Thirty-one years have passed since the popular anti-neoliberal uprising of February 27, 1989, known as the] Caracazo (1).
To fully understand the impact of this important date, we must define the “political generations” which have lived since.
Three generations have observed the historic moment with different perspectives based on their age. The first is the generation which made the Caracazo happen and today is comprised of people over 42-years-old. Then comes the generation of the children of the Caracazo, which was the one that experienced the electoral triumph of Chavez [in 1998] and the events of [the short-lived coup d’état of] April 2002, and can be defined as the generation of the rise of Chavismo. This generation is today comprised of people between the ages of 28 and 42. Finally, there is the generation of the children of the Chavistas, who are now between 15 and 28 and whose reading of the Caracazo is very different from both the generation that produced the event (that of their grandparents) and that of the rise of Chavismo (that of their parents).
It should be remembered that 44.8 percent of the Venezuelan population is under 24 years of age. Over half the population did not live when the Caracazo happened, but more than 55 percent are not of an age to remember what happened because they were under five-years-old at the time.
Those whom we call the generation of the children of the Chavistas (regardless of their political stance) are those universally called Generation Z or post-millennials, having been born between 1995 and 2005.
Today, this generation is coming of age in a period of economic crisis and conceptual and cultural change. They are different from other generations as they were born, regardless of their economic status, during a paradigm shift like that experienced by no previous generation. For example, unlike the previous generations, this generation has no empathy for TV, radio or newspaper, which they label as "analogue" and "dysfunctional." For them, the cell phone is the "privileged source" of political and cultural messages, and they “naturalise” the internet: they can't imagine a world in which it doesn't exist.
Those of the post-millennial generation connect migration and social networking, receiving daily messages from friends and family from their neighbourhood, high school or university who live experiences abroad which are similar to those of other immigrants from other countries, especially from Latin America. As members of virtual communities, Generation Z prioritises these messages which they exchange with their peers and close family. All of this greatly affects the popular sectors from where Chavismo emerged.
But in politics, Generation Z has also shown notable differences with previous generations. They were not born, or were very young, when the 2002 coup happened (a core event for Chavismo), and the only references they have to it are formal, state-enshrined ones.
Protocol is the way in which the establishment absorbs the meaning of the event and turns it into part of an "automatic discursive repertoire" whose formality is diametrically opposed, in spirit and staging, to the uprising that shattered all pre-established historical molds. If February 27 broke the mold , formalisation is the way in which a “savage and iconoclastic” historical event can be reappropriated. Such protocolar remembrance "kills" the event by making it boring, grey and senile when it was originally violent, irrational and violated elementary norms. They turn it into an "official history" rather than "historical memory.”
While the generation of one’s grandparents participated in the Caracazo and that of one’s parents produced Chavismo, Generation Z had to deal with the death of Chavez as a foundational event.
However, they have also witnessed, in some cases actively, an "elite rebellion" (guarimbas) and an exclusively repressive and uncultured official response [in 2014 and 2017]. What they have not seen are “overflowing masses.” Politics does not appear to this generation as a “popular upsurge” that “takes power” like the previous two generations, but rather as the struggle of political minorities that monopolise boring national TV. That is, they look at the political diatribe from outside.
They experienced, and some were part of, the guarimbas from a radical, "anti-political" standpoint that could not be channelled by the opposition’s political leadership, against whom this generation rebelled at the first opportunity. In the same way, they have rebelled against the "Chavista establishment" by discarding the discourse functional to the only governing elite that they can remember. Generation Z knows no power players other than those currently in government and the opposition.
The idea of “leaving Venezuela” has gripped their imagination in a shocking way. While emigration is a growing trend throughout the popular sectors, it has been most unbridled in this generation, who receive daily messages from their peers and, as such, are in direct contact with other realities.
Although they are young people raised in Chavista families who attended public primary and high schools and who benefited from many food, educational and health programs, they do not share the imagination of the generation of the rise of Chavismo. What they lived through was the death of Chavez.This must be rigorously analysed as the founding milestone of this generation’s political life.
Despite no government policy being geared towards young people’s political education , Generation Z emerged more anti-political than apathetic. Many may call them "traitors," others got into guarimbas, plenty have already left the country but will return with worldly knowledge, so it remains a paradigmatic generation.
Their territorial shift abroad and their political shift towards abstentionism are causing the ageing of the country and of the political leadership, the state and the mid-level and low-rankig officials who may govern the social fabric for decades to come. This suggests the formation of a geriatrocacy, which in Venezuela means power resting in those who are more than 60years-old and belong to 20 percent of the population, occupying the peak of the population pyramid.
In this sense, today’s young people and adolescents see the Caracazo, or the [failed coup d’état in 1992 on] February 4, as formal rituals similar to February 12 [Youth Day] or March 5 [commemoration of Chavez’s death]. They see it as a day without any real meaning unless it's a national holiday, which in this example is not the case.
If the Caracazo generation watched Venevisión and RCTV TV channels, the next generation was committed to breaking the TV feed with computers and video games. But cell phones were still analogue.
This new generation was digitised and emerged, with Facebook being the great stage for its symbolic shift. On Facebook, almost no one will talk about the Caracazo, and what they say has an impact only on their small networks of friends. If the Revolution will not be televised, as the documentary of April 13, 2002 was called, we can say that the Caracazo will not go viral, despite all of the political leadership commemorating it in the most formal way via Twitter.
If salsa music was the soundtrack of the Caracazo’s looting, and reguetón was that of Chavismo, it is national and international trap music which defines the Venezuelan post-millennials. If past generations could identify with [satire TV program which ran from 1959-2010] Radio Rochela and [hit soap series of 1992-4] Por Estas Calles, this one prefers the humour of Instagram and cable TV series.
In the days after the Caracazo, a sign at a newsstand read "TV with typewriter for sale." The looters didn't know they were taking a computer because it was an artefact of the next generation. If a smartphone had been found during the looting, it would probably have been destroyed as an instrument of police intelligence. They were definitely not Generation Z.
(1) The Caracazo, was a popular uprising led by the poorest sectors of society in the slums around Caracas. Sparked by sharp price hikes, especially in food and public services, and the cumulative impact of IMF-imposed neoliberal policies, the uprising saw thousands come onto the streets in protest, with many lootings taking place. The Caracazo was met by sharp repression, including torture and live rounds being fired from the police and military. The final death toll is still unknown, but figures suggest it was as high as 3,000. It is widely considered a key building block in the popular consciousness which led to Chavez’s electoral victory in 1998 and is commemorated by Chavista forces every year.
Sixto Garcia Urbaneja is a writer at left-wing portal Supuesto Negado.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.