assassination of three labour leaders belonging to the largely pro-PSUV UNT, Richard Gallardo, Luis Hernandez and Carlos Requena
on November the 27th has been placed in context by analysis articles
as the spreading rural political violence to urbanised forms
targeting labour leaders and social workers, perpetrated by an opposition
coming off the back of some significant electoral gains
and flush with foreign funding.
What has not been discussed is the emotional response of leftists against such
crimes. Westerners are ill equipped to understand this
response because the violence we normally encounter, such as knife crime
in the UK, is fundamentally different. As such though we may meet the violence
in our societies with denial, acceptance, or positive activism none of these
capture the dynamic of resistance found among Venezuelan leftists in relation
to the current wave of political violence.
Over the last few months once or twice a week I have
attended the meetings of a group of leftists in Merida. Normally boisterous
affairs where the oldest laugh the loudest the group prides itself on being
active, working in the community rather than "hablando paja" (talking
rubbish). It has about 80 members divided equally between genders.
Tonight began as usual. We sat round the long wooden
table and fought to offer our seats to anyone who would take them. The
formidable moderator asks if there is any business left over from the last
meeting, no one responds, collectively we then create the agenda for this
We start by creating a committee to assess appointments
to the local government, positions no one wants until someone foolishly
suggests that those who he considers "active members" should make it
up. The discussion ironically decends into questions of senority in a group
that is ideologically opposed to hierarchy. This kind of behaviour is unusual,
people are on edge. Before discussion becomes too heated the moderator steps in
an calls a vote on candidates, this is completed and then the power cuts out as
if in disapproval.
lights come back on almost immediately extinguishing the soft glow of 20 mobile
phones as rapidly as they had appeared; this is not an altogether infrequent
occurrence. We move to the second article on the agenda; a man reads an
interview given by an English professor to the Venezuelan media. The silence is
complete. He finishes reading and we enter a heated but friendly discussion.
we arrive at the third article on the agenda. Laughter stops, smiles fade. We
begin a lengthy discussion of political killings and counter revolutionary
violence. "How do we know it is political?" one old man asks, "I
don't see any of the opposition dead in the street".
are not new to violence, either from the state which massacred many
impoverished Venezuelans in the 1989 Caracazo, or in society – homicide rates
have risen disturbingly since the beginning of the Bolivarian process.
In this context, sadly, one can be sure that there are a number of the
opposition dead in the street.
then this is not the violence the old man refers to. The attitudes to the
rising homicide rate in Venezuela are very similar to those I've found in
England in relation to knife crime. All are agreed that it is a terrible thing,
that it is an indicator of the much talked of "moral decay" of
Yet what strikes fear into us in relation to these statistics is that they seem
arbitrary. There is something horrifying in the idea of randomness when talking
of knife crime or homicide. The idea that a normal person waiting outside a
club in Bristol one cold night could be stabbed is frighteningly close to us in
the UK, just the other side of the statistic.
understand the response of Venezuelan leftists we must recognise that political
violence is a response to political activism. I
believe that every leftist of the group works because they believe that their
work is just. Whether they really choose to work is a large philosophical
question, but that they feel to do so is not. Thus these people feel
they choose to put themselves in danger for something they believe is
Yet people in England also feel that they choose to
go to a club late one Saturday night, it becomes a justified risk one takes to
enjoy oneself which of course one tries to take precautions against. It is in
this sense like crossing the road, taking this risk of being in the wrong place
at the wrong time. Knife crime also appears similar in that it is as
morally condemnable as are political killings, fault should not be
attributed to its victims, and we are as obligated to fight
against the one in society as the other.
Yet Richard Gallardo, Luis Hern├бndez and Carlos
Requena were not killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
They were killed for their political actions by people opposed to those
actions. It is only when we understand this dynamic and its emotional
implications that we can understand why the smiles faded, and what replaced
Going out in the face of frightening statistics may be
considered an act of resistance, this is a mistake.
Such actions can only be a form of denial or acceptance of the risk because in
themselves they do not challenge the existence of knife crime or the intentions
of its perpetrators. The perpetrators of knife crime do not consciously oppose
the idea of enjoying oneself on a night out. Continuing activism in the face of
political violence however is exactly what is opposed by the perpetrators of
that violence, in addition it can also potentially challenge the
perpetrators themselves and thus the existence of the violence. Such
activism thus transforms into resistance in two dynamics.
What does this mean in the Venezuelan context? The
violence is aimed at curbing unionism, thus continuing unionism is an immediate
and direct form of resistance. Yet also we should understand that Leftists in
Venezuela widely view "the oligarchy" as the enemy to be defeated to
bring equality, development, and true democracy to their country. This same
oligarchy is perceived as the force behind the murders in Aragua. Given the empowerment
of unions is hoped to strike a blow against the power of the oligarchy unionism
becomes doubly an act of resistance. Not only does it resist its repression,
but it seeks to end this repression by undermining its perpetrators.
Understanding responses as resistance rather than reaction is key to the
psychology of conflict in Venezuela, and creates hope of a response that is
morally bound rather than a brute expression of rage.
Though in England we may despair at knife crime, and the
best of us may organise to fight against it, knowledge of neither response
enables us to understand the emotional impact of political violence. Thus to my
surprise when the smiles faded, among clear signs of fear and anger, the grim
certainty of a ready group of people appeared. The group I attend is not
directly confronting repression targeted against it, but by seeking to change
society and challenge the oligarchy its mentality is also that of
resistance in the face of political violence. This second dynamic
by which activism transforms changes the emotional context for activists
generally to one of resistance, though only some of them directly
encounter repression. One man told us how his daughter, the assistant to a
PSUV governor had had to relocate after receiving death threats. She now works
as an assistant to a different PSUV governor. This story of resistance was
received by leftist activists themselves not under threat, it strengthened
their resolve to revolutionise society as by doing this they also hope to end the