frequently made that, but for Hugo Chávez, the Bolivarian project lacks
leaders. Yesterday the President himself explained that part of the
need for the proposed amendment, which would remove term limits for
elected officials, is that he is essential to the unity of the
revolution. Without him he suggested that there would be a
fragmentation within the revolutionary party, the PSUV, indicating a
clear lack of alternative leadership.
Many causes of this are
posited, among both supporters and adversaries of the Bolivarian
project, some credible, some incredible. They range from an effect of
the left's participatory ideology and a distrust of political parties,
stemming from the experiences of Punto Fijo democracy, to Chávez's unquenchable personal and paranoid thirst for power.
Yesterday however, I saw
what alternative leadership the PSUV has to offer first hand. In Merida
at about midday a violent confrontation between police and opposition
students began. The students claimed armed leftist student groups had
driven past the entrance to the campus and fired shots into the air
the day before, citing this as provocation.
At the height of this
confrontation a group of about 200 students came out of the university
gates throwing stones and hurling abuse at police officers who stood
their ground in full riot gear. When students began to physically
assault an officer the police responded heavily, opening fire with
their rubber pellet shotguns and hurling tear gas canisters.
In that moment something
extraordinary happened. The newly elected PSUV governor of Merida
state, Marcos Diaz Orellana appeared and ordered the police to retreat.
Alone he the walked to the students, braving a hail of stones which
struck him twice the governor made it to the students with his hands up
insisting that he speak with their leaders and negotiate an end to the
Surrounded by a throng
of about 100 students, half of whom still screaming abuse at him,
Marcos Diaz spoke directly to their representatives. "I myself was a
student here, the men of the police force with whom you are fighting
are family men with children in this same institution" he appealed.
After around 20 minutes students agreed to wait within the grounds of
the university (which legally the police are not allowed to enter)
while the Governor left to negotiate the disarmament of the leftist
groups known to reside in the radical urbanization Domingo Salazar.
Incredibly, walking up
to a policeman Marcos Diaz announced "I'll be needing your motor bike"
and after some brief problems starting it hopped on and shot off to
Domingo Salazar. There he spent two hours in closed negotiations with
students. Leaving to shouts of "Yes to the Amendment!" Marcos Diaz
assured me he had successfully negotiated the disarmament of the
I next found Marcos Diaz
again surrounded by over 100 students, though this time they stood in
silence listening to what the quietly spoken governor had to say. He
explained the outcome of his negotiations and the student protestors
dispersed promising no more violence "without provocation" from the
police or Domingo Salazar.
Though this is an uneasy
peace, and we are likely to see further rioting from students, the
courage shown by Marcos Diaz Orellana was extremely impressive. For an
elected representative to go, alone, to negotiate directly with
protestors in the midst of a violent confrontation with police is
practically unheard of. Of course leadership consists of more than
courage, yet Marcos Diaz also proved his skills of mediation in
bringing an end to yesterday's violence.
Whether these qualities
will be enough to prevent further violence on the streets of Merida is
unlikely, yet yesterday's events should give some hope to those looking
for other leaders within the Bolivarian movement. Given the uncertain
prospects of the amendment this issue seems more important than ever.