Student Movements and Moving Students

Twenty-four
years have passed since my feet first touched Venezuelan soil. Recently as I watched a group of students
march in a protest against the current government, I realized that they have none of the
memories that I have of the years of supposed "democracy" before the arrival of
the government led by Hugo Chávez in 1999.

By Charles Hardy
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Twenty-four
years have passed since my feet first touched Venezuelan soil. Recently as I watched a
group of students march in a protest against the current government, I realized
that they were not even born when I arrived here. More importantly, they have
none of the memories that I have of the years of supposed "democracy" before
the arrival of the government led by Hugo Chávez in 1999.

My collage
of memories from those years would include: looking at the bodies of naked dead
youths strewn on the floor of a hospital morgue because there was no place
else to put them; sleeping in a cemetery as an act of solidarity while
sixty-eight bodies in garbage bags were being exhumed from a pit the government
denied existed; watching helicopters pass overhead and hoping that no
protesting students would be shot that day; wondering what the newspaper
journalists wanted to share on the blank spaces that had been censored; raising
my hands in the air as I and the people of my neighborhood faced a soldier with
his automatic weapon aimed at us; having the police raid my barrio shack when I
was meeting with other clergy from the area; defecating on a newspaper on the
floor because the barrio had no running water or sewers; staring at children
with bloatedstomachs full of parasites. The list could go on and on.

In recent
years, Venezuelan university students have become probably the most significant
opposition force in Venezuela. The old political parties have lost almost all
credibility and the new ones have been mostly centered around their founders.
The reporting of the private mass media is questioned by the majority of the
people. In my opinion however, the students unfortunately have been manipulated
by leaders of these parties and by those who control the private media.

An example
might be the student who was never politically involved in any cause. One day in
2007, he arrived at his university and observed a protest because the
government was not renewing the license of a private television channel. He
said he became aware that day that freedom of expression was being threatened in
Venezuela and so he became involved with the other students in rejecting the
government's action.

In 2002, the
television station he decided to defend had encouraged people to overthrow the legitimately
elected government. When it was overthrown the channel celebrated the event and
was proud of its collaboration in the overthrow. Had such happened in the
United States, the channel would have been taken off the air immediately.
However, in Venezuela, the station was permitted to continue for five years until
its license expired in 2007. In some ways, it seems incredible that anyone
would run to the defense of this station and its multi-millionaire owner. But
they did, especially the students.

To me, it
would have been a more sensible idea for the students to march so that the government
would give them the channel for their own use rather than fighting for the
rights of a multi-millionaire to have control over a part of the public
airwaves for another twenty years. In the end, the channel became a public
service station. But the multi-millionaires' station is able to continue
broadcasting through cable.

The
successful gathering of people for these demonstrations put the students in the forefront
for organizing protest marches against constitutional reforms that President
Chávez was proposing. But when people got up to speak at such events the
podiums were dominated by the old time politicians and not by the students.

It is good
to see young people becoming involved in political concerns. At the same time I am a bit
frightened by the possibility of them being manipulated. They are more
knowledgeable than older people in using the Internet and therefore have a
great deal of power.

The
Internet has definitely opened the lines of communication. But it has also
opened the
possibilities for abuse. When Colombia crossed international borders and bombed
in Ecuador,
there was a call through the Internet for people to attend a concert for peace.
The concert was to be held on the Colombian-Venezuelan border. It should have
been on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. Yes, there was concern in Venezuela
because of the violation of sovereign rights of another nation. And Venezuela had
a right to be concerned because it also shares a border with Colombia. As a
result it did send additional troops to its borders. However, the call for the
concert on the Colombian- Venezuelan
border diverted attention from what Colombia had done and made Venezuela look like
an aggressor.

I believe
that the Internet plus student movements will equal one of the most important factors in
determining many decisions in which way our world will go. But as Superman
Clark Kent was told, with great power comes great responsibility. That's where
I think programs such as the one from Evergreen College that concentrated on
what has been happening in Venezuela in recent years are of extreme importance for
the future of our world. In their months of study in Olympia and the several
weeks that many of the students spent in Venezuela, they were exposed to a
variety of views that will be helpful to them in evaluating U.S. relations not only
with Venezuela but with the whole world. The skills that they have developed
should have opened their minds to seeing the multiple factors that enter into
what shapes our opinions. That would include the influence of the mass media, the
wealthy, and the powerful. The wealthy and powerful are not the majority in the
world and it is a small group of individuals that decides what is
presented through the mass media. That is why it is so important that the
Evergreen students were able to mingle with ordinary Venezuelan citizens.

I extend
my congratulations to the students and their families, to their professors Anne
Fischel and Peter Bohmer, and to the Evergreen State College. May more people
and institutions follow your example.

Charles Hardy is a native of
Cheyenne, Wyoming and a columnist for Narco News. He has more than 20 years of
experience as an international correspondent in Venezuela. He recently met with
a group of students from Evergreen State College who spent three months
studying in Venezuela. This article appeared in a book that the group wrote
collectively about their experience. Hardy's book Cowboy in Caracas: A North
American's Memoir of Venezuela's Democratic Revolution
and other essays by
Hardy can be found on his personal blog, www.cowboyincaracas.com and http://www.cowboyincaracas.com/ . You may write him at
[email protected].

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