With Chvez Gone, What Do His Young Opponents Want Now? (+Video)

By Fieser, Ezra | The Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

With Chvez Gone, What Do His Young Opponents Want Now? (+Video)


Fieser, Ezra, The Christian Science Monitor


Weeks before Hugo Chvez died, while he was holed up in a Cuban hospital with details of his condition unknown to the public, youth protesters chained themselves together in front of Cubas embassy here, demanding answers.

The people deserved to know what was happening, says Vanessa Eisig, a 21-year-old communications student who participated in the February protest. We thought we could raise attention by doing it in front of the Cuban embassy.

Two days later, the government released photos showing Chvez sitting up in his hospital bed, flanked by his two daughters and reading the Cuban daily Granma. The public would not see Chvez, who died Tuesday, again until his body was displayed at a Caracas military academy.

Whether or not the protests helped push the government to release the photo (some have suggested the influence they exerted was minimal), the demonstrations underscored the important role youth play in Venezuelas beleaguered opposition. The groups are filled with young people raised in a Venezuela in which Chvez was the defining figure. Many came from families who fled the country or whose businesses or lands were expropriated as part of Chvez's so- called 21st-century socialist revolution.

These are the sons and daughters of the opposition, says Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan-American professor at Pomona College in California who largely defends Chvez's record. They are not the typical Latin American student movement.

'We just want freedom'

The youth movements of Latin Americas yesteryear were largely born in public universities in opposition to right-wing dictatorships. Members of these Venezuelan groups may come from different backgrounds graduates of private schools and members of well-off families but they say their goal is similar.

We just want freedom here, says Julio Cesar Rivas Castillo, the controversial leader of one of the main youth groups, United Active Youth of Venezuela [known by its Spanish acronym JAVU]. We want economic freedom. We want free elections. We want a free press.

In their push to reform the system, Chvez was always enemy No. 1. Even as the president lay on his deathbed earlier this month, the group called a protest.

In the heat of Venezuelas summer, they chained themselves together in front of a Supreme Court office in Caracas.

All we want to know is if Chvez can govern. If not, we want new elections, Gabriel Boscan, 23, a law student, said at the time. Not only the president is sick, the country is sick. There are serious problems that need to be solved: crime, food shortages, and the economy. We can't be without a president for longer."

Their protests were later buttressed by throngs of disenchanted middle-class Venezuelans who marched in the street last Sunday.

Two days later, the government announced Chvez's death.

Nobody in Venezuela believes Chvez died when they said he died, Mr. Rivas says. I think the demonstrations put pressure on them to come out and say it.

A youth praised and vilified

To his supporters, Rivas is a courageous youth leader willing to use whatever passive methods he can to challenge a repressive Venezuelan government.

The government and Chvistas, however, think hes a violent militant, a CIA operative, and a pawn of the US in its attempt to discredit and even overthrow the Chvez government. …

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