The hunger

Huelguistas-en-el-VaticanoThe hunger strike – an essential tool in the non-violent struggle against tyranny – has an uneven history.

Mahatma Gandhi undertook numerous hunger strikes, most of them succesful. According to this Wikipedia page, Gandhi took part in seventeen hunger strikes during his lifetime, and not all of them against the British. Some of them were to call attention to issues of unity between Hindus and Muslims, while others were for atonement of mistakes made by his own camp.

The Cuban dissidents Guillermo Fariñas and Orlando Zapata have also embarked on hunger strikes. Fariñas has taken on several, and relented following certain concessions from the authorities. Zapata died in 2010 after two months without eating.

Other prominent hunger strikers have also died while striking, most notably Bobby Sands and sufraggette Mary Jane Clarke in the UK. Clarke died after being force-fed to surrender her hunger strike, which some have characterized as torture.

This brings us to our hunger strikers, Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos, and the many who are accompanying them.

Well into their third week of hunger, there is no sign the government is willing to budge on any of the three issues they have brougfht to the forefront: freedom for political prisoners, the end of repression, and the announcement of Parliamentary elections.

How will this end? It is too soon to tell, but we can analyze the possibilities.

First, the prisoners may die.

I find it hard to believe López or Ceballos would be willing to go this far at this stage of the fight, but it cannot be ruled out, particularly given how they are not getting the right medical attention. If this were to happen, it would be a dramatic development in the struggle for democarcy in our country. Personally, I can’t bring myself to even consider such a scenario.

A more likely one is a partial retreat, either from the government or from the strikers.

The strikers could decide to suspend their strike, as many have urged them to do. Few could blame them for doing so, although the government would surely spin this as a victory, and surely some of those less charitable in the opposition would criticize them for recklessly plunging into a situation where they were not willing to go all they way.

Another alternative is for the government to give in to some of their complaints, particularly announcing the date of the Parliamentary election. This would enough of an excuse for López, Ceballos and the others to suspend their hunger strikes, allowing them to claim some sort of success. A far less likely scenario is for the government to give in to all of their demands.

Regardless of the outcome, the hunger strikers have accomplished one feat: rallying the opposition behind their cause, if only temporarily. Even the most anti-Salida politicians have expressed some support for the strikers’ demands in recent days, and nobody in the opposition wants to see López or Ceballos die in custody, no matter how much they dislike them.

The hunger strike is an incredibly risky bet. One element required for its success would appear to be a government that worries about its image. Chavismo has always taken care of how it is portrayed in the media, so the logic of the hunger strike might make some sense in our current context. However, the desire to fit in is counterbalanced by the internal logic pushing chavismo to appear as strong instead of weak. The push between these two countervailing forces within chavismo will determine its ultimate attitude toward the hunger strikers – if they decide that the cost to its public image outweighs the cost of giving in to their demands, it might relent.

From our little corner, we can only hope it ends without anyone dying. Whether the opposition accomplishes anything with it or not is almost beside the point. The one thing we are all hungry for … is some sort of resolution.

60 thoughts on “The hunger

  1. “Chavismo has always taken care of how it is portrayed in the media”. Up to recently. Lately they seem to have given up somehow and only spin their own propaganda, deaf to international critics (remember Maduro is down with otitis). Even Latino pals stop knocking at the door. The word “narcotraficante” is indeed a powerful one. Nobody wants to be associated with those even if it is just a rumor. If it only depends on the governement side, then Lopez and colleagues will die.

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  2. Glad you, of all CC writers, Juan, broached the delicate topic. I might have liked to see mention of Brito.

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  3. I have to say I agree with most of this entry, no ones wants to see two young and brave men die.
    Perhaps the most likely result will be the announce of the election, in this way government can said id dindt yield and striker can call it a victory.

    I still against the ways of “la salida”, never the less this way of protest is very difficult and very hard, and we can only offer our support to those who choose it, my instinct said that you should never enter this way of protest without a way out and exit strategy, it must be part of the strategy otherwise will be the same as lighting oneself in fire (goo.gl/2UDXND)

    LL is a smart politician and he sure knows this, for the sake of his family, the family of Ceballos and all other striker we must sincerely hopes for quick conclusion of this matter.

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  4. No puede hacérsele huelga de hambre a quien no te quiere vivo – Laureano Márquez, vía Twitter

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    • Bingo!

      I don’t think the government is thinking “If this people die is gonna make us look bad”. They are most likely saying “They are in a hunger strike and they may die? Great! Good riddance!”

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    • Disagree. Maybe for LL or Ceballo, and they know the doctors will grab’em before they die.

      But the 2 Dozen students? A few might die. Brito went down largely unnoticed, but if ONE student dies now on hunger strike, he would be come a huge Martyr of sorts, with the Church behind it, International condemnation, and popular unrest.

      Even Thugs and Criminals of Masburrismo certainly Do NOT like these hunger strikes. They are very, very unpopular.

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  5. Ceballos is also doing the strike because he wants to kill himself after the affair his wife had.
    Was it with Chataing? I don’t think so, but that audio (which is a very low point in Chavistas’ infamy) is true. If you ever had the unfortunate situation of asking your wife detail of an affair you know that Audio is true.

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    • Hello, resident chaburro troll.

      Remember to take the pamphlet over there, it’ll describe you the facilities, the rules, Do’s and don’ts of this place, once you’ve completed the tour, you can have a seat over there and start justifying the checks that pudrevesa is sending you.

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  6. Everyone knows exactly how this ends, and has since the beginning: they’ll call it off, emerge much thinner and weaker, with nothing to show for it. They’ll leave the opposition feeling even more powerless than before, having dramatized the government’s power in spite of themselves.

    It’s unbearably sad. But entirely predictable.

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    • As depressing as it is, you are most likely right.

      On the other hand, there is still tiny chance that the hunger strikers might claim a small victory here. Certainly, the government is not going to concede all of their demands, but the CNE has to announce the date of the elections sooner or later in the coming months (this was true even before the hunger strike started), so if they can hold on until then…

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    • Do not start a hunger strike unless you are seriously prepared to die. It is a tool of last resort. I hope these people know what they are doing. God help them…

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  7. The gunger strikes have already worked, to some extent.

    Dunno If we have to thank Ghandi, or Patricia Ceballos por monta-cachos, or not (Daniel was the first one to go on strike, couple of days before Leopoldo and all), but the Hunger Strikes, multiplied to about 30 people now, have already accomplished quite a bit:

    – A renewed sense of Urgency, for people to wake up, continue on their toes, after the big March.
    – More internal support, even a galvanization effect within the MUD, they seem a bit more “unidos” lately, true or not, at least they are doing more things together.
    – More International Attention, which never hurts.
    – The 4 specific demands have been highlighted, separately (not that most will be conceded)
    – Now the Church, quite powerful in Vzla and abroad is forced to take sides, thanks in good part to the Derechos Humanos = hunger strikes. Millions of Chavistas are not only under-educated, often bribed and corrupted, but they are also highly Superstitious and Religious. Anything the Church and/or the Pope say from now on is a Huge ally for the opposition.

    Basically these Hunger strikes keep the pressure on the Regime, Masburro’s ear burritis aguda and the Pope was another good blow against the Dictatorship just yesterday.

    As I wrote on the previous post, I think the ultimate results will probably fall in between: a few Bogus “concessions” and fake promises, most of the Strikers survive, a few to the hospital.

    Bottom line, we’ll get the freaking “elections” date. But no solid International Supervision, quit Dreaming about that. The laughable elections, in Cubazuela where there’s no real Parliament anyway, and NarcoCabello does whatever he wants with seats and diputados, mean close to nothing. Same shit next year, after they Bribe Millions of voters with gifts, promises and cash, or Terrorize them in the voting process with threats, fear of losing their Tigritos and bogus jobs,, etc. They’ll probably even tweak Chavez’s Smartmatic Fraud lottery machines to make the “defeat” seem a little bit closer, only about 55%..

    Hopefully, after that charade, when people realize nothing is gonna change next year, as the escasez and inflacion and inseguridad continue, they’ll hit the streets again next year. By then, Ceballos will probably under medical care like Ledezma is, and Leopoldo still in jail. In the end, it’s up to the people to revolt, so the more inflacion, colas, apagones, escasez, the better.

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      • Funny that she calls LL a “sifrino shiabbe”, because between him and capriles, he seemed a lot less populist than “we won’t move an inch the current model” guy.

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        • There’s a lot of hatred against LL for taking a leadership role in the oppo and basically “defying” Saint Capriles, Patron of the Pueblo Mesmo. The Capriles fangirls really have to get over themselves.

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  8. I am normally quite decisive in my opinions. In the case of the “hunger strike”, I confess to being very equivocal. I understand the political strategy, and acknowledge its occasional efficacy, but the very thought of deliberately damaging my health (or even someone else, theirs) makes me feel queasy. Or, at best, it seems like a childish gesture, like a two-year old banging his head on the floor to get his parents attention or get his own way.

    Nevertheless, this action has re-awakened domestic attention to the plight of the political prisoners in Venezuela. Having said that, I do hope that he doesn’t let it go to the end, because I do not believe that the regime will capitulate to such a strategy. The truth is they just want him to “go away” and having him die of his own volition in jail achieves that. He is far more dangerous to them alive, than as a dead martyr.

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    • The problem for the government is that now they may be forced to look like the capitulated, just by doing what they had to do anyway, whether there was a hunger strike or not. I mean, they have to announce the date of the elections some time in the next few months, no matter what, and when they do, assuming the hunger strikers can resist until then, they can stop the hunger strike and call it a (small) victory.

      If anything, the government has even more incentives to keep postponing the announcement of the date, but they’ll have to do it at some point, whether they like it or not.

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      • Or, they could take the following stance: “The Venezuelan government will not be held hostage to the demands of fascists and meddling foreigners. We will not schedule elections while we under such threats.”

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  9. Excellent Post and commentary.
    …a very delicate and sensitive issue indeed. A high risks Game of Chicken for strikers and government alike, recordemos #elquesecansapierde!

    Chaivismo have played IMO a last card, to throw the county down hyperinflation patch, and down with daily devaluation slips in the hope of finally vanishing any real private industry wages and completing its population control plan: 3 million civil servants on payroll, and a growing impoverished rest!

    Their bet, all this electoral distractions and shenanigans, including hunger strike in subject, to hold and keep people interested and distracted a little while longer and by the time people realized their dire dependency on papa gobierno, and the salvage destruction of their patrimony and equity, it will be too late.

    I fear opposition leaders are focusing in the wrong strategy, its not about democratic transition, it is about resistance and a fight for survival. My opinion.

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  10. I admire these dissidents who are drawing a line, but neither the regime, nor the majority of people (who have tolerated years of economic mismanagement, corruption, lies, criminal behaviour at the highest levels and runaway violence in the streets), seem ready to be united and moved by a moral force.

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  11. “…and surely some of those less charitable in the opposition would criticize them for recklessly plunging into a situation where they were not willing to go all they way.”

    Like ramón josé medina slipped once, when talking to comedian José Briceño:

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  12. 34 people or so on Hunger strike now.

    Presumably, most of them will remain on strike after they announce the ridiculous “elections” date this week.
    They might release a few political prisoners, students, but certainly not Leopoldo. Ceballos will probably end up taken to the hospital, this week too.

    Considering LL is a triathlete, and probably gets Suero and other special liquids, he can last sveral more weeks without solid food, and they certainly won’t let him die in Ramo Verde.

    So my guess is that at least one of the 32 on hunger strike will die in a church or some remote location, a couple of weeks from now. Organ failures can happen without supervision, especially with some serious, unknown medical precondition. The Church, and the opposition will be all over it this time, not like when Brito died. Completely different circumstances.

    That first hunger-strike death, probably a student, will ignite lots of popular unrest and Int’l commotion, to say the least.

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  13. Nicholas, Diasdado, and perhaps hundreds of high ranking military officers should consider a hunger strike to lose weight and provide food for thousands of poor. Having them stand in line for 4 hours a day to buy food might help also.

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  14. Lopez is fucked.

    I have always had a difficult time understanding this man’s reason, but I do not doubt his intelligence nor his bravery.

    I thought giving himself in to the authorities was a boneheaded move.

    I think this hunger strike is boneheaded. Worst of all, I believe him to be the kind of person to follow it through to its bitter end, which will culminate in the passing of a born leader. Something that would only be convenient for the regime and a disaster for the opposition.

    Sometime, and I’m not sure when exactly, the regime decided that they had firm control of the levers of power, and are now divorced from normal political realities. What they do now is the same as any other dictatorship does, which is to give verbal deference to political institutions while actively denying their existence in deed.

    They don’t care about the blowback. They don’t care about fingerwagging from the international community. I think what they’re doing right now is just digging their heels and liquidating the country to fill their personal coffers and keep their muscle gainfully employed. Until when? Until their natural lifespan, I guess. Or until they can no longer leverage China for credit lines and Cuba for reinforcements. Or until they packed their bugout bags.

    Lopez to them is small potatoes. I am trying to figure out what exactly makes a Diodasdo Cabello or Nicolas Maduro nervous these days and I’m hard pressed to see what it is. They have nothing left to lose.

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  15. Ireland has a long tradition of hunger strikes as a tool of the powerless against the powerful, well before most recent examples (Bobby Sands, et al).

    In ancient Ireland, under Brehon law, those who lacked power protested against the more powerful by fasting on the other’s property in order to call attention to an injustice or to claim a debt owed. In fact, it was considered a duty to inflict punishment directly on the wrongdoer when all other possibilities had been exhausted. The power, and thus the responsibility, to end the fast rested on the wrongdoer. Thus, if he allowed the fasting to continue to death, the community would consider him to be at fault. The offender then was required to pay a debt to the dead man’s family and was shamed.

    In the Irish revolutionary period, hunger strikes were momentous as well. The death of Thomas Ashe in 1917 after vicious force feeding further galvanized the growing independence movement, while the release of hundreds of IRA prisoners on hunger strike in 1920 demoralized the British security forces in Ireland and ultimately led to the hunger strike death of Terrence MacSwiney, Mayor of Cork, later that year, as he was on hunger strike to protest his illegal arrest and jailing. He lasted 74 days, and his death sparked an increase in violence in the Irish War of Independence.

    “I am confident that my death will do more to smash the British Empire than my release.” -Terrence MacSwiney

    Regarding Venezuela, ‘moral blackmail’ only works when the other side cares about its public image. I think they are mostly but not entirely past that point, and may just let him/them die. It really depends on how much international press this gets, IMO, and how many other Latin countries get involved. Letting LL or others die may just signal a further point towards complete repression and dictatorship

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  16. I believe the hunger strikes, deaths or not, will accomplish little of substance. The largely- downscale poor Venezuelan population could care less, in their daily impoverished struggle for survival, queuing for scarce below-cost basic foodstuffs/medicenes, and dodging the everyday/night criminals in the streets, not to mention suffering 1-2 hours or more mostly public transport each way to/from work daily. Sure, the intl. media are appalled for the most part, but I doubt that mercantilist Panas Roussef/Kirchner/Correa/Morales/even Santos, et. al., will budge much, if at all. If Ghandi had lived in Venezuela under the current Regime, he would tragically have gone out like Brito, before accomplishing much….

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  17. The cost of repression for this government is low. and that in political science does nt mean that they will stop. No, They will do it more. Last year , what was the cost of the protests of students? A bunch of people in jail, or in jail, even 3 or 4 trying to commit suicide, one that achieved it (El aviador) So, in all the hisorical examples, those hunger strikes had a high cost for the governments.

    Nobody is knocking at Venezuela’s door, because we don’t have money to give away…For a lot less we have the chaos in 1989, and they were “reasons” for the attempted coups… We are not in the Gandhi era. people are just going around the city, or other cities trying to find food or medicines…take into account that in 16 years with these guys, how many could remember what was Venezuela before ,if we don’t have long term memory?

    la desesperanza aprendida ya esta en nosotros…

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    • “The cost of repression for this government is low”

      Actually, the cost of repression and general douchebaggery in the regime is several millions of dollars, which they have to spend in propaganda to sweep the dirt under the rug after they screwed up.

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      • “several millions of dollars”

        1. The entire propaganda program probably costs several hundreds of millions annually.

        2. And it is still cheap, considering what it buys them.

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        • It’s cheaper than investing in actual social infrastructure to improve the people’s quality of life.

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  18. I completely disagree with several posters here who diminish the impact these hunger strikes have already had, to begin with, which I detailed earlier.

    Plus the impact the first one of the 36 – and growing – people on strike to die will have. Nationally and Internationally, including the Church. This will be no easily forgotten Brito death. And, again, some of the desired effects of these widely publicized strikes have Already taken place, and will continue to damage the Regime’s battered image, The Hunger Strikes have already become a flagship, a fundamental component in past and future popular revolts, which will eventually be what knocks out this Dictatorship, not some useless “elections”. Leopoldo and company Know that. They’re not as dumb as many here think.

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    • Few here would write off Lopez as simple, or a hunger strike as trivial. The problem I see however, is that the regime is not an ordinary political actor. Ghandi had the British occupation, which was mostly about business and an endeavor which they could retreat easily from as a parliamentarian system accountable to an increasingly shocked British conscience.

      By contrast, In the case of Maduro and company, this is their last stand. They’re fully invested and there is no retreat. They’ve already borne a number of political costs and have dug in. What happens to Lopez at this point will have little repercussion to them.

      Nobody is going to invade Venezuela. Nobody is going to arm the opposition. There will be much condemnation — there already is — as the situation deteriorates. But it is at this point, impossible to uninstall this regime short of armed conflict. They will not leave on their own accord, nor will they be voted out of office. They already were, in fact.

      I admit, I fail to understand Leopoldo Lopez, and I don’t doubt he’s way ahead of most people when it comes to this stuff. But on the surface of things, a chess game is still a chess game. He’s sacrificing himself in some larger gambit that I just don’t see working to his advantage or the Venezuelan people. And he’s too young and talented to be cannon fodder. But this is what he signed himself up for.

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      • Absolutely right. And, as you said, Venezuelans have never been the British, much less this Regime–Moral indignation, what’s that?–Moral conscience, what’s that?–Quitate tu, para ponerme yo–no civic respect in general for the fellow citizen’s “rights” (what’s that?)–one sees this in the streets every day….

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        • We’re in agreement inasmuch as this strike is effecting awareness outside Venezuelan borders, and that is a good thing.

          The problem I cite however is that this regime is immune to international finger wagging, is fully committed to dominating Venezuelan civic life at all costs, and therefore does not care. They’re cornered, and to lose power means imprisonment or death at this point. As they currently are in full control, why would they risk weakening their position just to fend off temporary diplomatic pressure that would surely evaporate months after opposition leaders are gone and forgotten in world newspapers? And if they die, that’s too great a cost to pay for a little external pressure that will be fleeting in the long term.

          Another possibility is that the regime resorts to medically supervised force feeding. Which is is excruciating and in some cases fits the definition of torture in how it’s administrated. Bad as that is, my overriding concern is that Maduro actually wants them to die, so he can blandly deny direct responsibility for their lives, and does not care what the world might think about it.

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  19. Una cosa es la moral inglesa y otra la moral latina. Mientras Ghandi y Madela se enfrentaban al Imperio Ingles, sociedad que dio nacimiento al liberalismo clasico, tenemos a un régimen donde su presidente, Maduro, tiene como ídolo a Stalin.

    Nada bueno puede salir de allí.

    Aparte que la etiqueta de narcoestado obliga al regimen a quemar velas y restearse hasta el ultimo momento.
    El Papa pudo haber sido factor de negociación con la visita de Maduro, pero una vez cancelada esta, se cierra la única ventana que veía posible. Mi opinión.

    Lo siento por escribir esto en castellano y no en ingles como debería ser.

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  20. Sadly, I think the strikers are awfully misreading the country’s situation. Simply put, most people don’t care about them, mostly because of the media blackout, the strikers are yet to build a connection to the mainstream public. And you can’t make an impact in a country if you don’t have a national audience.

    The goverment have no need to negotiate nor make concessions, even in this massive crisis the opposition have nothing to use as leverage, we wield no power, guns nor money. The opposition is not leading the discontent, it is only just barely taking advantage of it, maybe if we win big in the election we might have just enough power to force them into a serious negotiations, hopefully better than the charades of the past.

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    • In fact there is no elegant way to end a hunger strike under chavismo.

      If you die, your efforts end in the dump. Martyrdom does NOT work for people other than comunists.

      If you retreat, you become a sissy in the eyes of everyone and that’s it.

      Leopoldo Lopes just fucked his political career with this nonsense.

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  21. What many of you fail to comprehend in that these hunger strikes have ALREADY accomplished much of what they are actually intended for.

    Leopoldo and most strikers know that the entire Petitorio will not be conceded. Of course not! They know the elections will be granted, but without all the International, objective supervision. They know a few political prisoners might be freed, but certainly not all, and certainly not Leopoldo or Ceballos. Or do you think they are not only stupid, but masochistic and suicidal?

    In the end there might be One student’s accidental death (organ failure, lack of medical supervision in some remote pueblo), not much more at all! It’s actually A LOT SAFER than to go on massive marchas de protesta, where gunfire could erupt. Yet, it almost as visible and effetive, when you have these hunger strikes everywhere in the country, all time.

    They are not doing this to the death! Why would they accept special sueros and medical attention then? Daily calls and visits from their wives and other people will ensure they don’t die. Yesterday a student fainted a few times, went straight to the hospital and ended the strike..

    The Desired effects of the hunger strikes are already happening, comprende? Of course they’re gonna write down a “Petitorio” demanded lots of things, but that’s not what they expect. The GOAL of the strikes is what is happening and happened the past 2 weeks. That’s the result right there, part of it at least, Cappicce?

    These strikes keep a sense of urgency, of unrest, discontent, crisis. THAT’s one of the important goals. Check.

    They enhance International Attention, Big time, Int’l condemnation of the Regime is at its highest since the strikes,
    Check.

    They have galvanized the MUD to some extent, with a sense of empathy, patriotism and a single goal : beat the Dictatorship.
    Check.

    They damaged the Regimes image even more, no one likes to see students on strike in the streets, unattended by the brutal regime. It has cause further animosity against Masburrismo, without a doubt.
    Check.

    It will speed-up the parlamentarias, which will probably be announced this week, not in July or September.
    Check.

    50 people on hunger strike today, and growing: also effective. You think housewives, mothers like to hear about all these young students protesting in hunger everywhere?
    Check

    Strikes are a complement of Massive Public Marches like the one on May 30. They keep the struggle alive. You can’t organize marches every week, but you can have the hunger strikes to keep the pressure on. Nationally and Internationally.
    Check

    Just open any web-page or news about Venezuela, on newspapers like Et Tiempo or El Nacional, still vastly disseminated nationwide, the Hulgas are always in the middle of everything, first page.
    Media Boost againt the Regime.
    Check.

    And people still say the hunger strikes are useless?! Some of you should be growing your own coffee, see if you wake up!

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  22. The regime must save face and not appear to give in to external pressures , they are too self proud for that , they must never appear weak !! its part of their cult of manly might , of megalomaniacal machismo. And yet they hate the effect it has on their reputiation , specially at a world level .

    Once read an account of how many times Brito was offered money , a return of at least part of his land if he would only give up his hunger strike , they went to him and privately apologized , but the man was too stubborn !!

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