A Morning in Ramo Verde

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Green-collar jail
Green-collar jail
Green-collar jail

¿Have you met our sheep? Asked the Coronel, beaming with pride as he oozed a viscous, sticky brand of tropical cynicism. “One is actually half-goat, half-sheep. They keep our lawns nice and mowed as they feed. Its really a win-win.”

Coronel Calles is the ranking army officer in charge of the Centro Penitenciario para Procesados Militares, more commonly known as Ramo Verde. Despite being a military facility populated mostly by low-ranking soldiers guilty of petty drug offenses and minor corruption, the prison has, since 2002, become the go-to depository for civilian dissidents. Union leader Carlos Ortega, accused of being involved in the 2002 coup, famously broke out of Ramo Verde and now lives in exile in Perú.

Presently, the military prison houses six former Policía Metropolitana officers, most famously former superintendent Iván Simonovis, all sentenced to the maximum penalty of 30 years for their alleged involvement in the 2002 events. Ironically, they share prison space with former defense Minister Raúl Baduel, the guy who undid the coup, who’s been imprisoned here since 2009 when he openly opposed the President’s constitutional reform (technically, he was sentenced on corruption charges). Recently, three new civilian inmates were welcomed into this elite club of nonconformists: Mayor of San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, Mayor of San Diego Enzo Scarano, and, the political persecution pièce de résistence, opposition leader Leopoldo López.

On a recent Saturday morning, Coronel Calles played gracious host to the delegation of Chilean legislators that I took on what I like to call the Human Rights Violations Tour 2014. Our visit to Ramo Verde was meant for them to confirm, first hand, the conditions of López’s imprisonment. Of course, confirmation presupposes being let inside.

“You know I would love to give you a personal guided tour of this facility,” the Coronel said, grinning. “If it were up to me, well, I would let eeeverybody in, you know, because your Chilean prisons have nothing to envy ours. We are very proud of our unit here.”

The Coronel’s smarmy effervescence sets off the gloomy vibe that smacks you in the face as soon as you start the ascent past the first military checkpoint, up the isolated hill that lodges this eerie hive of humid cinderblock and barbed wire. Unease sets in as soon as you have to start begging the Oppressor to do you a favor. Past the sheep-herd and the requisite stray dog, a small parking lot greets you with a friendly institutional reminder: Independencia y Patria Socialista, Viviremos y Venceremos.

The actual entrance to the prison is a series of locked fences, similar to the ones that enclose poultry, in front of which is the waiting area for visitors. An assortment of family members sit silently on a bench, each eyeing the others’ plastic bags filled with chicken and rice and pasta and beans in Tupperware beaded with condensation, while they wait for the sad gatekeepers, too skinny for their uniforms, to receive the order to let them in.

“But we hear that he is isolated,” asks one Chilean Senator. “It is true that they can’t speak to anyone?”

“NONSENSE!” the Coronel guffawed. “Leopoldo speaks to us all the time! Sometimes he even yells to other inmates from his window, you wouldn’t believe the racket these guys make, while we’re trying to eat our lunch.” He went on about what a talkative bunch these silly inmates were.

I have to give credit to the Coronel. He put up a mighty smug, if entertaining, charade. His story was that clearance to visit Leopoldo was only a matter of getting in touch with the Minister of Defense, “whom I text with all the time from my Blackberry,” as a mere formality.

“Señorita!” his glare zeroed in on me. I froze. “Have our guests eaten lunch yet? There’s an amazing steak restaurant just down the street from here. I go there every day. You should go there while you wait for clearance to go in…Prime cuts of juicy Venezuelan beef. The good stuff, my friends, the best.”

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After we sat for a couple of hours watching visitors stream into the prison, and trying to guess which arroz con pollo recipe looked most appetizing, the Coronel came back with news. “Its quite odd,” he lamented. “Usually Admiral Meléndez answers right away. She must be working. You know, we never stop working, even on weekends. Perhaps you can get in touch with your Embassy and maybe you can… come back on Monday? Oh! You’re leaving tonight? [it’s almost as if he knew what time their return flights left…weird.] Well that’s certainly a pity. A shame, really…”

As he handed the Chileans back their passports with feigned disappointment, he suddenly lit up. “Hey! I have an idea! Why don’t you, Señorita, give me your number, and I can give you a call should the Minister answer my text in the next few hours?”

Panic.

“Um….I…don’t…uh…err…have..a cellphone.” Is all I could muster to answer to his sinister charm, while I tried not to meet his stare (weak, I know, but YOU try keeping cool in front of a 90’s action movie villain).

“Well until next time, then!” he smacked the Chileans on the back, jolly as ever. “Come back anytime!”

I have never been happier to see a green-clad figure recede into the background from our rearview mirror, as we drove away.

I wonder if Leopoldo gets to play with the sheep.

1 COMMENT

  1. I must confess I have no idea where Ramo Verde is. #MaracuchoPerdidoEnCaracas #RamoVerdeQuedaEnPaloVerde?

  2. Excellent piece!

    I wonder what Simonovis said to Baduel when the latter arrived in chains. Someone could write a good play about that conversation.

  3. I think too much about the potential movies, plays, miniseries that can be written based on contemporary Venezuelan politics.

    House of Cards would be put to shame.

  4. Very nicely written piece. I wonder what the total capacity of the prison is…sort of to see when the Boligarcs will need to employ Chinese to build a new jail.

    Also: can anyone locate it via Google? It would be nice to add its coordinates to Wikipedia…one never knows when one will use that but we will.

    • Curious about all your persistent maligning of ‘comeflores’, firepigette.
      What exactly have you done, outside of your facebook page, or the height of comeflorismo, to raise a chapter and verse of the atrocities to a mass audience?

        • Know enough about those who GROSSLY exaggerate the numbers in their family — en barrios, por supuesto. Gotta get that street cred in there… So what have you validly done to merit puffing yourself up at the expense of comeflores? Anything published yet? Wait, perhaps not during your pending libel suit, “Anon vs. Anon”.

          • LOL, Like I said before whatever I do, it is something you have NO idea about believe me, and I absolutely love the idea of keeping it that way.Libel suit ? Now that’s a new one.

          • Weren’t you, as “firepigette” implying 3 weeks ago that “Kepler” was involved in some type of libel or slander for calling your bluff on the usual prepotencia ?

          • You need to learn to read English. I said :

            ” You do not know my life Kepler so making things up here on this blog is called slander.”

            Where did I talk about a libel suit?

            How utterly ridiculous….but that’s you.

          • Since lately you’re on a demand kick for definitions, I thought you should know the correct legal term of what you incorrectly defined, in written English, 3 weeks ago. That is, absent your preposterous accusation, in the first place, as an anonymous known for fantasy dips, to another anon. And you taught English, in Vzla? Oy gevalt.

  5. “¿Have you met our sheep?”

    A variation on “Want a candy, little girl?” with an implied invitation to see the “cabrónoveja” if only you’ll give me your phone number …

    Taking a shower helps after dealing with scumballs like these, Emiliana.

    Loved the write-up and slideshow of the labyrinth. Well done

  6. Venezuelans are reputedly a very happy people, but their military officers are the happiest by far.
    Nice piece. A bit of Graham Greene going on there I thought.

    • “Sadist bastard” is the ONLY requirement for military officers on this country.

      The Venezuela military used to be a professional organization with honor. Now they specialize in narcotics, corruption, theft, human rights violations, photo-ops behind Maduro at public events, and looking cool.
      Protection of the civilian population of Venezuela is no longer on their list.

      • Funny, i thought that protection fo the civilian population was a thing related with Civil Law enforcement agencies. Maybe the problem are to much GNB and military people trying without sucess to protect civilians

  7. I’d check rule #8 of the precinct. Might as well say: Don’t provoke the wolves. And #10 — Wolves are panting for the chance… unless international observers are at the gate.

  8. Nowadays military men are just bureaucrats with mostly boring jobs to do , they are no worse or better than most bureaucrats , they have their perks and are sometimes a bit better organized in their work than ordinary bureaucrats , they have a reputation for being skirt chasers and if given the opportunity for improving their personal lot in unorthodox ways . They like to toddy up to their superiors and receive from them some petty friendly token of personal recognition . ( see how delighted he was at suggesting that he had easy access to the Minister) .

    He must have been delighted at having visitors to break the boring routine of his job and at a chance of playing the charming host to a group of important people , specially if this group included the presence of a good looking young lady !! His good humour shows , he is proud that theyve replaced grass cutters with sheep ( something which is very common place in Britain) .

    He must be careful not to show himself too friendly to his prisioners lest it cast some doubts on his fanatical devotion to his bosses and their ideals , which is basically what he lives for.

    If some prisioners have to shout words to their fellow prisioners its because they are held in some form of isolation otherwise why the need for all the shouting. !!

    Interesting, entertaining well written piece , but we ve already learned to recognize that in Emiliana.!

    • Duarte’s post was very good but I disagree on your statement about the military. The military are some of the worst leeches there are and ultimately they have been the ones calling the shots in Venezuela for the last two centuries, including during the 1958-98 period (even if less so).
      They have been forcing people to see them as some special caste, some superior creatures we should be thankful for our freedom, etc. Bullocks.

      • Military men for the most part have become the toddies of their political bosses and spend a lot of time and effort currying their favour ,If the boss says jump they jump , they get rewarded with promotions, cushy jobs , all kinds of perks and if they are specially loyal and ingratiating with the chance of doing some nice business for themselves.

        They wield little power of their own except for that which their political bosses grant them . They ve joined the patronage clientelar system with a vengeance and freely partake of its benefits. They live in environement full of intrigues and backstabbing , of cliques and sick cronyism ,were you cant really trust anyone , where your dear comrade in arms will whisper something bad about you just to get you out of the way or gain the trust of their paranoid bosses .

        For decades now they ve enjojed very little of the influence and power that you attribute to them , Partisan politics once in government is corrosive of any decent institutional behaviour.!!

        The caste spirit which once might have existed has totally broken down and only exists in peoples romantic imagination . There are many who would like to abide by an institutional stance but are barred from doing so by a corrosive heavily politized enviroment.!! . .

        • I am not talking about the little soldier. I am talking about the middle to higher ranks.
          You can’t deny: almost a third of ministers and all but one of the key ministry posts are occupied by military people. They are also the same who make military officials – of which we have an awful lot – earn much more than teachers with the same experience. They are also the ones who make Venezuela spend more on weapon imports than Brazil even if Venezuela has a GDP equivalent to 1/6 that of Brazil.

  9. OT but not so OT: have you more information on the 30 (thirty!) military who are supposed to be under investigation for trying to concoct against Maduro?
    A few weeks ago we read about 3. Now it’s 10 times more

    http://www.infobae.com/2014/04/27/1560262-el-chavismo-confirmo-la-detencion-30-militares-que-habrian-intentado-un-golpe-contra-maduro

    I found out a wee bit more about the three first ones…they are your average Boligarch military, one was already involved in a denunciation for abuse of power and corruption, the other was also involved in one
    of the companies created to import weapons for the military caste.

  10. Emiliana,

    Would you be able to comment on the perception of the foreign visitors about the situation you nicely describe in your article? Was the visit at least of some benefit in providing these visitors with a glimpse of the reclusion conditions Mr. Lopez and the other detainees you mentioned are? I really hope they did not surrounded to the deceiving jerky charm of the manipulative Colonel.

    • Yes, Carlos is right, my curiosity goes beyond the sheep and the icky gorilla… What did the Chileans have to say? Do tell Emiliana, please.

  11. Emiliana i’m loving both this and the Cuartel de la Montaña visit post.
    I also want to know what the Chileans had to say,please do tell Emiliana!

    Thumbs up!

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