On Sunday student leaders released a document constituting the Junta Patriotica Estudiantil y Popular (JPEP) and focusing on issues of individual liberty. The goal of the JPEP is “to return liberty and sovereignty to Venezuela.” The document says “dialogue is not possible with a populist and totalitarian regime.” The possibility of dialogue depends on “a root change in the political system.”

The statement underlines the middle class character of the student protest movement. There are no mentions of issues such as equality or poverty reduction that could grow the movement beyond its traditional base. Indeed there is no mention of the larger issues said to be animating these protest: inflation, scarcities and crime.

I have a lot of sympathy with the students’ emphasis on individual liberties. However in political terms the statement reveals how little progress the opposition base has made in understanding what it will take to grow their coalition. The last fifteen years have shown that if Venezuelans have to chose between liberty and equality the latter will usually win out. Thus the art of politics in a context characterized by large scale poverty is in proposing solutions to inequality that at the same time preserve liberty.