(Part III) A life cut in two half: The political work I made during those days

In the middle of the madness of the strike, people started to wonder what to do since the days kept passing by and no one could see an end. And this way of living wasn’t bearable for anyone.No one ever thought that the strike would last that long. There was a lot of hope in the environment. Hope that I deeply now, when no one sees a way out, a different Venezuela. When the strike on December 2002 started, people believed that it was just a matter of a few days before we could see Chávez desperate because of the situation and asking for ways of negotiation in order to finish those protests. Those tactics, eventually, could guarantee his way out, since that was the wish (we used to believe) of the majority of Venezuelans. Invite to negotiations was the thing to expect of any normal democratic president, or any man with democratic principles at least; but for me Chavez is neither. He knew that the strike wasn’t as general as we wanted (although it was pretty strong for many) and that sooner or later since after all we are not warriors but common human people with things to do and needs, we were going to get tired of that. So the days kept passing by and the repressive events such as the one I told about on the previous entry kept repeating. And then, the people started talking about other ways to “get out of Chavez”. The word “referendo” (Recall) was heard seriously perhaps for the first time as a possible way out of that terrible situation.
Months before the strike, on the days after April 11, a pro-government teacher at school told us “I honestly think the people of the opposition haven’t read the constitution. Stop protesting on the streets and pick up signatures and use the recall figure present in the Constitution. Did any of you guys saw anyone at any of the protest of April or the ones that followed picking up signatures?” – We all answered “No” in a sad chorus with our heads down, we all thought that she was right, that the “Chavista” teacher that we couldn’t stand sometimes, beat us with that argument and won.
When, during the strike, the people started talking about a possible recall, I noticed that we needed people to work in order to pick up the signatures. I quickly reached to the conclusion that just going to political demonstrations wasn’t enough, and so I talked to my mom about the possibility of working in politics more seriously: – “Perhaps I should join the Citizen’s assembly” – I told her. “No!” – She argued – “If you are going to work in politics, the way to do it’s through a party” – “But politics party these days…” – “If they are not good enough, then make them good enough. Without political parties, there’s no democracy”.
Therefore, she invited me to an assembly of the party she was involved at that time “There’s a youth group there. You might like it”. I went there and in fact I quickly made friends of the members of the youth group of a new party called “Primero Justicia” (In English: “Justice first”). Years later I resign from that party for reasons I might explain on some other entry. But that day I strongly believed that I was supposed to work there for many years to come. I filled a form, they explained me how the party was founded and that it was called like that because they belief that justice was a primary condition to build a respectable democracy. The party was identified with the right wing, but as an 18 year old girl filled with illusions of change, and since I did not see the blue color anywhere; I never knew or never worried me about the ideology of that party, and since then, belonging to an ideology has been far from being my concern. As long as they give me a space to work on that goal of putting Chavez out of power and learn about politics in the end, I did not cared about the rest.
But the party wasn’t the only organization I joined. I also attend the Citizen’s Assembly (Asamblea de Ciudadanos) that gathered once or twice a week in my neighborhood during the strike and once a week after the strike. My mom did not argue about this decision and I was the only one of my family who attended. I think they consider it as a waste of time, and only good for people who had nothing else to do. But I knew that was the beginning of something important and as a future thinker (cause I didn’t had more than a few months of university) I had to see it.
The Asamblea de Ciudadanos consisted on a group of neighbors who reunite in a circle in a park for discussing the most recent political events and ideas, planning safety strategies in case the neighborhood was in danger during those days of confusion (people feared attacks of Chavistas, I heard that happened in other neighbors but I couldn’t be sure of that since it didn’t happen in mine, we were only attacked by the military as I mentioned on the previous entry).
On some days, some politicians were invited to talk to the Asamblea and we (since I was not only an spectator but I talked to the organization team and got very involved) kept the track of the neighbors who assisted. Some days, we could even count a hundred, and some other days we stayed waiting for the people.
So, during the last month of the strike, my days were filled with an intense political activity that passed beyond the mass demonstrations and the “cacerolazo” (events that I kept attending as well): A lot of meetings, discussions, plans, and so on from both the party: “Primero Justicia” and the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos”. But the conflicts between two groups soon made me felt like I was swimming in the middle of two rivers. My mom was right. Most of the people at the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos” used to call themselves “Anti – Políticos” (Against politics or against politicians, works both ways). They saw the struggle against Chavez as a struggle for values, family, a better country and so on and for them “politics” meant “politics party”, or even so “old bad politics party and corrupt politicians”.
Since the “old politics party” were “bad”, then “all politics party are bad”. Then, even considering that what they were doing at the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos” was clearly political, using that word was implicitly prohibited and that bothered me since the very first day. As a classmate and a good friend of mine once wrote “la política no puede ser algo que se haga ni con asquito ni con grima” (bad translation because I can’t make it literal: “the politics can’t be something done with repugnance nor disgust”).
So as a result of this “politics disease”, I couldn’t show up in the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos” with lets say, a yellow t-shirt of “Primero Justicia”. And the disagreements between the parties and the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos” are quite obvious now for the reader. So more often than not I felt like working with both god and devil, but since I was interested on working, I tried to forget the disagreements between one and another and focused on the things that we were doing. And I succeed, at least for a while.
We originally thought on the posibility of finish the strike with a "referendo consultivo" (consultive recall) on February 3rd, of 2003. But the CNE (Electoral organism) didn’t allow such activity, if I’m not mistaken that was the first time that this - not so respectable for me - institution, refused a few signatures for whatever reasons. So the day of the “referendo consultivo” changed its title to “firmazo” (from “firma”, Spanish word for “signature”). And a big pick-up signature event was carefully planned and organized, for some odd reason by the “Citizens Asambly” under the standards of a non profit organization called “Súmate” (which recently has been accused of receiving US money, and their executive board has been judged, I think, with no other serious argument than being against the government), instead of being the parties the ones in charge. This was probably because most of the people just hated the idea of being identified with a political party, that, as I have been showing, it is a big mistake. Or maybe it happened because the parties didn't work enough on that side, who knows.
In my neighborhood the “firmazo” took place in a shopping mall, with the shops obviously still closed so for me was a weird place to do it: the feeling of going to a shopping mall not for buying stuff but for putting a signature that might be the seed to put an end of this madness. I got up early in the morning of February 3rd, 2003. A lady from the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos” gave some kind of ID with the three colors triangle which makes the logo of “Súmate”. My job was quite simple: to organize a special area of the mall dedicated to the old people and people with disabilities. A few others from the youth group of the “Asamblea de Ciudadanos” were commanded to go in bikes with the forms in order to pick up signatures in hospitals, retirement homes and so on.
I was amazed to see all those old people faces, some could barely walk or hold their pens so the process of picking up the signatures was incredible slow and the rest had to wait for some hours even, gently smiling at me and the rest of the volunteers. I miss the feeling in the air that day, the people signing with no fear, strongly believing that they could make a change. After two months of protest, violence, lack of gasoline and food, no Christmas, no normal life; they were smiling.
They didn’t suspect even for a moment the disgrace that came afterwards. They never knew that signing a form asking for a recall could mean for many to lose their jobs, or not being able to get one, or even had to leave the country or don’t have access to certain public service (since the signatures were quickly distributed everywhere, and you can still find them on the net under the name of “Lista de Tascón”). They thought that Chavez was going to be part of a terrible short nightmare in the history of our country, leaving without time enough to make possible such a terrible political discrimination.
How naïve we were back then!
PS: The image is a picture of the "ID" I used the day of the "Firmazo" next to a small pin with the logo of "Primero Justicia"