Roadblocks for democracy

Warning-Hard-Work-AheadRight now, the current debate in the opposition seems to be on whether protests are convenient or not. I think we should focus more on the type of protest that we engage in.

Democracy rests on a few basic principles, one of which is that people have a right to free assembly. Right now, free assembly is not illegal, but we live in an environment that has made it an arduous task.

Free assembly is impeded by a variety of factors. Soaring crime rates are arguably planned, or some sort of collateral effect from sheer incompetence. The tough economic situation, where you can afford the basic things, but you need to sink many hours in their collection also makes gathering harder. Every hour you spend at a Mercal line it’s an hour you don’t spend working with your community. We simply don’t have time for citizens’ assemblies.

This may be all be part of a secret agenda or a side effect from the terrible economic policies set forth. The consequence is that Venezuelans have a hard time gathering publicly to debate, discuss, and more importantly, to reach a consensus.

The PSUV, in its warfare politics, has used everything at its command to instill the idea the disagreeing with the government equates treason. In some cases it is some sort of moral treason. In others “this act of treason” has dire legal consequences.

In spite of this, those who oppose the make up a sizable chunk. Let’s say that chunk is approximately half the nation with an error bar.

So within this context protests are a must.

What about other alternatives? We know that any violent solution against a petro-state is futile – everything from people’s unwillingness to the resources that such a struggle will require mean the idea isn’t viable.

The next thing below violence is the guarimbas (barricades). Roadblocks have long been a form of protest that communities everywhere have used to get the attention of the authorities when other means of doing so have failed. When communities don’t get drinking water in a week and they have been calling the water utility company with no response, they will march to the closest road … and block traffic. After a few hours, someone from the water company with some local government reps show up, they take note of the problem, they lay out a plan for a solution, and everyone goes back home.

Roadblocks as a protest in the context of demands for greater civil liberties … will lead nowhere. They are effective when you need one specific issue sorted. They aren’t effective when you are after a complete reform of the system.

When dealing with civil liberties the goal is much more intangible. People who shut down roads for things like “democracy” still seek the attention of the authorities, but their problem is more intractable. In a way, the guarimberos are like teenage kids seeking parental attention, sometimes even violently.

What we need is a different type of protest. We need a protest that gets the people’s attention, not the authorities’. There have been already great examples of it, but the Gocho/Ukraine struggle plus 2002 stink makes some believe that there is a short-cut.

We need protests that we can be proud of, that lift our self-esteem. Ones that makes people say :”you are right, I shouldn’t put up with ________ either”. (Fill the blank with crime rates, scarcity, long lines, low income, high inflation, hospitals, justice, chavismo, etc.)

I don’t know if the change Venezuela requires will happen via the ballot box, but I do know that whenever change occurs, it will need popular support. That’s where the our energy should be focused on.

Activism and protests are essential to achieve that. Our protest movement should strive for the tipping point in popular support, one in which change becomes not only necessary but inevitable. Once we achieve massive support, then the PSUV will have to decide which road they wish to depart on.

32 thoughts on “Roadblocks for democracy

  1. History has showed us that ALWAYS in order to collapse and overthrow a totalitarian & dictatorial government ‘we’, as society, MUST disturb the ‘Public Order” with ‘peaceful & creative chaos’. There is no other way…or there is?

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    • Yes, there is–we have to wait, as Rodrigo says, as the Govt. further makes their hungry masses more dependent on the status quo, so that us “fascists” are eventually overthrown, jailed, exiled, or emigrate (Cuba dixit)(sarcasm). The Ukraine decided not to wait…Ideally, one should wait for a tipping point (a hypothesis of mine some time ago), but, under the current/recent circumstances, I believe continued action is needed now–the Govt. has precipitated an intolerable moral tipping point, via the ordered slaughter/wounding/jailing of innocents.

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      • Net, I need to insist in the historically proofed fact that one of the most effective way of throwing dictatorial government is with “massive & creative peaceful chaos”. Nevertheless, I’m fully aware that this is easy to write and so tough to endure, knowing that pro-goverment thugs are killing “innocent” unarmed civilian rebels, and the radicalization of the totalitarian regime is growing out-of-control and proportion. That been said, as Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”; but this quote is so hard to swallow or accept, and I am not the rightful one to expect or even demand such bravery and “patriotic’ acts to happen from our civilian population. But when “peaceful chaos is confronted with bullets, then the peaceful chaos will turn into a civil war “, God forbids.

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        • Founding Father Jefferson was sapient. I personally abhor the shedding of blood by Venezuelan patriots, but I can admire the bravery of said patriots and understand the justice/righteousness of the cause for which they are fighting. I don’t believe that those in power in Venezuela have the stomach for a civil war, although their Castro advisers are another story….

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          • Agree, but then again, who lis calling the shoots at the government? The Castros or the narco-insane government thugs like DC? I hard for me to understand or accept that ALL the military are pro-cuban / pro-narco state.

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    • I just want to mention two fact: No government will step down in a country unless the military force is with the protesters. That’s a fact here, in Ukraine or Syria. You need the lethal power on your side if you want to succeed. That’s not a secret.
      In the other hand, I don’t want and we don’t need another pro-military government. History has shown that their role is to protect or promote a war. They are not trained to be politicians or to deal with civilians under civilians rule of law.
      In order to have the military on your side without taking the risk of a military regime you need to have the biggest portion of the population on your side. When I read population I meant civilians and military which at the end will keep almost the same proportions regarding political inclination. If civilians majority wants the government out the military will follow in the same way and if the majority is significant enough you warrantee that civilians will rule after the resignation/coup/forced out of the current administration.
      Right now Venezuela has a near 50-50 split. Some people might say 55-45 or 57-43 but at the end we are close to be equal. The only way to change that tendency is a deeper food scarcity situation added to a economic depression that will force to chavimos light brake their link with Maduro and start listening the Opposition ideas.
      I think Capriles’ idea aimed to the same place, the food and economic conditions before “LaSalida” started getting into that critical condition but are now transferred to the opposition due to the protests.
      Last week I talked to some people around Cua and they think food scarcity is mainly caused by los guarimberos de Caracas y Maracay that doesn’t allow transportation to get there.
      We need to get more people convinced before we can jumping into ousting Maduro, with the 50-50 the opposition will depend on the Military and we know who the high ranks will support.
      I hope MCM, LL, and AL have a plan. A plan not based on their guts but more on facts because I think we are stuck and pointing fingers inside the opposition will not be the solution

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    • That’s good news! Hopefully the incompetents in the Venezuelan air force fail the maintenance and upkeep, resulting in these planes crashing into the Caribbean. It would be a tragedy for the aquatic life in the Caribbean, and we can only hope that no valuable life forms like fish or algae are injured when Raul’s plane crashes into the ocean, killing him instantly. Also the pilot can hopefully do his duty to mankind and bail out with the only parachute as soon as problems arise with the plane…

      Furthermore, every dollar sent to Cuba is one less dollar that can go to voters in Venezuela, that’s another win. The opposition should vociferously protest this, which will only encourage even more wasteful transfers to the economic black hole that is Cuba.

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  2. “Free assembly is impeded by a variety of factors. Soaring crime rates are arguably planned, or some sort of collateral effect from sheer incompetence.”

    They are planned.
    Herbert Marcuse wrote extensively on the importance of using criminals and high crime rates to instill fear among the civilian population and curb any kind of resistance to a communist revolution.

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    • That’s VERY interesting, Marc. I never thought of that before. At first it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, but I guess it makes sense.

      What about Cuba? Crime rates over there are low, if I’m not mistaken. Were they higher in the early 60s?

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      • Mago, sometimes we forget that there’s method in their madness.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Fidel Castro used criminals and released prisoners to fight for his bloody revolution in the early ’60s. And according to Marcuse, criminals freely doing whatever they want are important to a communist revolution during the early stages, but not when the dictatorship is well established.

        For the ones who missed MCM’s excellent and extremely long interview on Brazilian TV yesterday:

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        • She was wonderful, clear and concise as usual. I think that her appearance prompted the pretty radical change of heart (coalition government?!) from Lula: El expresidente brasileño Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recomendó hoy al jefe de Estado venezolano, Nicolás Maduro, convocar a un Gobierno de coalición para reducir la tensión política que atraviesa el país. “Maduro debe disminuir el debate y dedicarse enteramente a gobernar”, señaló el exmandatario. http://www.laverdad.com/politica/49930-lula-recomienda-un-gobierno-de-coalicion-en-venezuela.html

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          • There is one thing I found curious: Lula said Maduro should avoid debate.
            Of course: if there were a real debate Maduro, like any populist on a long term and in power, would be badly burnt. Instead, they want to try to make us what Mugabe did and does in Zimbabwe now with the “coalition”.
            Lula is right Venezuela is of special interest for Brazil now: back in 1998 Venezuela a slight trade surplus with Brazil. Right now Brazil exports FIVE TIMES what it imports from Venezuela.
            As long as Venezuela is in shambles, Brazil will have more and more possibilities to increase its clout in Spanish America.

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  3. I think most sane people would agree with the case you’re making. The really tricky part is coming up with the right form of getting popular support. A major point you’re not addressing here is that most people on the government side HATE us. Whether or not they have a valid reason for their hatred is besides the point. They hate us and they are, literally, in love with the myth of Chávez. Taking that into account, I doubt there is anything we can do to trigger that ”you are right, I shouldn’t put up with ________ either” epiphany moment. If the antagonism is not based on sound logical arguments, why should we expect sound logic to affect such antagonism?

    All this to say, I think the street action needed is of a different kind. It should be focused less on how much the government sucks or how much we are right, and a lot more in what it is these people on the other side need. They had a strong emotional connection with Chávez and everything points to there not being such a bond with Nick. So, we should be directing our efforts in soplarle el bistec al gobierno.

    For example, is anyone in the opposition doing any sort of social work? I mean actual social work. The textbook kind. Things like family counselling, sex-ed for the young, or free legal advice in the slums. When I was in Venezuela there were some PJ-associated groups doing some stuff, but they were mostly focused on religion and were more hardcore about it that the pope. There were also some student groups at the USB doing similar (and saner) things, but I don’t know if that is still going.

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    • I don’t think they hate us. The feeling I get is that they distrust us, but don’t hate us.

      And it is not about logic. It is about emotions as you imply here. People are not blind to these issues, but in spite of those issues they make the political choices that you have seen. You need to have empathy for them (via finding common needs) and have them have empathy for you. They have to see that you are getting mistreated for saying something honest.

      On the activism side, or social work as you call it. Yes, there is tons. None of the properly funded.

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  4. Exactly. Also, we also need to realize that having a dialogue with the government does not mean that protests have to or will stop (not that you can control them – that’s the point). Also, I hope that the MUD respects the students enough to have student leaders at the table during the dialogue. They started and have kept the protests going (they were between 4 and 7 years old when this regime was elected). I like the students as heroes narrative but we can’t expect them to be superheroes that solve everything without the help of the rest of civil society.

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  5. It is dangerous to try to draw quick conclusions from countries one hardly knows, just because one happens to hear about them from time to time on the news. If you don’t do your homework , if you haven’t tried to analyse the history and economics of the places you are picking an example from, if you don’t try to actually get differing views from people in those places, you should be a bit more cautious about trying to say such things like “we should do it like them” or “why haven’t we done it like them?” or “why can’t they make it if we can?”

    Ukraine 2002 was a non sustainable pseudo-revolution.
    The situation in Ukraine in the last year or so has deteriorated dramatically.
    Ukraine has completely different historical, educational, economic backgrounds than Venezuela.
    We can learn some things from them, but only to a limited extent. And if we do want to learn from them we also need to learn in what we differ. Otherwise any attempt to imitate anything will backfire horrendously.

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    • Regarding Kiev: “Contrary to all rational expectations, a group of citizens armed with not much more than sticks and shields made of cardboard boxes and metal garbage can lids overwhelmed a police force firing live ammunition. There were many casualties, but the citizens prevailed. It was a veritable miracle”

      It was glorious, no matter how messy now. It is impossible to emulate here or in most other similar situations.

      At the same time, we cannot disavow momentum and tipping points. A small protest in Kiev led to repression, which inflamed the population and created the crisis.

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      • Sure, but we can learn from Ukraine what we can learn and what we cannot learn, to speak in the manner of Cantinflas.

        1) The economic situation in Ukraine was really bleaker, even when it comes to food outside major cities. This is still not the case in Venezuela…not in the secondary and tertiary cities.
        Then the poor’s threshold of what to go through in impoverishment might be a bit higher in Venezuela because provided you have food you can live better in some tin house in the Caribbean than in some grim, gray, extremely cold place in Ukraine.
        2) we need to avoid symbols such as the Ozpor movement. They were financed by the US Americans and to some extent the EU. That is no secret, that is no conspiracy of Eva Golinger, even though she and her propaganda crew used those things and exaggerated their role ad nauseam.
        What did the boy who accompanied Machado wear when they went to the OAS? A T-Shirt of
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otpor!
        For PR that is simply STUPID. Why? Not for you, not for me, but for the millions of wallies who watch VTV and anything like that in Venezuela. You have to follow them to understand what they say after that.
        3) We need to be aware of the ethnic differences. In the case of Ukraine there is the complication they have a huge Russian minority and a lot of interaction between those groups but it was clear, very clear, that Kiev and the West of it felt themselves different from all those forces supported by Russia.
        In the case of Venezuela we still have a problem with our identity. On one side we are all Venezuelans. On the other and to a large extent due to the widespread ignorance about history we are mostly clinging to some weird myths. And that is when Chavistas use the race card and the “venezolano-venezolano-puro afroamericano-indígena contra fascista blanquito descendiente de europeos malditos racista de mierda”
        Fortunately, this has been changing quite a lot. And yet we need to remember this point and to explain it: it’s a farce, the Boligarcs pretend to be “patriots” when they are selling off Venezuela in worse conditions than the most corrupt governments of before.

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    • I think the lesson of Ukraine for Venezuela is, the only thing harder than extricating a totalitarian regime is replacing it with something genuinely representative and resilient. The last elections were stress tests for the opposition. Those tests will be nothing compared to what the opposition will face when that window of opportunity to govern arrives. Ukraine is a cautionary tale and I think will continue to be a cautionary tale. It has foiled the smartest and most determined people, and remained a basket case. The culture of corruption is deep and hard to reverse.

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  6. This is a great post Rodrigo. I believe it points in the right direction. I only have a caveat because you mention once the guarimbas-barricades but then move on to roadblocks. They should not be equated, a roadblock must be temporary, some hours, never complete, cars and people should be let to pass even if slowed down. I disagree that they are not useful in a greater struggle. They are a great way to call the attention of the people, because in the end all politics are local and people everywhere are affected in one way or another.

    On the other hand barricades are fortifications that invite violence and tend to be permanent. They are an invitation to violence and in that sense are very negative.

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    • Yes, you do call the attention of the people, but in that sense it is an open ended goal. You are never satisfied.

      You also get their attention in a bad way. They see you anger and frustration for sure, but then what? There is no empathy, there no way to connect.

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      • “You are never satisfied”
        “There is no empathy, there no way to connect.”

        The same could be said of any other form of manifestation. A call for attention is a call for attention and its objective is to open the eyes of others to your plight. That is the objective and in that sense if you reach enough people then you are satisfied. People will connect when they decide to participate in your cause. A roadblock is only on of more than 200 ways in which people can participate.

        My point is you seem to conflate or confuse roadblock with guarimba. I think the distinction should be made because they are not the same thing. Consider that every large rally is by itself a roadblock, a disruption. A guarimba is something else because is permanent and promotes itself to be attacked and defended escalating violence. The violence is what makes it counterproductive.

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  7. Great post, Rodrigo.
    For those that still think that only violence will get the goods, if you haven’t seen this, please watch:

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    • Unfortunately, the link to the International Center for Non Violent Conflict (mentioned in this Ted-Conference) at http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org, doesn’t show at all any updated information about the Venezuela situation. If you dig more in their database about Venezuela then you find just 105 links to more information about this country, but none is about the actual crisis Venezuela is going through presently. In the other hand, The Albert Einstein Institute, at http://www.aeinstein.org, another think-tank located in Boston, Massachusetts, dedicated to non-violent resistance, only shows as their latest news about Venezuela one that took place last Feb 26th, 2014, yes 45 days old! The timeline of the events in Venezuela, extensively & informatively prepared and presented by CC, is definitely not reaching major NGO / Think-Tanks that are specialized in our type of conflicts. Why? You beat me…I guess the Venezuelan Student Resistance Movement has no specifically designed and coordinated the most necessary guidelines on how to communicate with the world, effectively, loudly, professionally and with most accuracy. I think CC and their very diligent team can help in this matter effectively. Just an idea…My 2 cents…

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  8. Maybe the fact that you are blogging in English has more to do with your failure to gain a majority than repression
    A way to put that proposition to the test would be for the regime to stop the repression- rein in the colectivos, for example. Or to permit greater diversity of voices in the media. But I doubt the regime would be willing to put the proposition to the test.

    You people reek of privilege.
    I doubt that the people blogging and commenting here have the privileges and money accruing to the likes of the Boliburgueses, not to mention Diosdado Cabello or the Chavez family. I refer you to The Hard-Up Elite.

    One thing that’s always struck me as particular is the way the Hard-Up Elite scrambles first world people’s categories and understandings about Latin America, to the point where they really can’t see them. This, in a way, is a testament to the effectiveness of chavista propaganda abroad. The image of the Venezuelan opposition as a bunch of fat cats is now so deeply ingrained in foreigners’ understanding of the Chávez era – even when the foreigners in question are largely opposed to the government – that the Hard-Up Elite fades almost completely out of view.
    Try to explain to your average European or North American that the vast majority of people who vote against the Venezuelan government are much, much poorer than they are, and all you get are blank stares back. “But, but…they’re lawyers and accountants, engineers and small business owners!” they’ll say. And that’s absolutely true. But they can’t necessarily afford more than one pair of new shoes a year. And that, also, is absolutely true.

    Being well educated does not equate with having a lot of money, as the above points out. The article is from the book Blogging the Revolution.

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  9. I guess the fluent use of english represents a kind of privilege because to learn it you had to have parents or siblings or other relatives or often enough a govt or institutional scholarship which allowed you a foreign education . That privilege however could be enjoyed by many people who came from modest origins but who had a family that deeply cared about educating their young and saved all they had to allow their children the privilege of a good education ( the first educated brother helping the rest of the siblings get a better education was very common ocurrence), know dozens of people who got their education that way,

    Also getting a scholarship if your were hard working and talented enough wasnt all that difficult . the govt handed lterally thousand of scholarships for deserving students for many years (does anyone remmeber the Plan Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho) , often to students from families which in the US or any othe developed country would be considered very poor. Additionally many large companies and institutions ( including many associated with the oil industry) had scholarship programs running year after year to give people short of means the chance of an education abroad . I met some of them and they included people from really humble origins , like the son of a single mother who worked as a domestic , the sons of part time taxi drivers and so on , Some of them in time became prominent people inside these industries because of their oversize talents.

    English has become in time a kind of international lingua franca used by people all over the world and giving people with command of the language the chance of reading many authors and publications rich in contents and ideas that help their readers get a better than average intellectual formation.

    People who follow the blog, if they are spanish speaking also follow other blogs in spanish which are great in content and the quality of the discussions , so participating in CC does not detract from tneir participation in other blogs written in spanish .

    The use of the word privilege in a peyorative sense, to refer to Venezuelans who speak english is as unfair as it is inaccurate and reveals much of the small minded, low order intellectual template of the person using it .

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    • The use of the word privilege in a pejorative sense, to refer to Venezuelans who speak english is as unfair as it is inaccurate and reveals much of the small minded, low order intellectual template of the person using it.
      Especially since in many – or even most- cases the poster who calls posters here “elite” or “privileged” is a PSF who is decidedly more affluent than those Venezuelans so labeled as “elite” or “privileged.”

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  10. In day to day life, the well known football
    players are becoming a role model to motivate
    the youths. The advent from the internet has dramatically changed the way in which bets are placed on football
    or soccer. I guess a handful of suspensions was enough to satisfy the
    NCAA.

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