The Venezuelan Marianne, A Liberty Symbol

If there is an image that summarizes past, present and future in an instant, this is it. I don’t know who is the photographer, neither do I know who the young protagonist of this image is. It is so epic, that if Eugène Delacroix saw it, he would have portrayed her as the “Liberty Defending the People”. For me this young woman is the Venezuelan Marianne.

I have been fond of photography all my life, and there is something that I always look for, but that very rarely I find, it is that precise moment when the photographer releases the shutter, and goes blind for an instant while the image impresses the film. It is the Kairós moment, as the ancient Greeks called it. Not a second before, not one after. A great photograph is a combination of skill and chance. This is a great photograph.

Marianne, is a symbol, all of her. Her clothes are casual, like the ones she would normally wear at the university where she studies. She even carries the backpack on her back, but today, instead of books, she filled it with water, vinegar, and some food, since she was prepared for a long and arduous day of breathing gas poisoned air. If we took her silhouette and put it in another context, a baseball game, for example, we would easily have confused it with the silhouette of “Silk hands” Vizquel, performing one of his thousands of plays in the shortstop of the Cleveland Indians. Even she has a gloved hand, the left. Her throwing hand will be the same gloved one, because this time it is not a baseball that she caught, it is a tear gas grenade, thrown at the protesters by the regime's police. The flag that covers her nose is a symbol of the protection given to her by the Venezuelan government, none. From her neck hangs a rosary, whose crucifix she uses as a shield. She adorns her ears with pearly earrings. In her non-gloved hand she wears bracelets and her nails are painted bright red. She carries her femininity with pride and courage.

When one sees her body’s position, one can picture Marianne frame by frame, holding her breath and rushing towards the smoking grenade with her gaze fixed on it as it bounces off the ground. She catches it with her gloved hand, and without stopping, her eyes turn towards the line of minions perfectly protected with gas masks, shields, helmets and other paraphernalia, looking for an opening, a breach on their formation where her projectile can penetrate and cause some damage. That level of concentration is not achieved spontaneously, it requires an intention, a purpose, … a truncated dream. We can also imagine, frame by frame, how she has already identified her target and throws the grenade with all her might. After doing so, she has to take air in, and she does so by breathing in the cloud of gases in which she had been enveloped. She chokes, faints and falls down and her companions rush to help her. Another one will take her place. Maybe the grenade will not reach the target it was destined for, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she tried.

Marianne should not be there, she should be in the classroom preparing for the next test. Or doing her best in order to have a good evaluation in the company where she works. But that is no longer possible. Those simple daily chores, that everyday reality, which is the ordinary way of life in every other country in the world, has been brutally and ruthlessly taken away from her and from her other 30 million Venezuelan co-inhabitants by the immense incompetence, fanaticism and corruption of a hard core, ruthlessly violent soviet style communist regime, that has been born again under the name of “Socialism of the XXI Century”. That regime has managed to convert the richest country in Latin America into one of the most violent, poor and miserable of the world. Adding insult to injury, they managed to do that while oil, Venezuela's main export product, enjoyed a decade long of record high prices.

Marianne is there risking her life because the university where she studies closed for lack of budget, her teachers emigrated in search … of a better remuneration? No, of a remuneration. A college professor can not survive on less than $ 50 a month. Or rather, no one can survive with that. Or the company where she worked closed its doors because “oligarch” business are banned from operating in the country. Like her, thousands of young people driven by their broken dreams are there too, accompanied by the unemployed who have to live off the crumbs left over from the corruption feast of the regime’s “Nomenklatura”. They are there accompanied by people with diabetes or cancer or multiple sclerosis, and the rest of the patients suffering from any disease described in the Vade Mecum, who have not been able to obtain medicines for more than three years and die because their basic human right, the “Right to Live”, does not exist under a regime that rejects humanitarian aid so as not to “tarnish” its image. She is also accompanied by hospital doctors and nurses, who, despite their misery salary, continue to care for patients, without even having basic supplies such as suture, alcohol, bandages, gloves, etc. The list of people and their personal reasons for being there with Marianne is as endless, as is their suffering. No one is there for political reasons, this is as personal as it gets. Anyway, everyone in this country has a reason to be there with Marianne throwing that gas grenade. Somehow she was aware of that fact, that’s why she was so focused, she couldn’t fail so many people.

Marianne, her companions and thousands of other people left on April 6 to march for the right to express themselves through the vote, which the dictatorial government of her country kidnapped, perhaps for the rest of her life. What the “right to vote” means is not the same for her as for the ambassadors of the American countries meeting in Washington arguing whether the Maduro government is dictatorial or not, whether the Venezuelans’ vote has been postponed “legally” or not, or if in Venezuela there is a humanitarian crisis or not. In short, for them it is a mere entelechy. In contrast, for Marianne her vote is the ticket that buys her way out of the most ruthless social, economic, and humanitarian crisis that has occurred to this country since the Federal War of 1859. Curiously enough, this crisis has been caused in the XXI century by the claimants of the “achievements” of that bloody war.

The day ended with an undetermined number of young detainees, many of whom will suffer tortures at the “The Tomb”, the basement prison of the dreaded SEBIN, while the Ombudsman turns his made up face another way. There were also an undetermined number of wounded, and one dead, a 19-year-old boy, a child by God’s sake, just like Marianne, his name is Jairo Ortiz. He was killed by a policeman of the regime who shot him in the chest. His crime? He was manifesting, like must of the youngsters with frustrated dreams. As always happens in dictatorships, young people are the propitious victims. Under communism, the freedom to dream is the first one of your human rights to be suppressed. If you protest, you don’t even have the right to live, as Jairo’s death just proved.

How many more Jairos will it cost to return this country to its daily, ordinary way of life? I don’t mean an ideal reality, like that of Switzerland for example. But the cotidianity that is totally, completely, and unawarely ordinary. The reality of being able to go to school, or to work, or to start your own business, or to have coffee or drinks with friends, or to do anything ordinary people do everyday, without having to risk their life. I mean that reality, nothing more, nothing less. The one that we had once, but about which we complained so much, that we opened the door to the entrance of this sinister system of government. We lost our liberty under our own noses. As a country, we did it to ourselves. Now that we’ve lost our liberty, we miss it so much!

The question remains in the air. How many more Jairos will it cost us to return to that reality? I don’t know, for Venezuela the struggle continues, and as long as there are young people like the Venezuelan Marianne, there will be hope, and as in the open box of Pandora, hope will be the last to be lost. Unfortunately, thanks to the stubbornness and sheer brutality of her rulers, the cost will be high, very high, too high.

May God bless us all

Helio Borges

PS: Since I wrote the original article in Spanish language the past 04/07, the protests have continued and the repression has become crueler, with the police shooting gas grenades to crowds from a helicopter, into a clinic, and commercial malls. There also have been hundreds of protesters, mostly young people, arrested and injured.

My writer’s block ended. I have been writing regularly about Positive Psychology, Personal, Social and Organizational Change. Productivity, Spirituality, Theory U, in addition to other topics. Only in exceptional cases I write about politics. However, for more than a month now, I’ve been experiencing writer’s block. I have a lot of topics on the list that I want to write about, but when I try to do it, ideas don’t flow the way they should. Something was not right. Day by day my frustration grew. During one of those failed attempts, my son Miguel approaches and asks me what was happening to me. When I explained to him, he advised me with a question, “Why don't you write about what’s on your mind?” I did not have to think much about what occupied my mind. I live in Venezuela, a country that has become one of the world’s focal points for the wrong reasons. 18 years of continuous crisis, watching the country decaying around you are a challenge for survival, let alone for creativity. On April 7, upon seeing the reviews of the protest of the previous day, this photo caught my attention in such a way that the words began to flow like a swollen river, breaking the block and emptying my mind.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Helio Borges

Helio Borges


Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges