When I went to the SOSVenezuela March here in Toronto last weekend, I spotted a few Venezuelan flags from a distance in front of the Eaton Centre. Thinking that I had reached the demonstration, I quickened my pace and got more and more excited the closer I got to the flags and the congregation to which they belonged. When I was close enough to read some of the signs the people were holding, however, I realized that I was on the wrong side of the street! I had made it to a pro-government demonstration, while the opposition one was just across the street.
At first, I was shocked to see government supporters there. Whenever your conviction in something is strong, there is always shock when it is opposed – specially in person – by loud people. Loud people who really, really disagree with you. I believe that those protesters had every right to be there, just as I did, but something was bothering me. Why were they there? I mean, why were they really there? Had they not heard of the people who’d been killed by the colectivos armados? Had they not seen the video of the National Guard brutalizing protesters? Did they not know that Maduro had ordered CNN out of the country, and was blocking NTN24? Did they not think that freedom of the press and freedom of expression were important? Did they know that Leopoldo Lopez was in a military jail simply for being a head of the opposition?
Of course, I don’t really know why they were there because I can’t read minds. But something I noticed in the crowd gave me the beginning of one possible answer. Along with the Venezuelan flags, I saw a Chilean flag. I saw pictures of Chavez, and a sign that said “CNN Lies”. I also saw signs that said “WE ARE CHAVEZ”, and a big banner that read “Latin American and Caribbean Socialist Solidarity Network”. “Aha!”, I thought. Ideology! These people were there because of their ideology!
So was I, though. We all have ideologies, after all. They help guide us in a chaotic, confusing reality. Ideologies can act as beacons in an otherwise dark and brutal world. But ideologies, like religion or loyalty to your favorite cereal brand, can be dangerous. Devotion to ideology can stifle critical thought. It can blind us to criticism. It can turn us into fanatics, and fanatics do not, can not, think critically. Fanatics cheer for the home team, win or lose, always and forever.
They were fanatics. Some of the people supporting the government there that day – and now, around the world – place their ideology above all else. In their mind, socialism is good, the Venezuelan government is socialist, and therefore the Venezuelan government is good. And that’s it. No critical analysis of human rights abuses against freedom of speech, assembly and expression; no “take-a-step-back-and-think-about-this” moments, and certainly no room to recognize that maybe some of the things Maduro has done over the past two weeks may have been wrong.
Coincidentally, today marks the 25th anniversary of the start of El Caracazo, a series of violent demonstrations in Caracas and surrounding cities that left hundreds (up to 2,000) people dead. Government forces killed and tortured protesters indiscriminately. If we denounce the human rights abuses committed during El Caracazo, we must also condemn the human rights abuses committed by Maduro and the PSUV during this latest round of protests.
Ideology supra omnia: Ideology above all else. We are, all of us, in danger of falling into this trap every time we face criticism. We must work hard every day to question everything, even our own deepest beliefs. An injustice is an injustice is an injustice, no matter who’s carrying it out and in the name of what. When we place ideology above all else, this is the first thing we forget.