Oscar Perez and Venezuela: How authoritarianism feeds cynicism, distrust, and apprehension for action

It is now more than a year since Oscar Perez and five of his men were murdered by the Venezuelan Military in a standoff that lasted more than 3 hours. Perez, a Police Investigator, came to the limelight last year when he and his group lobbed grenades at the Venezuelan Supreme Court from a stolen government helicopter. In subsequent videos, Mr. Perez appealed to his countrymen, the police, and the military to take a stand and rise up against the Chavista government of Nicolas Maduro. The cynicism by which Perez’s call to action were met by some is just one example of the ways in which authoritarianism molds the psyche of a nation.

Some Venezuelans, at the outset of the release of the daring Helicopter attack video, summed up the operation as the latest attempt of the Cuban (G2) and Venezuelan Intelligence Directorates (SEBIN) to draw out the opposition into the open. It was , some assumed, a way for the government to see how people would react, to asses who is, and more importantly, who is not, loyal to the Maduro regime.

The seeds of apprehension and incredulity grow slowly but steadily in the minds of oppressed people.  When violent reprisal against dissent becomes commonplace and fear permeates the private and public space – heroic actions such as the one taken by Oscar seem unconceivable by those whose hopes of freedom have long been shattered by the tight grip of tyranny.  Who in their right mind would not only steal a helicopter and bomb the Supreme Court, but then record a video openly barefaced defying the government? Well, a government agent who is trying to trick us of course! Surely, no “sane” person who seeks to continue living on this earth would commit such suicidal act, right?

It is worth pointing out that authoritarian States like Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea slowly erode the trust of citizens in each other, between parent and kids, between brothers and sisters, between teacher and student.  In the old German Democratic Republic (GDR), it is said that for every 6.5 persons, one of them was a State informer. In Cuba, a vast network of “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR)” were setup all around the country soon after the 1959 Revolution as a way to monitor and curtail “anti-revolutionary activity”.  As of 2018, Maduro has called for the creation of Venezuela’s own CDR system, “Red de Articulación y Acción Sociopolítica” or RAAS.  When the government enlists neighbors, teachers, coaches, and even significant others to work as agents of the State, people suddenly find themselves perpetually walking on eggshells, questioning each other’s ulterior motives, and keeping grievances quiet in fear of being reported.

It seems to me that Oscar expected massive support and immediate collective action by the people he was fighting for. He figured that if he were the one to take action, his compatriots from all walks of life would follow suit by taking to the streets and demanding the heads of the oppressors. Though Venezuelans protested fiercely, I’m afraid it was not at the scale Mr. Perez expected. To put it short; help never came for Oscar and his men. Although they owed no one anything, much less proof of their fervor to see Venezuela free from Maduro one day, they paid the ultimate price in a currency that can only be spent once, their life.