(Part I) The non lucky ones: episodes from the White Hands movement

I had a huge fight with my best friend yesterday. The first one we ever had, I think, in our five years of friendship. We attended to the university early in the morning and sat at the auditorium to hear another Student’s Assembly (since one week ago, instead of class, we are part of a student movement demanding the president to respect civil rights and especially the freedom of their citizens)After the student leaders talked about several recent events related to the movement; they exposed the plans for that day: another demonstration, this time to the Supreme Court. My friend and I left the assembly just a few minutes after, and sat on a bench to talk and decided whether to go or not to that demonstration.

And while we were doing that, some old and not so old fears came out in our conversation.

The day of the RCTV closure(about a week and a day ago) we met with a few other friends at a demonstration the opposition planned to protest against the measure. I raised my eyes to look and noticed a few people making signs to us from a bridge just over the demonstration – “Something’s not right” – I thought and from one minute to another, the protesters around me started running in different directions, in a way that the crowd almost could ran over you. My friends and I just walked a little, then one of them gave us all a little bit of toothpaste to put inside the eyes and the nose; just in case it was a tear gas bomb, this will calm the effects of the gas. But we don’t sense the smell – “It was probably just water, dropped from the police truck” – He said. Then we heard two or three shots and we recognized the smell immediately: it must had been tear gas bombs.

For me its time to run, but my best friend would not agree: “If the others are staying, why we shouldn’t stay as well?”- I tell her that my leg hurts a little and in case of a major danger, I’m afraid I won’t be able to run so much, so we better run and hide now. But she wants to look for some other friends here and there and I find myself in a desperate situation. My best friend is insisting to just stay in the middle of street while tear gas bombs are being dropped and I can’t convince her otherwise. A minute later we see a police line that we didn’t know where it came from, moving against us with their shields. It’s kind of weird, since we are not at the end of the demonstration which was the government’s communication office: CONATEL but near by some mall at the beginning of that street. “So why are the policeman attacking on that side too?” – I asked to my friends. But we don’t have time to discuss it now, and another friend and me take my best friend’s arm and force her to run with us and get inside a hotel lobby (first place we luckily found to hide), and prohibited her to go out to the demonstration.

She calls her family and tries to find the way to come back home. We are even afraid to let her and her sister come back to her place just like that. She lives in an area considered as a “Chavista” one (Chavez supporters place). Although I’m not sure that it’s actually a “Chavista” place anymore, it’s certainly dangerous especially counting the fact that the night of the RCTV closure is just starting and there’s policeman, soldiers, and probably Chavez supporters armed hanging around with their motorcycles everywhere. She insists, we argued a little and then she just turns the corner and leaves. I looked at another friend, we were visible frustrated. She came back home safe, as the matter of fact, our other common friend and I came back home much later than when she did and we probably exposed ourselves to a bigger risk; even counting that we live in an safer area than hers.

A few hours later everyone is at home, with tears in our eyes, as the last minutes of the first TV channel are approaching and what’s even more important: our freedom of speech is officially dying. The signal stops at 12:00 am after the National Anthem has been sung by the crew of RCTV. The logo of TVES, the new TV government’s sponsored channel turns around the scream. My mom turns off the TV and hugs my dad and the alarms, used as a new way of protest, just sound everywhere. The news or the rumors we can hear talks about riots everywhere. I cannot stop thinking that in a free country I would be still with my best friends protesting at the street until the RCTV signal stops instead of crying at home. Actually, in a free country, I could still turn on the TV and watch the RCTV journalist criticize the government anytime I want to. But, “get down off that cloud, girl”: this is not a free country anymore.

Next morning, it is Monday again: May, 28th of 2007. But not just another Monday: the students are not attending to class as they used to. Instead, they are filling the biggest auditorium of the university in order to attend to an unusual and brand new “Asamblea de Estudiantes” (“Students assembly”). Soon, they will be ready to attend to several street peaceful demonstrations and they will repeat the same equation all week long.

On the road, they will change their goals from just protesting against RCTV closure to ask for freedom, pure and general. They are soon going to realize that they are not part of any political party and they have a different agenda from the one the current opposition haves. They are a political movement but above all they are a civil rights movement. In the road they will meet with an even stronger police repression: illegal detentions, tear gas bombs and cartridge pellets that will force them to paint their hands with white painting as a request for peace. Soon, they will be called "el movimiento de las manos blancas" (the “white hands movement”) and the movement will spread from universities in Caracas to universities all over the country: private and public, poor and rich, bad called “Chavistas” and “non-Chavistas” institutions and even high schools.

My best friend gets quickly involved with the movement and religiously attends to every single assembly and every single demonstration. But life has other plans for me: my sister has a terrible pain and she cannot wait any longer: my nephew is born the same day that freedom of speech dies. And while I see all my friends protesting, running, and giving speeches on TV, I stay in the hospital part envious, part scared, part excited and divided between my family and my desperate need to join the movement. You cannot be on two places at the same time and I feel that my family needs me more at the moment. My best friend is running of the tear gas while I’m holding in my arms a new member of my family.