Tales of Resistance: Hits and Misses

In her latest column, Jessica Dos Santos takes us through her experience of some of the major political turning points in recent Venezuelan history.

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Jessica Dos Santos contrasts the political earthquakes from 30 years ago and those of today. (Venezuelanalysis)
Jessica Dos Santos contrasts the political earthquakes from 30 years ago and those of today. (Venezuelanalysis)
By Jessica Dos Santos - Venezuelanalysis.com
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“Attack is only one half of the art of boxing” Georges Carpentier

On February 27, 1989 [Caracazo uprising], my mother was four months pregnant, a foreign woman some years into living in a turbulent Caracas, surrounded by factories where she would sow for hours on end in exchange for a few bolivars.

On February 4, 1992 [Chávez’s failed military uprising], I was still short of my third birthday. A few months later, on November 27 [another attempted military uprising], I was already three. From my birth to my early childhood, Venezuela was shaped by the political earthquakes that broke its history in two.

On the eve of my teenage years this rupture finally materialized: Chávez got out of prison, assumed his responsibility in a country where nobody ever did and was elected president. Then, on April 11, 2002, a few months before my 13th birthday, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie orchestrated a coup against this controversial figure my parents talked about day and night.

At the time, I lived a few blocks away from Miraflores Presidential Palace. My mother urged me to step away from the windows, my dad looked for movies to entertain me. Both seemed used to this Caribbean country full of unexpected turns of events. My brother vanished into the only computer we had, while I tried to make sense of everything. But I still had a ways to go.

What I remember most vividly is Chávez’s return [upon defeating the coup], seeing him holding the crucifix, and then the comments from the classmates in this middle class school I attended with a scholarship. Even more forceful were the comments from the Catholic clergy in charge of the institution, who felt this religious image was a serious offense.

It is no surprise then that young Venezuelans grew up surrounded by politics: either hating it or becoming full time militants, with nothing in between. After that, now fully grown up, I remember some episodes that shook the country, like the closure of RCTV [right-wing TV station which played a role in the 2002 coup] just as I began studying journalism at the Central University of Venezuela. At this moment, just like nowadays, the country split between those of us who wanted to engage in real debate over what was going on, those who shared half-baked thoughts, and those who just wanted to shout without listening to anybody.

As young as I was, those were complex times, where a misplaced argument could cost me a course, the semester, my career, my education as a whole, and the professors set the final exam as “joining the protest” against the government. It was the old system screaming at us: “This is how it works. Get in line or face the consequences.”

Being a Chavista was somewhat akin to being an idiot in this context. Academia said it loud, clear and often: “if you’re a chavista, you don’t deserve to be here.” In some cases, even those with more developed political leanings, or with leftist family traditions, came to question everything. But such are the trials of youth, I imagine.

Later, in professional environments, detractors tried to convince us that we stood here or there for “a slice of the cake,” for money, etc. Nevertheless, the years went by, some things changed, and others became clear through different lenses. After living through the 2017 guarimbas [violent street protests], many of us got to see the true and brutal face of those who allowed themselves to be bought for a fistful of dollars and betray the rebellious history of their country.

Nevertheless, closer to the present, the political moves have become ever more pathetic, especially compared to their predecessors 30 years ago. On January 23, 2019, Guaido proclaimed himself in a plaza where I’d been just a couple of hours before. He anointed himself “interim president” just like that, while the actual president watched his self-proclamation on a flatscreen in the only presidential palace there is in Venezuela.

A few months later, on April 30, I had already left the house when a neighbor told me that Leopoldo López, central figure from the 2002 coup and the 2014 guarimbas, “had been freed” and “a coup was underway.” I turned on the TV and there they were, Leopoldo and Guaidó staring into the horizon, looking as neat as ever next to some boxes of green plantains and soldiers who later claimed they didn’t know what they were getting into. On the other side of town, Diosdado Cabello and other Chavista leaders looked to have complete control of the situation.

Fast forward one year, a mercenary incursion again threatened the country’s stability. We found out about it from the seized vehicles, the arrests, those who were shot, a gringo revealing his leading role in an operation for which he had yet to be paid, with deserting soldiers who lived through hunger while they trained in Colombia and felt seasick all the way to Venezuela. After months of tireless training they were detained by Venezuelan fishermen in a few hours.

That is how low the historical movements have stooped in recent years. It all sounds really, really silly. But, amidst these developments that provide plenty of fuel for the blossoming meme industry that exists in Venezuela, the true aggression goes on undeterred. Venezuelan assets, which belong to everyone, continue being stolen, sanctions continue to be imposed, threatening our peace, creating chaos amidst a country with severe shortages that is trying to tackle the coronavirus pandemic as best it can.

It sounds silly, but not even the basic rules of engagement are honored, including in these less than serious (coup) attempts. Even so, in these struggles, attack is only one half of the strategy. The government has long known this, the opposition not so much. Meanwhile, we carry on, in this country where fireworks startle us and we are always on the edge of our seats, navigating between underestimating situations and paranoia, in a weird and constant uneasiness, knowing that we can be surprised at any moment (in good or bad way).

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig'Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018) and a university professor. She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.