I thought that I would die without living and knowing a revolution. I came late to the Cuban Revolution, since I was born a few years after it. I witnessed the ephemeral triumph and then the drowning in blood and fire, by the government of Ronald Reagan and his “contras,” of the Sandinista Revolution. I had wanted, like John Reed, to be in the middle of the explosion of the great revolutions.
But life gives at times, and at other times takes away. For many Latin Americans, it has been more of the latter than the former. Our history has been plagued by slavery, hunger, misery, submission, humiliation, servitude, genocide, massacre, theft, invasion, torture, forced disappearance, forced relocation, and exile. But courage, civil disobedience, dignity, resistance, and revolution have also marked our history too.
Taking a social, economic, and political X-ray of our countries reveals almost identical results. We suffer the same pathology: small, corrupt, racism, and murderous oligarchies, for sale to the highest bidder; who have a monopoly over the means of communication, national corporations, education, and banks. They are owners — and appropriators — of a large percentage of the land. Foreign diplomatic posts are the springboards by which their friends and families can study abroad at the expense of the public budget and taxes on the poorest classes. They can count on the unrestricted support of the Catholic Church and Christian groups.
They don’t have a cultural identity, as all they can imagine in their lives is living, and the way people live, in Miami. So they aren’t interested in protecting their natural resources or the sovereignty of their countries. They generally have the police and the military at their side. They speak of democracy and freedom only when their own interests aren’t at stake. But when they see a challenge to their power, they immediately send out the hounds to eliminate any chance of their political rivals’ success (a clear example was the Patriotic Union, a Colombian political left party, which members were murdered and few survivors forced to the exile). And the assassins of the Establishments do not act alone. Historically, they have been backed by various American administrations and corporations . . . always ready to help them with invasions or through covert operations.
But once in Caracas…
Caracas is a city of contrasts. The middle class is white and wealthy, its abundance offensive to the sight when contrasted to the misery of the millions of poor who live in the hills surrounding the city.
On February 27, 1989…
The economic package introduced by the Venezuelan government on February 18, 1983, as mandated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, had placed the country under very strained socioeconomic conditions devaluating the Bolívar. Limiting the availability of essential goods in order to raise prices had been the first provocation for the popular outburst. Social dissatisfaction had been escalating since this day. Rising transportation costs and the disregarding of the “student discount” further inflamed tensions in the country. No one could get water, milk, or meat in the slums. The glass of tolerance shattered. The hills erupted like volcanoes.
Thousands and thousands of people (children, the elderly, women, men, and youth) begin to descend like lava, destroying everything they found in their way. The first attacks were against public transportation vehicles; few escaped being overturned and burned. Then come outbursts against the commercial places; milk, meat, eggs, water, and bread are taken from the storerooms of the big supermarket chains and raised up as proof of what is being hidden from the people. The radio initially reports these developments in Guarenas (state of Miranda) and Caracas(sections of Guaricao, near El Nuevo Circo and La Guaira). Then five minutes later, they report the same things happening in other parts of the country, like Maracay, Valencia, Barquisimeto, Mérida and Ciudad Guyana. Later, the report said: all Venezuela is burning!
President Carlos Andrés Pérez ordered the National Guard and the army to restrain the people. Several military men refused to fulfill the order(obeying a principle of Simón Bolívar that says: “A military man never lifts his weapon against his own people”). A few initiated the massacre. The victims were brought down by bullets, clutching cheese, milk, eggs, water, or bread in their hands. According to COFAVIC, the missing and dead number in the thousands. The Organization of American States (OAS); the main Venezuelan political parties (Democratic Action and COPEI); the mass media of the United States, Colombia, and Venezuela; the U.S. Department of State; and Human Rights Watch maintained a sepulchral silence. (Today, they continue to find mass graves of dozens reported as missing, as in the case of 68 corpses discovered in an area called “The Plague”).
This repression and massacre against hungry, unarmed people offends the honor and infuriates Bolivarianos in the military. On February 4, 1992, a group of military men, commanded by Colonel Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías and proclaiming the social and military principles of Simón Bolívar, rebelled against the Venezuelan establishment. The insurrection failed and Colonel Chávez was caught.
But there were many Bolivarianos in the military. In December of that same year, another group initiates an insurrection and is also taken prisoner. But they had another group waiting for a third opportunity. This group was who with the Venezuelan people, saved the constitutional order in April 13 of 2002. It was the group of general Baduel.
The military and the Venezuelan people understood that their goals were the same. And that the only way to achieve another kind of Venezuela is through the democratic route, under these Bolivarian ideals and with a charismatic leader – Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías.
You already know what happened later.
Finally the pendulum’s law are in our side. A side that conceive the economy for the service of the human being but not the human being for service of the economy, as you can see the world today. Because we can not speak about democracy and freedom without Social Justice. Social Justice it is the real problem in America.
Latin America has turned left and said enough! It’s no longer the backyard of United States. The time of the empire has gone! Another way is possible.
Translated by Lisle Merriman for Toward Freedom