Fabiola Santiago

Venezuelans define courage for the rest of us. They don’t just chant, they show up. | Opinion

The shots ring in my ears as if I were in Caracas, not Miami, as three live video scenes run simultaneously on my computer on this epic day in Venezuela’s history.

“¡Libertad! ¡Libertad! ¡Libertad!” a woman screams with all her might out her window as she captures from a high-rise a take down between military officers on a stretch of highway below.

Guardia Nacional Bolivariana vs. Guardia Nacional Bolivariana.

Hard to tell who’s who from here, but this is clear: The battle lines are failed chavismo vs. a democratic future.

As of this writing, there’s no telling what side is winning — Juan Guaidó, the declared interim president who displayed an impressive show of military support Tuesday or the fraudulently reelected, Constitution-dismantling Nicolás Maduro.

But the people of Venezuela can claim a victory on this April 30, hash-tagged for posterity as #30ABr on Twitter.

They’re the definition of courage.

They’re proof that freedom is fought and won at home, not in the political debris of exile.

From the white-haired woman clinging to an arm to steady herself in the crowd to the throngs of young people who aren’t going to sit idly by while their country goes hungry and spiraling downward, Venezuelans are showing how it’s done.

You show up.

You demonstrate to the world your disgust.

You corral the tyrant with your truth.

You have no weapons but your word, your bravery against their tanks, their machine guns and their lies.

Venezuela is giving the rest of us what we forfeited by leaving Cuba in wave after wave: a place on the stage where the future is decided. As Venezuelan exiles are learning today, Miami is only a front seat ticket for those who left the theater of war.

The scene at home, however, is scary, life-breaking, chaotic.

I’m seeing people getting shot and mowed down by an armored military truck. But still Venezuelans persist, picking up the injured and returning to the battlefield of the streets.

How very brave they are, how consistent they’ve been in the defense of the Constitution the Maduro regime thought it could just trample on and erase, 1960s Cuba-style, and move on. If the Venezuelans didn’t act now, they would surely end up where Cubans are: with a regime that just repeated, 60 years later, another constitutional revision that imposes enduring repression and one-party rule camouflaged as reform.

The Castros knew exactly how to manipulate the people of Cuba — and still do.

The Venezuelans read the script and didn’t like it.

Maduro underestimated the people of Venezuela — and the power of the Internet to keep them informed and connected to the world despite his expulsion of journalists and his crackdown on independent media. In the middle of the uprising, he ordered CNN and the BBC disconnected from cable because information equals power.

And, as we also saw on Tuesday, Maduro also misjudged the support of the military — and the firm, audacious and strategic leadership of Juan Guaidó, who appeared at the military air base La Carlota alongside opposition leader Leopoldo López.

Jailed by Maduro, López tweeted that he was released by members of the military who support a return to constitutional order and stand behind Guaidó.

“Everyone mobilize,” he urged. “It’s time to conquer freedom. Force and faith.”

But by late afternoon, Chile’s foreign minister tweeted that López and his wife, Lilian Tintori, and their daughter had taken “residence” in the Chilean embassy in Caracas, an indication that their lives were in jeopardy.

In the same tweet, Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero reiterated his nation’s support for democracy in Venezuela. Chile is one of 50 countries from around the world, including the United States, to do so.

The only direct help the U.S. has sent has been in the form of humanitarian aid — not military, despite calls for it from fools like Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, pandering to the unrealistic expectations of some exiles.

Despite his country’s dire needs, Maduro blocked the aid trucks at the border with Colombia. That selfish move only won Guaidó more followers.

So, yes, the Venezuelan people have international moral support for their cause and the promise of aid to rebuild, but they’re on their own against a regime backed by Cuba, Russia, China and Iran.

So tightly orchestrated is the Cuban influence that the Twitter accounts of the defense minister of Venezuela, Vladimir Padrino, and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel tweeted almost identical condemnations of the military uprising in support of Guaidó.

And while the balance of arms and power seems like a David vs. Goliah contest, that may be a good thing for Venezuelans in the long run.

It will be their fight to win or lose.

My bet, despite the gunfire and smoke, is that Venezuelans will win if they continue to show up against the odds.

They’ve already proven their country is worth fighting for.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
  Comments