While reading the facebook status of a fellow Venezuelan who is also living the intense events unfolding in Venezuela from afar, her words of encouragement to those Venezuelans who have the hard – but virtuous and honourable – duty to defy the dictatorship stuck in my mind: IT SMELLS LIKE LIBERTY
The story behind the photo:
On 19-Apr-2017, during the first day of citizen demonstrations against the government of Nicolás Maduro, the police and national guard repressed the peaceful march with tear gas at the Francisco Fajardo highway, which runs parallel to the Guaire river. This river is Caracas raw sewage, as it receives all of the city’s untreated waste water.
Some desperate citizens were overwhelmed by asphyxia and saw no other option than crossing this filthy river to escape the gases. None of this was being aired on broadcast TV, where the channels were running routine programming.
However, the Twitter account of the ruling party in Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV for its Spanish initials) ran this callous meme. In the photo, you can see people walking across the raw sewage while still being attacked by tear gas. The caption plays on the Bible verse of Mark 12:17 and reads:
to God what is God’s
to Caesar what is Caesar’s
to the Guaire (river) was is the Guaire’s
This meme was re-tweeted by the official twitter account of President Nicolás Maduro.
And here’s an excerpt from the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1999)
Article 68. The citizens have the right to demonstrate, peacefully and without weapons, without any requirements beyond those established by the law.
The use of firearms and toxic substances is forbidden in the control of peaceful demonstrations is forbidden. The law will regulate the actions of the police and security bodies in the control of public order.
The sense of smell is for me a very emotional sense, which evokes feelings – and in that moment it played a trick on me: I could perceive a slight and sweet smell, like when someone at a distance is baking a cake. And then I asked myself, why do I, ever sceptical, felt that slight but sweet smell of freedom? And what did other historic events from the past smell like?
As I took account of what Venezuela has lived through since I came to reason, I couldn’t remember any other event more intense and overwhelming as what is unfolding today since the 27th of February of 1989. At that tragic time, I remember how at the age of 15 I learned the meaning of terms like “curfew” and “bill of rights” – what my civics professor could never teach me in the classroom. I also recall how the explosion of outrage from a large sector of society caught me and many other middle-class Venezuelans by surprise. The emotion that comes to mind from that time, or rather the smell, is of a flatulence*.
A big flatulence/mess that was caused by the implementation of some drastic (and perhaps necessary) economic measures that were the consequence of the shameless management of public finances by the hands of the very people who dared implement these measures. A big mess that was very righteous for the sector of society that revolted, but which sadly served for a band of infamous criminals and traitors to fish in the murky waters of hope, so they would take advantage of the very people that protested for a true injustice. Those same criminals who 3 years later attempted a coup. Those that would change history in the 1998 elections. Those same thugs who today repress with arrogance, cowardice and callousness not a minority, but an ENTIRE NATION. Those who smell like blood, gunpowder and shit.
But there’s one thing I can thank these criminals of the narco-Chavista government for: for teaching me the smell of Liberty!
It smells like a cake in which every Venezuelan has added a grain of sugar, flour, chocolate and, yes, lots of balls. Because if these thugs hadn’t done their job of destroying everything, even fear, so perfectly, I would have never believed that there are still Venezuelans today who are heirs of that fateful 19th of April of 1810. When 207 years ago the people of Caracas were facing a Goliath without knowing if they would achieve the dream of liberty – but willing to risk it all. I ask myself if one of those Venezuelans from the past also smelled the sweet cake of liberty. That which they baked with lots of fire and without tiring, without stopping the resistance.
*In Venezuelan slang, the word “peo” means flatulence, but it’s also used to imply a big problem/mess/havoc.
*Recommended further reading to see how Venezuela got here: Venezuela, the country that should have been so rich but ended up this poor.
Featured image: Naked student armed with a bible at the protests. He was repeatedly shot in the back with buckshot (plastic pellets from a 12 gauge shotgun). Source: Politica
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