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How students took on Chavez and won

When students campaigned in 2007 against Hugo Chávez’ proposed constitutional amendments giving him the ability to be president for life and 43 other changes, they wanted to educate the voters to vote against the referendum. According to reporter William Dobson who interviewed student activists, the tactics they used included theater, humor and visual branding.[i] To show that one of the amendments would give government the right to seize property, they marked off school cafeterias with yellow tapes and signs that the area now belonged to the government. They placed fake tombstones around the universities marked with a political right in jeopardy and created comic books explaining the changes. They blockaded roads and would let people go through only if they could name one of the amendments. To make the struggle cool, they created T-shirts and bracelets. They focused on positive goals and values rather than attacking Chávez with his popular base. Their youth and lack of political alliances generated popular support, although Chávez attacked them for being rich kids, fascists, or “sons of the [US] empire.” When they were accused of being CIA agents, they demonstrated outside a government bank shouting that the government won’t let them pick up their CIA checks, making the government look silly. To avoid large confrontations with police where students were beaten up by thugs while the police watched, the students sent teams of 10 people to subway stations to pass out information such as a newspaper from the future with headlines about the results if the amendments passed. Despite their peaceful tactics, student leaders received death threats. They won although the vote results were never released.

[i] William Dobson. The Dictator’s Learning Curve. Doubleday, 2012, pp. 153-164

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