It was a year since Chavez had died. The opposition violence had started around 3 weeks ago, with blockades set up right outside our barrio, at the main intersection on our side heading to work, and along most of the main roads. They threatened people, often at gun point, if you tried to go past, and around the country had already killed quite a few. Some blockades had wire or sharp stuff to make it dangerous or fatal to motorists trying to get through. There were effigies of Chavistas hanging by the neck from the bridge further down near the market, and there were caceroles – pan bashing, at night. If you didn’t participate, as I didn’t, and were in the street going somewhere, you got verbally harassed, “Chavezista, piece of shit, get out of here, fuck off,” they said. Already, a whole family of dear friends had been beaten up for trying to clean up rubbish dumped outside the hostel. Another friend had been threatened with rape as she walked three hours to work, because the road there was unaccessible. Merida, one of the most beautiful, tranquil, green little cities in the world, was turned into a rubbish dump. It looked like a war zone, with burnt piles of rubbish, burnt tires, ripped up fences, burnt out buses, smashed in and burnt public buildings everywhere. Many shops were closed out of fear of reprisal for opening. Essential things like flour and gas couldn’t get into the city or couldn’t get to the communities. People couldn’t get to hospital, school, work. I lived near a main intersection and there were major blockades on either side of it. The violence was stressful, and feeling trapped provoked an anxiety that saw us all on edge.
But people were marching for peace every week and the youth were holding cultural events in the plaza. The anniversary of Chavez’s death I had to march. I don’t remember the long round about walk to Plaza Milla. I do remember the end of the march, when they fired gun shots marking the hour he died. People still crying, still mourning a year on. Also, people still organizing – their form, our form of resistance to the violence. I don’t really know how so many people managed to get to the march, with no public transport because the opposition was burning buses that dared to run, with all the fear just of being in the street. Now, over a year later, with the inflation, the scarcity of some products, the continued spurts of violence and attacks on people’s basic human rights – people are still organizing. On Wednesday my dear communal council was meeting, trying to work out ways to get the private gas companies to actually bring gas. “We keep going, we’re not demotivated because we understand these attacks,” E told me on the phone.
Bolivar Plaza, where the march ended, was downhill from my place, so it was easier to walk there than to walk back, and tired, with a lot of work to do, I decided to get a motortaxi home. It was hot that day and I was wearing a dress. When the man dropped me off in my barrio, I forgot about the exhaust pipe, got off on the right hand side, and it touched my bare leg. The second degree burn was the size of my palm. It stung, I ran it under the cold shower for half an hour. It did its thing – went all bubbly, liquidy, pink. My doctor mate told me what cream to use to prevent infection, but like many things, the chemists didn’t have any. So I used aloe vera from a plant in the house and changed the dressing regularly.
The next scar happened perhaps a week or more later. My partner had dared to adventure out of the barrio to try to find bread. When he came back, the opposition people in the barrio had set the entrance on fire. The national guard had arrived in armoured tanks, and was trying to clear the entrance. Rocks were being thrown, people were shouting, rubber bullets were fired. My partner took photos, and the soldiers put him in the back of their van together with some of the young men who had been violent. People from the community came and told me my “husband” had been arrested (if you live together you must be married…). They made wild claims that he would be beaten up and all sorts of things. I knew he wouldn’t be – I’d worked with the national guard in my previous community – they’d helped us set up community chess matches and dancing and music. They helped our community with most things we needed, and after a month of violence by then, much of it directed at them – much of it classist and racist as the guardia tend to be poorer people, Chavista – they almost never responded. They stayed peaceful, in stark contrast to US police for example, who murder innocent Black people and migrants near the borders. Still, the barracks were far away and I wanted to make sure my partner would be alright, and he would also need some ID. So I went out to the nearest intersection and got another motortaxi.
It was a long hard ride. The day before a motorbike rider had been killed when he rode through a barricade with wire across it and the wire partially decapitated him. There were barricades in most streets – some manned and some not, andthe mototaxi driver went down street after street, trying to get through, but had to turn back. I wanted him to slow down at the barricades because I was scared of wire. I also still had my first burn, it was raw and bandaged, and this time I told myself repeatedly to get off on the left side, because I didn’t want to burn the burn. I even pinched my left hand to remind myself. But when we got to the barracks, all I could think about was what to say to the soldiers at the main, huge gate, so that I could see my partner, and about asking the mototaxi driver to wait while I talked to them, as there was no public transport back. So I got off on the right side again, my lower leg bare because my tights were rolled up above the bandage. Luckily though this second exhaust pipe burn was smaller, and below the first.
Inside the barracks, of course it was nothing like the opposition fantasize. We were given lunch. We played pool, and watched TV. In first aid, a woman kindly dressed both my wounds. A top dude (I don’t know the ranks) told us all about the opposition media campaign. We talked to their press person and Ryan gave them his photos. He was friendly, and I was moved by how politically knowledgeable all the soldiers were. The two young men were given food too, and despite the violence they had been part of perpetuating on our community, were not treated badly, as the opposition claimed. The soldiers took us and the two men back in an armoured tank. When we goto the community entrance, the opposition people, being the drama queens that they are, walked towards the tank with their arms in the air yelling “peace!’ and demanding to talk to the head army dude, demanding the national guards withdraw. They bombarded my partner with questions – “Were you beaten? What did they want? What did they do to you?”
The question really is, what is this violent sector of the opposition doing to the people of Venezuela, the people they pretend to care about? Why does the international community (Amnesty, HRW, rightwing governments) turn a blind eye to their ongoing human rights abuses? Why are the leaders of this violence made out to be heroes by the US mainstream media and by HRW and Amnesty? Is it perhaps because our endurance and organzational ability, the committment of the poor in Venezuela to their own dignity and right to be heard, threatens their privileges?