El Sistema

Corora is a hot city with a very nice old town in colonial style. We enjoy the Plaza Bolivar and look at the “yellow house”. There we meet Jesus, the librarian, who explains to us under a huge mango tree that Venezuelan society is not mature enough to understand Chavez’s ideas. The good idea of the community councils in the barrios, which represent a kind of small government of the neighborhood, are mostly just exploited by the people. The sense of creating something together is missing, the education is missing, the ethics is missing, what should 11 year old mothers teach their children? (Venezuela has one of the highest rates of child-motherhood). Venezuelans are used to being supported. Clearly Chavez will win the elections, if not, the “revolution” he initiated (The “Misiones”) will fail, because the people love him, Hugo, and distrust the other members of the government. Jesus calls the revolution in initiation signs, because in his opinion, the policy of Hugo Chavez is the continuation of the previous presidents and does not represent a break. He himself loves the European football of the 80s. Venezuelans lack culture, unfortunately.

Although they are proud of their contribution to the culture in Carora: the first children’s orchestra of Venezuela comes from Carora, just around the corner, Jesus tells us. We don’t miss this chance and we trudge bravely through the heat to the “Casa de la Cultura” and there we meet Luis Jose Riera, called “Chispa”. He explains to us “El Sistema” – unlike elsewhere, the musician is not the protagonist, but the group and “the system”. The idea behind it was originally to get children from simple backgrounds off the streets and into the cultural centers. Everybody gets an instrument for free if he practices and plays along. In the meantime, the social project has also become a music project.

In Germany, the children and youth orchestras have become known through films about the current conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He has also conducted the Berlin Symphony. Whereas Antonio Abreu alone is considered the father of the “system”. And that annoys Luis. Also that Carora and her children’s orchestra are not mentioned in any of the files. He, who joined the orchestra in 1975 when he was only 9 years old, feels this is unfair, because the real origin was here, in Carora, near Barquisimeto. The Chilean Sergio Miranda had founded the first social children’s orchestra project in Chile in La Serena. When on September 11 (1973) the coup against Allende brought the dictator Pinochet to power, he left Chile and came to Venezuela with his idea in his pocket. There Juan Martinez had founded the first cultural center (Casa de la Cultura) in 1965. In order to realize the idea of Sergio Miranda, Juan Martinez manages to gather a few adult music enthusiasts and to organize concerts with them, in order to inspire the customers and to collect money for the project. Thus, in 1974, they founded the first children’s orchestra in Venezuela, at the same time the first orchestra outside the capital, where all the cultural activities of Venezuela are usually concentrated. They give their first concert in Caracas in 1975 (we have seen the newspaper articles from that time), and Luis Chispa Riera is there! He is nine years old and incredibly excited and proud. Jose is still a jack-of-all-trades on all instruments, a man who has gleam in his eyes as soon as he touches an instrument. Not for nothing he has the nickname “Chispa”, which means “pepper” or “fire”.

Antonio Abreu hears about the concert and comes to Carora immediately afterwards, making the famous “system” out of the individual case of 1976, which now exists all over Venezuela and from which the youngest conductor Gustavo Dudamel has sprung. And then he shows us the music school. First the small rooms, where they practice alone or with 2-3 other children. But soon the heart of the school, the orchestra. Today, Wednesday, there are few children – only half as many as usual. When we enter and he announces us as guests from Italy and Germany, they play the “Ode to Joy”. Again and again, twice, three times, for us. I am moved. The atmosphere is magical, the impression strong. It sounds at times terribly shrill, the conductor’s musical ears have to be patient, but what you hear is stunning! I can imagine that the children are enthusiastic about this system: instead of boring individual lessons and now and then a concert of the music school for mommy and daddy, the effect here is to contribute as an individual to something whole, something big, to be important for the group. Great!

At the end he leads us to the very small ones – a kind of kindergarten, where already for the music and the team is inspired. This is the offspring of the children’s orchestra.

El Revolucionario

Victor Martinez receives us at seven o’clock in the evening at his home. He makes us a coffee, a filter coffee like in Germany. As if he knew that we would stay for five hours…
Victor Martinez comes from a simple background and is self-taught. There were not many educational opportunities for the working class. Actually, he comes from the Catholic youth of the sixties. But he has always been a revolutionary. He was enthusiastic about Che Guevara. Did not accept any authority. He only held out in the fire department because he could do something useful there. He joined the union and quickly became one of its leaders. He says of himself, I am a typical Llanero, like Chavez, a rebel and a great improviser. He does not believe that it is possible to bring about change in Venezuela through elections, he believes in violence, in a coup.

Since the beginning of 1991, there have been rumors that a military coup might take place. COMACATE, a secret organization of the military has been constituted, has contacts with the FARC. The father of the current Minister of Communications, however, finds them too radical and founds an “Allianza Revoucionaria de Movimentos Sociales” (ARMAS) in Barquisimeto. Also a secret organization of the army. The priests mediate the contact with Victor. But while they are still discussing whether the militaries are not too right-wing, Hugo Chavez coups on February 4, 1992. Victor sees on television the morning after the failed coup attempt how Chavez tells the cameras: “I take responsibility. This impressed him deeply, as no one had ever taken responsibility for anything in this country.

Victor becomes a fiery supporter of Chavez. In preparation for another coup attempt, he mortgages his house, much to the displeasure of his wife. He buys “material,” teaches 30-40 people how to build Molotiv cocktails and radios, teaches urban guerrilla tactics. But the second coup attempt at the end of 1992 also fails. Viktor is arrested, tortured (testicles, blows to the head) and released after a few months. He is one of the founders of the “Movimento Revolucionario Bolivariano” of Barquisimeto and hosts Hugo Chavez as well as another politician and former comrade-in-arms Reyes Reyes several times in his small house. But the revolutionary in him also makes him criticize Chavez. His biggest reproach: there is no line, no program, Chavea himself is the program and that is not enough. It comes to the disruption, he is excluded.
But he is popular and in 2000 he is elected to parliament for 4 years without a party. After he stands by Chavez during the coup attempt against him in 2002, he is taken back in by Chavez. But he does not stop rebelling, he criticizes again. This time he criticizes the corruption of the judiciary and the police. He denounces the government. Chavez banishes him again. This time for good. He is isolated. Old party friends distance themselves. He is elected for another 4 years in 2004 and continues to work to expose local and regional corruption and links to drug trafficking and to fight impunity. Against Reyes Reyes. He is now governor of the state of Lara (capital of Barquisimento) and is responsible for the state’s crimes against its citizens. Reyes Reyes, together with General Rodriguez Figuera, is involved with the Cartel de Miraflores, which threatened Victor with death for the first time in 2008. Further threats follow. Amnesty International appeals in an “Urgent Action” to the responsible authorities of the state of Lara.

On November 26, 2011, it is evening and already dark, Viktor’s son goes outside to the car. His mother sees him suddenly walking slowly backwards with his hands in his pockets. At the same time she sees a man also walking slowly backwards until they reach the position in front of the door of Viktor’s house. Then the man shoots, twice. Mijail dies at only 24 years old because his father rebels against the powers that be. The staging of the killing is a clear sign, it resembles an execution. That is why Victor does not believe in the guilt of the then arrested young man from poor background.

He accuses. He looks for the client. He sets God and the world in motion, blogged and created a video. The whole neighborhood stands by him. He collects evidence, he finds the perpetrators. Since then he has been trying to get justice in court. In March 2011, another assassination attempt takes place, this time on him. Viktor accuses Reyes Reyes of being responsible for it. On January 23 of this year (2012), a third assassination attempt takes place. He accuses publicly, in a newspaper interview. He knows there will be a third attempt, but he is not afraid.
What could be worse than losing his son, he says, his own death could not be worse.

Addendum: in an article published on May 28, 2012 in the daily newspaper of Barquisimeto, Victor Martinez has publicly called to vote against impunity and thus against Chavez: debemos-votar-contra-la-impunidad.pdf. Further Amnesty International issues additional urgent actions in 2013 and in 2015. )

Taxi Pirates

We did not manage to leave Caracas today. After trying to get a rental car since Saturday, we wanted to take the bus to Barquisimeto today at 11:30, but we didn’t manage that either, because everything was booked. So we went with our heavy bags not far from the bus terminal to the acquaintances of Antonio’s father in Chacao and asked to leave the bags there, which worked out nicely. Then we went to Hertz (the third time in 3 days) and finally managed to reserve a car for tomorrow morning at 9am.

In the afternoon we went to the Museum Bellas Artes and saw an exhibition ARTE POLITICA, with works by Picasso and Gabriel Bracho, Luis Chacon and photographs by Luis Molina Pantin. Free. Photos of it are here.

Very interesting today were our experiences with the cab in Caracas. In the morning Antonio went to the street to look for an official cab. I waited at home with my luggage. We were warned very often to take only cabs with the yellow license plates because there are many “cab pirates”. Their only goal is to rob customers or to carry out “express hijackings”. So we are always afraid of driving a cab.

Well, this morning, when we were sitting in an official cab, the cab driver confessed to us that he only stopped at Antonio’s place because he doesn’t look like a local but somehow different. Otherwise he would not have stopped. Because there are many fake customers who only get into a cab to rob the cab driver or, if he does not have enough money with him, to carry out an “express kidnapping” with him. Great. We are afraid of him and he is afraid of us.

The same thing happened to us tonight on the way back home with our luggage: we called an official cab by phone and a private car came, without yellow license plates. The store owner in Chacao, where we left the bags and who got us the cab, assures us that everything is ok. So we get in the cab and start a conversation, this is always good, then the inhibition threshold to rob us is maybe lower? So we ask, what kind of private cab is this? He explains to us that these cabs come only on order over a center, everything is documented, who calls and where the cab is ordered, which cab driver comes, etc. Actually like with us in Germany. For security. Because the cab drivers are afraid. So is he. They are afraid of us and we are afraid of them. A book has also just been published: Caracas from the cab drivers’ point of view.

All’s well that ends well: tonight we are at the birthday party of Cesar’s girlfriend, in whose apartment we live, and there is whiskey!

The Avila Mountain

Sunday morning excursion – first to La Hatilla, eating cachapas, corn patties filled with all kinds of delicacies, then with the jeep, four-wheel drive, at a 25% incline to over 2000 meters altitude. There it is cold for local conditions: only 21 degrees. Therefore, some adults wear gloves or hats, the babies anyway…

The Anarchist

Rafael Uzcátegui is a Venezuelan anarchist and he has his own blog. He works in the human rights organization PROVEA. He is neither a supporter of Chavez, nor of the opposition. He is blacklisted by both camps. Dialogue with the opposition is difficult: for them he is a supporter of Chavez, a Chavista. The dialogue with the Bolivarian movement, however, is also very emotional. For them he is an imperialist and a supporter of the opposition. But he is simply an anarchist. He does not vote. He is critical and independent. No, there is no dictatorship here. But there is no revolution here either, he says. We should go to the interior, away from Caracas, because there the Simon Bolivar movement is much more authentic than in the capital. He talks with us for several hours and it is very interesting. At the end, he arranges for us to talk to other people from all camps, so that we can form our own opinion, he says.

Once again I get the impression that Venezuela is more multilayered, more diverse, more contradictory and more complex than the view from abroad shows.

On Tuesday, June 12, 2012, at 19.30h Rafael will give a lecture in Germany, in the Allerweltshaus (Körnerstr. 77) in Cologne about the increasing militarization of Venezuela. They present him like this:

Rafael Uzcátegui lives and works in Caracas. He coordinates the
research at Provea (www.derechos.org.ve), a Venezuelan human rights organization, and has been a member of the
editorial collective of the anarchist journal El Libertario (www.nodo50.org/ellibertario/), which is dedicated to the dissemination of the activities of the independent social movements of South America. He is the author of the books “Heart of Ink” and “Venezuela: The Revolution as a Spectacle. An Anarchist Critique of the Bolivarian Government.” Since 2009 he has been a member of the Council of War Resisters’ International, WRI.