Una parranda de desertores / Alberto Barrera Tyszka

A Band of Deserters

Although my daughters might doubt it sometimes, I too was an 18-year-old. And when I was 18 I was forced to escape a hunt that was formally known as "the recruiting." And if my memory doesn't trip me up, the procedure went like this: one was required to register in a Center for Military Conscription; then, after a while, one had to go to that same place to check some lists and see if one was "eligible" for military service.

If that turned out to be the case, one had to present the corresponding documents in order to be exonerated from serving such duty. If everything was in order, one finally received an I.D. or a card that certified that one was up to date with the Guardia Nacional.

I was never lucky. I came out eligible and, after presenting some documents which assured that I was a harmless student of Literature at the Universidad Central, I never received any blessed paper that would save me from the ones in uniform. Once or twice a year, the Guardia Nacional went into the streets to round up and snatch young men. I was one of those that would run.

I was captured on a couple occasions. I received a few beatings as well as a bump on the head from a helmet. I managed, however, to survive. I didn't perform military service and the experience only served to reinforce my absolute inability to understand the military world.

I can't avoid it. It's not an epistemological whim. The truth is, I can't help thinking that armies, in general, are symbols of civilization's backwardness, an expression of human misery, of the inability to confront and resolve our differences in another manner. The history of humanity can also be a meticulous register of the administration of violence, of its control, of its submission. Armies are the final powerful representations of a kingdom that should already be, by now, an antiquity.

Is it not true, in relation to concrete matters, that one of the most important debates on the planet right now is regarding the invasion of Iraq? There is nothing more backwards, more removed from any contemporaneity, than the United States' tradition of war. Not even ideals can justify a war at this point. History no longer looks like Hollywood films.

The problem is the methods, the actions.

It doesn't matter if they're defending the "American peace" or the "Bolivarian dream." Bullets don't make ideological differences.

That's why I think the government doesn't have the form or the means for arguing in favor of the militaristic increase of its actions. Bush's stupidity doesn't give them license to go that far. The idea of the military reservists, more than being another nationalist clamor, is inadmissible. No democratic society would accept having a new military apparatus, an "independent organ"—as established by Decree 3.561—that depends directly on the orders of the President of the Republic.

Without any social control. Without the intervention of any other institution. It is his personal army.

Power has already installed war among us. That is also his responsibility.

Now they tell us that all of us, potentially, are soldiers. It seems to be the climax of what really interests el proceso: the supplanting of civilian experience. Now they point out to us that, beyond any personal choice, all of us could be required to incorporate ourselves to the "integral defense of the nation." They speak to us as though the Marines were already on the way, as though traces of gunpowder were floating in the air; as though a missile were hanging, bored and waiting for its precise moment, above our sky.

Now, after so many years, it ends up that I've once again become eligible. More than a proposal, it seems like an order. The lawyer Carlos Escarrá gives form to this incoherence with a formidable paradox: we all have the "duty to collaborate." Or you collaborate or you collaborate, my brother.

Here, to be a volunteer is a requirement.

Before another decree is announced inviting me to cordially show up at a new Bolivarian Center for Military Conscription, I'd rather declare that you can't count on me. Not in any way, nor in any manner. Not tied up, nor with bribes, nor with changed laws, nor at gunpoint. Not a chance in hell. I don't want to learn how to fire an AK-47. That's not my goal in life. Not even in my most intimate plans do I appear, at some future time, pointing a gun at someone. As of today, and for whatever time is left, I declare myself a deserter.

Among other reasons, because I also don't want to be an accomplice to such a clear and massive farce.

It's much easier to buy 100 thousand rifles from Russia than facing unemployment, than battling crime, than struggling against poverty. The country's emergencies are not abroad. Why don't they call us all to join reserves that will guard against and denounce corruption? The safety of the homeland doesn't depend on uniforms and gunshots. The safety of the homeland also resides in its institutions, in the guarantee of internal freedoms. No one is chasing us abroad.

Here inside, yes.

This week, Teodoro Petkoff has begun a punctual archive of segregation: "Chavismo's McCarthyite List." These are not invented stories, this is not a media spectacle. These are concrete cases. People with first and last names, who are being excluded for not being with the government in a militant manner. Does anyone have the duty to defend these Venezuelans? What reserves protect them? If we lived in other times, maybe I would even dare to start up a syndicate. Perhaps even an NGO with a pretentious name: "Conscientious Objection," for example.

Not a club because, taking a closer look, that's an oligarchic word. That's why, perhaps, I'm leaning toward thinking that it's better to have a more elastic organization, something less formal, a band of deserters. Without epic evocations, without pompous aspirations. We don't want to be heroes. We only want them to let us to be ourselves. Admittance is free, of course.

{ Alberto Barrera Tyszka, El Nacional, 10 April 2005 }

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