What’s Next for Venezuelan Youth Activists?
Venezuelans returning to the daily grind after Christmas were in for a shock.
While many celebrated the holidays, Chavez took a series of drastic steps to consolidate power. Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the opposition daily newspaper Tal Cual, says: “Chavez’s answer [to the opposition's gains] has been to protect his autocratic control…by introducing a law to make himself the legislative power.” That would be the law allowing him to govern by decree in order to go over the heads of the newly elected opposition candidates (whose first day in parliament was yesterday.) Here are some other changes made in the past couple of weeks:
- The internet will now be censored for any material that might “incite, promote or justify crime, the equivalent of war propaganda, fomenting anxiety among the citizenry or that alter the public order;”
- It's no longer legal for an NGO to receive funding from outside the country;
- From now on it'll be a lot easier for the government to take over banks.
In light of all this, 2011 will be an important year for civil society in Venezuela. And looking back at 2010's successes, and failures, might be helpful first step in forming a strategy for the coming months.
Roberto Patino, who has headed up the Venezuelan Student Movement and is in his last semester as a university student in Caracas, tells me that one of the most successful moves youth activists have made thus far is decentralizing power throughout all 23 states as part of their campaign to get more young people voting in September's legislative elections.
"...Everyone in their own state had the chance to do things that they thought were important and to do it their way. So in some states we saw more activities related to sports, maybe in other states we saw more activities related to music, or we saw more campaigning activities giving flyers and stuff [with regionally attuned messages]...I believe its very important to point out that its a big movement that’s very horizontal, and depends on efforts of thousands of young people around the country."
In giving more autonomy to grassroots activists throughout the country, while still keeping tabs on them, Patino and colleagues are incorporating tactics from traditional organizing with new tools like mobile phones and social networking (Twitter is huge in Venezuela). Enforcing bottom up from the top down is a phrase I’ve most heard in reference to the Obama campaign, and it's a maxim the Caracas based student movement seems to have taken to heart.
But their attempts at doing this were not devoid of mistakes (hey, it’s a hard balance to strike). Our newest case study tries to cover both the successes and the failures from 2010. Check it out!