It’s now been five weeks since the protest in San Cristóbal that set off Venezuela’s latest revolt. Time to take stock.
Outside the Andean states, protests remain largely confined to the better-off areas of the larger cities. Are there exceptions here and there? Certainly. But they’re just that: exceptions. The sites of ongoing unrest remain solidly concentrated in the middle class enclaves of the bigger cities, i.e., precisely where the government wants them.
Large, peaceful daytime demonstrations are followed every night by running battles around makeshift barricades, or guarimbas. This night-time ritual of improvised road-blocks, burning garbage, plastic pellets, tear gas and armed bikers in plain clothes involves many fewer people than the daytime protests. And yet, inevitably, the guarimba has come to define the current protest movement, giving it its flavor, its distinctiveness, its identity.
The peaceful daytime marches have broad public support, but only when they’re seen as demanding redress for failures of government rather than agitating for regime change. In the country at large, support for a coup is practically non-existent.
For the communicational hegemon, it’s easy to disappear the large, day-time protests and paint the entire movement as the outcome of a tiny, violent guarimbero clique.
The cabin fever of the guarimba has given the protest movement a blinkered, inward looking, tribal flavor that guarantees its failure. The radical fringe that runs it is entirely indifferent to the need to reach out to the politically unaffiliated people the opposition needs to win over to really challenge the government. To this minuscule but determined hard core Robert Alonso is a master tactician, and Reinaldo Dos Santos is illuminated.
With its image increasingly defined by its least appealing members, it’s little surprise that the protest movement has failed to build meaningful alliances outside the opposition base. People in working class neighborhoods, whether urbanizaciones populares or barrios, see the protest movement as something alien, different, not about them, not by people like them and certainly not for people like them. (Yes, there are exceptions, but again, they’re only that: exceptions.) People in the towns and villages see nothing at all, because a concerted blackout has disappeared the peaceful side of the protests from the TV and the radio. (Yes, there are exceptions, but again, they’re only that: exceptions.)
The guarimbification of the protest movement fits neatly into long-established government propaganda lines. For years, the government has sought to brand all dissidents as power-mad fascists willing to burn down the country to turn the clock back on the revolution. Over five weeks, a minuscule radical fringe has systematically gone about confirming every aspect of that attack. And the mainline political opposition has proven totally unable to call rein in its wingnuts.
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