EspañolA few days ago, a young man in Venezuela — the sort that is in the streets protesting almost every day — wrote a message across his shirt that read: “If the price for liberty is my life, I’ll pay!” This phrase, which could not be more explicit, is a clear example of the attitude, thoughts, and will of those who over the last two months have risked their lives protesting the government of Nicolás Maduro — the designated heir to Chávez, now in power for over a year after having won a disputed and controversial election.
The core of the movement is its student protesters, but it would be a mistake to think that they are the only ones out in the streets. There are thousands of people who support them and provide them with everything they need to keep fighting. They actively protest the empty shelves, and at any moment will disrupt traffic by taking to the streets in massive organized marches. There are people protesting in the capital, in the interior, in plazas, and other places that lend themselves to the struggle.
The reason barricades are not erected in poorer neighborhoods is not because the people support the so-called revolution as the government contends. In many of these neighborhoods, there are organized cells of people who, armed and on motorbikes, act as Maduro’s most effective weapon by continuing to brutally repress all dissent.
It has been said in the media that these protests are motivated by the shortage of basic consumer goods throughout the country and runaway inflation that far exceeds the official figures. It is also frequently said that citizens demand better security and an end to paramilitary groups that roam the city at night causing death and destruction. While this all undoubtedly true, there is something far greater that motivates the protesters. Lives are not being risked so bravely and relentlessly simply because supermarkets are not able to get rice and milk.
In reality, the majority in the streets do not appear to seek dialogue, or specific concessions or measures from the government that address a given problem. What they want is the resignation of Maduro, the liberation of all political prisoners, and a complete change of government. In other words, with now nearly 40 dead, people continue to risk their lives to achieve a regime change, since the current government does not offer a future for its youth beyond the desolate landscape visible in Cuba after years of revolution.
It is at this point that demonstrators separate from the leadership and spokesmen of the opposition. Most of these leaders look to sit at the negotiating table with Maduro and his representatives, expecting international pressure, but without demanding the resignation of the current government. The problem is the opposition has already gone down this road before. In 2002, the democratic coordinator negotiated with the regime for months and managed to hold a recall referendum and multiple elections, always with frustrating results. Chávez managed to manipulate the electoral authority in such a way that he was able to win every key vote. Today, Maduro simply mimics these same tactics. It is no wonder that he was able to win the election last year by just over a single percentage point.
The opposition leadership continue to trust in the next election, as far off as they are currently. However, the people in the streets know, intuitively, that whether the rigging is by 1 percent or 1,000 votes, whatever the figure may be, those who currently hold power will never abandon it peacefully. Why would they? It would be far too dangerous for them to hand over power peacefully, since their corruption, violations of human rights, and abuse of power would not be overlooked by a new government.
Maduro rules by dictatorship, supported by an ample supply of men and arms, and will not abandon power no matter how many millions beg. With the exception of perhaps two or three, the leaders of the opposition, like María Corina Machado, persist with messages and positions of conciliation, accustomed as they are to living within the limits of a socialist regime.
Can the protesters, on their own, destroy the remnants of Chavismo? Will they find new leaders who faithfully express their intentions? We cannot know the answers to this with certainly yet, of course, but it seems — as of this writing — that Venezuela finds itself in a dead end and will continue to produce more detained, injured, and dead.
“Socialism or death,” is a phrase used by Chavistas. It now takes on a disgracefully tragic meaning as it continues to claim the lives of Venezuelans today.