While others focus their attention to the 11th, 12th and 13th, I think that’s too narrow. Thinking back, it’s the time between 7th and the 14th of that month that comes to mind. Sunday to Sunday.
Those eight days were the most complicated in our country’s recent history. From the moment Hugo Chavez blew the whistle and fired some PDVSA executives, he set off an uncontrollable chain of events, ending somehow with the same man holding a cross and asking for forgiveness.
What I remember is me and my family glued to the TV in our living room. Hour after hour, just watching things unfold. We hardly went out of the house, only to buy groceries. We were continually stressed and nervous. Sometimes frightened. Common sense and logical thought went right out. Our lives were dominated by emotions: joy, anger, surprise, sadness and disbelief. Our relatives in other cities were just like us.
The 9th and 10th were days of escalation, not just in Caracas but also in Barquisimeto. On Wednesday night I went to Lions’ Square (usual rallying point for the opposition in the eastern part of the city). It was full of people: waving flags, making loud sounds. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I only saw anything like that once before in my lifetime: In 1991, when the Cardinals (our local baseball club) won the championship for the first time.
When I saw the scale of the crowd in PDVSA-Chuao on the TV screen, my jaw just dropped. Then came the news: Miraflores was their destination. Knowing that Chavismo was already out guarding the presidential palace, we were filled with uncertainty. Hours later, our worst fears came true. That Thursday night was expected to be long, so we stayed up till dawn. Lots of coffee.
Friday morning. The first page of El Impulso, our local newspaper had two simple words: “Cayó Chávez” (Chávez has fallen). Apparently the military forced him out of office, but the idea of handing the presidency to Pedro Carmona struck us as weird. Why not apply the constitution and give power to the Vice-President or the head of the Assembly?
Something was fishy. It didn’t take long to figure out why.
Watching the reading of Decree # 1 was, hands down, one of the most surreal experiences I ever had. It was so wrong on so many levels, but the content and the reactions of the audience cheering made it fascinating to watch. I was alone then and I couldn’t believe it.
The return of Chavez to power seemed inevitable to me from that point. The way it developed was undeniably powerful. The image that has stayed with me longest is one of a Chavista attacking RCTV with a hammer, smashing the windows. The violence of that single action scares me even today.
By noon of the 14th, we were exhausted. I know for sure we weren’t the only ones.
Ten years on, it feels like that week has never ended. Venezuela hasn’t really moved on. Why? In part because there hasn’t been any serious attempt for the sides in conflict to find closure. The government insists on promoting that time as something it wasn’t while the dissident movement continues to struggle with itself to figure it out what really happened: did they fall or were they pushed?
At the same time, it’s undeniable that the memory of those days will keep haunting us. That week marked us. We’re no longer the same as individuals or as a nation. Every nation has to deal with those kind of turning points: Germany dealt with the war, the division and reunification. The U.S. dealt with the Cold War, Watergate and 9/11. Every country has their share of events that don’t just shake them, but actually redefine them.
The events of April 2002 are a wound that still hasn’t healed. Looks like that wound won’t be take care of in the near future, at least. The Truth Commission that was agreed years ago is just wishful thinking. Ordinary justice has left almost all related cases in the dark, with some small exceptions used more as an political inquisition that a real attempt at justice.
Instead, the events of April have become our version of the JFK assassination. Books, TV programs and websites share all kinds of ideas and conspiracy theories. Some particular works have been helpful in clarify what happened then, like the The Silence and The Scorpion. However, one book can never be enough. Sooner or later, justice must be done. The responsibles must be held accountable and the victims must be given proper reparations.
Sometimes I wonder what would happened if things ended up differently: If Chavez had just negotiated a compromise before the April 11th march took place? If the military had obeyed the orders of implement the Plan Avila? If the Constitutional procedures for a peaceful transfer of power were used? Or what if General Raul Baduel endorsed Carmona’s decree and allowed him to rule? I can only imagine it…
I know many of us are burned out by all the self-reflection, but I think it’s still important to remember and reflected upon what happened 10 years ago. Why? Because it shows us how close we were to fighting each other and reminds us that, in important ways, we’re still on the brink. Some of what makes the best and worst of us came out in that brief period of time. The final chapter of this story is still unwritten.
Someday, the time of closure will arrive and Venezuela will finally move on. But we can not forget. No matter how it hurts, we just can’t forget.