The Dickensian Aspect

Photo: Sean Smith

Rory Carroll’s written a superlative article on Venezuela’s gangland violence for The Guardian, together with this arresting, difficult to watch short film and this photo gallery by Sean Smith.

What makes this corner of South America, once best known for oil and beauty queens, a Hobbesian lottery? The short answer is gangs. Young men with guns drop bodies as they battle over turf and drugs in winding, rubbish-strewn streets. The catch-all description for them is malandros, supposedly feral thugs and ne’er-do-wells perpetually at war with themselves and the rest of society. They inhabit, Venezuelans tell you, the land “up there”: hillside barrios. Malandros flit across television screens and newspapers as cadavers or hooded suspects paraded by police. Either way they are anonymous cyphers who do not speak, leaving their motivations, their world, incomprehensible to outsiders. A war over a piece of popcorn?

This is the story of one gang. Of its rise and fall and resurrection in a dusty, sun-baked slum, and of the reasons it does what it does. Some of the plots and characters make US crime dramas seem tame. There is the hitman who became a minister’s bodyguard. The straight-A student suspected of black magic because no one can kill him. The mugger who found love while dodging police. The prison cannibal who found God. And the aristocratic rum merchant who proved an unlikely saviour. The narrative tilts between decay and hope, corruption and redemption.

Personally, I’m a big fan of reporting on Venezuela that just omits the word “Chávez” altogether. Here, it’s beautifully done. This stuff is too raw, too real to be dragged down into the morass of quasi-reality that oozes out of our hyper-polarized politics.

Thing is, the Intertubes are so crammed full of interesting stuff, it’s easy to let genuinely remarkable material pass you by. And yes, I know you’re constantly getting harangued by one blog or another telling you not to miss this or that.

But this time, trust me: you have to read this. The film and the photos are impressive, but the article is really impressive.

[Hat tip: TSM.]