El 1º de febrero de 1928 / Simón Alberto Consalvi

February 1, 1928

On February 1, 1928 nothing happened. In retrospect, that’s the importance of this day. Maybe it’s slightly surreal to write about a day when nothing extraordinary happened or that provided nothing memorable. As it’s been registered, and is commonly accepted, General Juan Vicente Gómez had the best espionage system known in Venezuela or the world.

Nonetheless, and despite their excellent qualities, the General’s spies didn’t notice anything strange on February 1, 1928, the year when Marshal Stalin dedicated himself to sending the great leaders of the Communist Party to the firing squad, those who according to him got in the way of his absolutist control of power. It was more than logical that Gómez’s spies didn’t uncover anything, since nothing was happening on the surface, and one can ask everything of spies, except that they be diviners. Nonetheless, writing about a day when nothing happened makes sense because, absurd as it may seem, it’s a way to respond or approximate an answer to the obsessive question that almost everyone has regarding who might free us from this mire into which we’ve fallen.

On February 1, 1928 nothing happened. But a few days later, under Gómez’s frightening, tyrannical regime, the “Semana del Estudiante” [Student Week] took place. At that time, 20-year-old Venezuelans took center stage. No one was expecting them. They weren’t on anyone’s mind. Very few people knew their names. Perhaps on that 1st of February (famous because nothing happened) the speakers of Monday, February 6 not only didn’t know what they were going to say in the National Pantheon, in front of Bolívar’s tomb, or in the Rívoli Theater, but they didn’t even know which one of them would be chosen to speak in everyone’s name.

On Monday the 6th the students go to the Pantheon accompanied by the university queen, Beatriz I. Jóvito Villalba makes his entrance into history. Throughout the city the shout of rebellion echoed, “¡Sacalapatalajá!,” which would be consecrated in the novel Fiebre [Miguel Otero Silva, 1940]. “Sigala y Balaja. Saca la pata lajá. Alá y Balajá. Saca la pata lajá, y ajá y ajá.” Jóvito Villalba’s subversive voice was the most evident sign of the student discourse:

“Facing the free conscience of America, the same ideal of Latin American fraternity emerges integrally, in the shout of a unanimous protest, the ideal that 100 years before fit comfortably in the Liberator’s visionary glance; and in all the spirits of this, our Spanish America. (…) Our father, Simón Bolívar / Our father, Liberator / Look what the henchmen have done / to your Santiago de León.”

In the Rívoli Theater there were interventions by Pío Tamayo, Rómulo Betancourt and Miguel Otero Silva. The Semana del Estudiante proceeded peacefully. But on the 14th of February the police detained Betancourt, Villalbla, Prince Lara and Pío Tamayo. That was the great mistake. The subterranean rivers overflowed, those that the spies of dictatorships can’t see and will never see. As a protest, 250 students decided to turn themselves in to the police. They had stopped being afraid of Gómez. To stop fearing Gómez was a major feat in itself. Gómez didn’t insult or vex them, but an oppressive climate reigned over the nation. The newspapers evaded news relating to Venezuela and filled their pages with praises for Gómez. But when people lose their fear, the ones who begin to worry and see ghosts and danger everywhere are the courtiers. The dictator himself felt the surprise of that rebellion. He punished the students, sending them to jail at La Rotunda and the Puerto Cabello Castle, to forced labor on the roads of Barlovento, to the disgrace of exile. But he couldn’t send them to firing squads, and much less could he silence them.

The day when nothing happens is followed by days when everything changes. That’s the importance of February 1, 1928. History can be a labyrinth, a great tangle in which everyone gets caught. It can be everything, except a dead sea. This week of May the streets of Venezuela were filled with students that no one knew, whose faces no one had seen, whose names no one had heard. Like in 1928. Message: all-powerful petro-socialists who plan on staying in power beyond the year 2030, think about it. Bold is the man who would dare to prescribe the thousands of students who give such singular demonstrations of civic awareness and civility to resigning themselves to live under a regime that will force them to not use the Internet because it’s a petit bourgeois instrument.

{ Simón Alberto Consalvi, El Nacional, 3 June 2007 }

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