the country we’ll have three months from now shouldn’t be too big an ask. So let’s give this a try. (We can come back in May and see how far off I was.)
If violent tactics aren’t stamped out now, by May chances are:
- Some version of calm and normality will have been restored to the streets.
- Several high profile student movement leaders will be in jail, perhaps alongside some additional, household name politicians.
- San Cristobal will be under ongoing, tacit or explicit, military rule.
- State media will blame each new item of bad economic news on the instability caused by “Februuary’s fascist coup attempt”.
- That propaganda line will be broadly believable to many of the people whose support the opposition will need to help begin to steer the country towards democracy again.
- This month’s new discursive standards for what is acceptable reporting by local and international media operating in Venezuela will have become “the new normal”.
- You’ll have largely forgotten about Leopoldo López, except for the one or two VP activists in your Twitter stream daily putting up reminders that he’s still unjustly jailed, and “no lo dejemos solo”, which only other VP people will retweet.
- Any budding sign of an attempt to protest about anything at all will be crushed far more brutally than was the case even in January, using “the need to avoid a repeat the events of February” as an all-purpose pretext for due-process violations.
- Opposition minded people in majority-chavista areas will find it even more difficult to speak out.
Listen, I hate to be The Grinch Who Stole the Intifada. I’ve spent half this week crying because it’s so painful to see people you admire so much get things so wrong.
But Maduro isn’t repressing these protests because he’s threatened by them. He’s repressing them because he actively believes a good society does not include the right to protest.
He isn’t censoring the media because the media threaten his hold on power, he’s censoring the media because he’s openly hostile to free expression.
Dictatorial control isn’t a means to an end for these guys, it’s an end in itself. And creating chaos on the streets strengthens the hand of those who’ve always sought to impose it.
I know it’s hard. I know nobody’s in overall charge. I know there isn’t any one person in a position to call this off, or to declare a change in tactics, and I know that makes it all the harder. But the next time I see a kid with his face covered talking about pacífico this and pacífico that while manning a guarimba ‘m going to have an aneurism.
Cease and desist.
There’s too much at stake to keep digging.