This letter gives an inside point of view of the current Venezuelan crisis. It was written by a cousin of Jorge Drexler (Uruguayan musician and Oscar winner) living in Venezuela to explain the situation to her family.
A letter from my Venezuelan cousin (daughter of political exiles from the Uruguayan dictatorship) in which she explains to the family the dire situation in Venezuela these days. I recommend reading it.
In recent days I saw a photograph of Latin American presidents in Cuba posing alongside Raul Castro. It was a curious image, to say the least: it showed several men and women who had spent half of their lives trying to convince their fellow citizens of them being the best option to rule their countries; fighting for their ideas –right or wrong; winning elections with a great deal of effort, now smiling side by side with the designated heir of the Cuban monarchy. I thought of Yoani Sánchez, as I always do when I see this kind of thing: I pictured her on the floor of a car getting kicked in the face the time she was taken away because she was writing a blog. And I wondered whether the barrage of blows would have felt differently if she knew that the one who would defend her tomorrow and condemn the henchmen of the regime was not, let’s say, a beast like George Bush. When I think about the Cubans I always end up saying the same thing to myself: alone, we left them alone.
What happened with the picture was before the protests began in Venezuela. Of course I was not going to protest, not because there aren’t more than enough reasons, but because it felt like a call to overthrow the government. Then, once again, a young woman from Tachira University was attacked by thugs in broad daylight and was about to become one more of tens of thousands of people killed every year in Venezuela (the figures are official), and young people said, ‘enough’. They came out and protested, misbehaved, burned tires, blockaded streets. Some of them were apprehended and sent, without trial, straight to a jail in Coro, one thousand kilometers away. In one of those displays of Venezuelan surrealism to which we have become accustomed lately, inmates made a violent protest saying those young guys could not be in that jail; there are only criminals here, they said; students should not be here.
That’s how it all began, and here in Merida that very afternoon students were protesting. And Leopoldo Lopez came out and called for a demonstration. I wasn’t going to go to that one either, I don’t like Leopoldo Lopez at all, even having common enemies, and I believe Henrique Capriles was quite right and courageous in asking people not to go and let their frustration loose aimlessly, risking the lives of the students. But as it turned out, the night before the demonstration the so called ‘collectives’ (pro-government civilian armies) came out with more force than ever. In Merida they call themselves Tupamaros. We all know them. They have motorbikes and ride in pairs. The one riding in the back carries the gun. They cover their faces. Most live in buildings that used to be student residences and where now police does not enter. They also have a, let’s say, ‘civil branch’, that takes part in elections. That evening they came out, busted the doors of a building were several of my friends live, and entered with their motorbikes. Shooting. Same thing happened in various other buildings were students that demonstrate frequently live. They rode around the city and police anti-riot vehicles known as ‘whales’ were following, supporting them. The same pattern has been repeated in these days of demonstrations across the country: those collectives are sent ahead, on their bikes, armed, and the National Guard comes behind. The thing is that I live here in Merida and I did not see that in a Twitter photo. I witnessed it.
That’s why I did go to the demonstration, dressed in white as everyone else. Not because I’m part of a conspiracy from the empire to overthrow Maduro, neither because a CIA pamphlet convinced me to stop being the daughter of a political exile from the Uruguayan dictatorship to become a fascist of the extreme right, to use the term our president uses to call us. I went, afraid because I do not like bullets, to tell those criminals on motorbikes that they do not own the city, it’s ours; that we can walk the streets whenever we want, that with their bikes and guns they cannot tell us were not to go. I went because if my father lived, he would have locked arms with me in support of the students. And it was beautiful, and we sang, and we were joined by the whole city in the largest demonstration seen up to that moment. I received a call from a friend, entrenched in her apartment: ‘tupas’ —Tupamaros*—are coming, and police protects them, and who is defending us.
Tupas. They didn’t choose that name by chance. They chose it knowing that there are many, too many, nostalgic intellectuals from the so called Latin American left, for whom the speech and the name means everything. You say ‘tupamaro’, and they think about those tortured under the Uruguayan dictatorship, not about the young guys that came out yesterday showing the wounds inflicted upon them by the National Guard when they were detained. These are the kind of people that when you say ‘guerrilla’, think about a handsome young man with a short beard and a black beret cap with a white star, not about an old Colombian drug trafficker with no scruples capable of even kidnapping children and make them fight in the jungle. They are the kind of people that think Chavez nationalized Venezuelan petroleum, but they never looked for the date. These are the kind of people that when you tell them Venezuelan opposition leaders have not been seen in Venezuelan national television for months because it has been forbidden, they say: ah, but. And you know that if tomorrow opposition leaders from their own country were banned from public view, they would be outraged. They would not like it if they learned a third of the ministers in their country were from the military, that officially there is no separation of political powers, that the head of the army swore the opposition would never win an election in this country, that the president of the National Electoral Board celebrates every year the anniversary of the coup d’etat Chavez tried to carry out, and let me stop there because the list is long.
There is a tragedy going on at this moment in the streets of Venezuela. It is not that there are riots and anti-riot police forces fire tear gases and someone dies, it is not that, unfortunately these things happen all over the world all the time. It’s because there are armed groups financed by the state, shooting and killing. And there is a total news blackout. Knowing that should be enough, it should be enough knowing that in Tachira the Internet was shut down and warplanes are flying over the cities, that cable channels that broadcast news were shut down, it should be enough knowing that journalists are being attacked, that there are dead students, for this left-winger intellectual to bring his eyes up from his zillionth edition of “Las venas abiertas de América Latina” (Open Veins of Latin America) and look around to discover this is the 21st century, the Berlin Wall fell, the boys from Sierra Maestra got old and now don’t let their grandchildren govern, or write a new newspaper, or leave their country, nor found a political party, or shout ‘down with the government’. That scarcity of bread, medicines, milk in Venezuela is not due to Obama conspiring against us all the time; that we are perfectly capable of ruining the economy of a country without the help of any imperialistic transnational company. People here think Latin American governments are saying nothing about the current atrocities because they have economic interests. I don’t think so, I think that it is because of the same reason they posed for that photograph: because they are live in the past century.
Yes, Maduro says I am an ultra-right violent fascist that’s part of an international conspiracy to overthrow his government. Let him say it. Tomorrow I’ll be back out with the young demanding the government to disarm those ‘collectives’, saying the streets are ours, remembering that young student who died with a bullet in the back of her neck, supporting that other girl who lost an eye. And I will come out with the exact same pride, innocence and joy that all Latin American students come out with when they shout ‘Long live the U, long live the University, death to the boo, death to the military boot’. And no, I won’t explain to nostalgic left-wingers what is going on, not will I show them the videos and swear they are real, or sit with them to discuss such fundamental things as the right to freedom of expression, because I am, we are, fed up. It’s there for all to see, look at it; look at us. I’m sure there will be (there are) many who understand, and that those will not leave us alone.
Translation by #InfoVnzla
*Note from the translator.