(Part I) A life cut in two half: My General Strike memories

Since I started writing this blog, I have always wanted to speak of my memories about the General Opposition Strike that happened while I was just starting my university studies (December 2002 till February of 2003).I wasn’t ready to tell those stories before; I didn’t know how to put in a logical order a great number of events that took place during those months. This was more than just a day of going to the streets for a political demonstration: during the whole strike our lives consisted in nothing less and nothing more than politics. We lived a surreal couple of months in our very own way.
I must add here that the people lived the strike, naturally, in many different ways. On this story you can probably find many realities and not all the people lived it in such an intense way as I did. Many, specially outside Caracas didn’t even feel it at all because the strike was strong but never completely general and in some places life went on as normal. Yet, many lived the strike in a much more intense way than I did.
The case that impress me the most it’s the one that a girl of my university told me once. She lives in a place called “Parque Central”, some giant residential building complex located in Caracas downtown, a place that was labeled as a “chavista place” (Ch├ívez supporters place) on those days. Her parents were so afraid that something bad happened to them that they bought loads of food before the strike and didn’t came out of the apartment (a tiny one) in two months. She and her sister used to go to the balcony to catch up a little bit of sun. And back inside to watch the horrible news.
But my case was just a little bit less extreme: My routine changed completely, I stopped going to the university since it was closed as well as many other places. With the oil shortage we were cursed to stay at home and the only thing that managed to get us outside our doors was, again, the political situation.
I don’t have much in the way of memories of Christmas that year, the general hope about the strike was to have a “Christmas without Chavez” and when December, 24 arrived, and we realized that Chavez was still in power and the situation kept going worse and worse, we didn’t feel like celebrating. Some shops opened specifically for those days and my family bought some stuff for my niece who was like 6 years old. I think she still realized the reality of the world she was growing up into, no matter how many presents my family could gave her in order to make her feel like everything was normal. And New Years Eve consisted on gathering on a highway to celebrate and keep the general mood of the “strike fighting”. Ironically, I remember that New Years Eve as the best as I ever spent.
I even had one of my very first romances during the strike. I think that short “love story” can give the reader an idea of how the life was like during those days. We didn’t meet in a party or by sharing a class at the university; we meet at a “citizen’s assembly” in a park near to my house. His dad worked for the state oil company and joined the strike and he was very worried about it. Our first date didn’t consist on going to the movies and dinner; it was basically to attend to another political demonstration taken by hand. Not even love could develop outside the overwhelming politics sphere. Indeed, the strike not only consisted on going to some place to make a political demonstration: it knocked on our doors in a way I thought no possible.
And when the fight started to decrease, and the hopes were dying as they have died so many times; the strike had no choice but coming to an end, because we couldn’t continue fighting, it was too much, and didn’t made sense anymore. We were tired.
After a major signature event asking for a recall against Chavez, in the beginning of February of 2003 (those first signatures were all rejected by the Electoral Venezuelan authorities, and that recall only could took place after the third time the opposition tried to pick up the signs, one year and some months later; but that’s part of another story), we woke up and saw all the shops opened for the first time in a little bit more than a couple of months.
We heard of rumors of many business being closed forever, but almost none of them were true. I remember being afraid after hearing the rumor of the closing of “Chip and Cookie”, I think it’s a Venezuelan franchise even with the English name and I shallowly love those cookies. A few friends and I took a walk through a mall near home to see nothing beyond ordinary: the shops with the doors opened, including “Chip and Cookie”. But that day, that stupid detail was something extraordinary for us.
A minute later I was ready to go back to the university, I had missed terrible the university but couldn’t really study a thing during the strike, as it was impossible to focus and the idea of suddenly coming back to class after everything we went through, when we lost many due dates of papers and exams, put me on some space in limbo. But as the professor begin his lecture on the first class after two months and some days; the emergency of putting the strength to restore my life took hold of me.
I quickly saw the faces of all my classmates. How did they change so much? Almost the same way people changes after summer vacations. Their faces were filled with a hundred stories. One of the guys was sad: he lost his girlfriend. The girl’s parents decided to move to the US in the middle of the mess and confusion of the strike and never return. Many others were frightened: their parents or relatives had joined the strike and now they were facing a life of unexpected economical difficulties since Chavez fired every single employee from the oil company who joined the strike.
And another friend from the university told me, in the middle of jokes: “I think, from this day forward, that my life can be easily divided in two parts: before the strike and after the strike”. He was right, even if we don’t talk much about the strike as we used to do, when the events were much more recent. My life it’s still cut in half and it is now, when I’m ready to tell the things, in detail, that I remember from those “scissors” events.