Tower of terror

The journalist as Cassandra
The journalist as Cassandra

Jon Lee Anderson penned an epic article on life in Caracas for the New Yorker, and after jumping through many hoops, I finally dished out $5.95 and read it.

It is a devastating piece.

There are many ways in which one could tell the story of Caracas’ decay, how life in the city has deteriorated beyond measure. Anderson  chose to take us through a guided tour of the Tower of David. He confronts the cliché that the tower is a crime-ridden hell-hole by showing us a complicated microcosm of our society, with its own rules and fascinating ways of doing things. He spends a lot of time on the character of Alexander (El Niño) Daza, an ex-con who currently serves as an evangelical pastor in the tower … and also its self-appointed community head-honcho.

In spite of Daza’s apparent change of heart, he remains a criminal deep down. He has no valid answer for why or how he occupies the position of power he has. He shows little remorse for his past sins, other than to say he is a changed man. He has no regard for the rule of law, and the way he operates (in the shadows, surrounded by dubious characters) suggests more Al Capone than Billy Graham. Anderson seems to think this guy is one psychotic spell away from his old ways. In spite of his efforts to not paint in broad strokes, the message is clear: Daza, Juan Barreto (who comes across as something out of a Peter Greenaway movie), and other “community leaders” in Caracas’ slums are sociopaths.

Anderson provides no silver lining, and the sense of pessimism the piece left me with is hard to shake. The Chávez administration has so empowered thugs, and the decay in the rule of law is so pervasive, we may have passed the point of no return.

Even if we were to manage changing the government, we cannot tolerate this sort of impunity, and we will need to attack it head on. If there are tens of thousands of murders being committed every year, what do we do with the thousands of murderers roaming our streets? How can we build the future when killers (such as the Barreto protégé who confesses to killing “about sixty people”) are accepted as players in our political life?

Fixing Venezuela is going to require what, to some, will be an intolerable level of Elliot-Ness-like violence. We can wish it away, but we need to understand that leaving things as they are is not an option, and will likely lead to the same (if not higher) levels of violence.

These are the cards we have been dealt with. It’s not fair, but there’s no point complaining about it. We need to lay the groundwork and prepare ourselves – mentally, morally – for what’s surely coming.