Among barbarians

barroom-brawlDecember 2nd, 2014. 8:06 am. I am walking north from the Plaza Venezuela subway station toward La Florida. I cross Libertador Avenue. The blind man is there, as always.

A couple of weeks before, I witnessed how a National Guard unit blocked traffic in this same intersection to allow two black luxury SUVs with tinted glass to go by without suffering the dread of traffic. Some chavista, I thought. I remember I felt angry. I gave them the finger. I felt embarrassed, indignant even, at my gesture, at their gall. It was all visceral. Chavismo aspires for nothing but a utilitarian society – one where ‘their’ utility is maximized.

Back to December 2nd. I am walking, immersed in my thoughts.

“…me your cellphone”

I leave my thoughts and come back to reality.

“Give me your cellphone!” asks a young man in his twenties, wearing a sports jacket.

I still don’t understand

“Give me your cellphone or I’ll kill you right here!!”

The young man holds a gun, and it’s pointed at me. I finally get it. I am being robbed. I hand him my phone, and he leaves. He was walking calmly. I didn’t say a word.

January 4th, 2015. 8:30 am. I am walking on La Castellana’s Main Avenue, between the roundabout and Francisco de Miranda Avenue, right across the street from El Budare.

“Do you see that man behind you?” asks a guy in his thirties. He is wearing a hoodie. Behind him is another guy. I don’t understand.

“Well, he has a gun,” he continues while pointing a knife at me.

“Hand me your cellphone, watch and money.” I do as instructed. They leave.

I walk to El Budare. There is a cop having breakfast. I tell him. He calls another one. I repeat the story. It is too late now. They got away. I get home. We tracked the phone. They are in Libertador now. I call the police – there is nothing we (the Chacao police) can do. The Chacao officers say that the burglars probably belong to a gang from the Tuy valley, that they have been apprehended and released several times. It is frustrating to them too.

The guy selling me the new phone had his stories. He was robbed twice in 2014 – April and October. Everyone in his department had been robbed. I look around and I see about 30 people. He tells me that a coworker was shot in the subway. Some guy was trying to rob another one who refused to be robbed, and he started to shoot. His friend was caught in the crossfire. Fortunately, he said, it was shot in the forearm.

Venezuelan society seems to be divided into overlapping spheres. In one, the state exists. This sphere is populated by government hotshots, the PSUV, bureaucrats, businessmen. Common folk interact with it, but they don’t belong to it. There is some notion of order – some level of rank. There is a diminishing notion of modernity in it. Currency is the currency.

There is another sphere. This one is populated by common folks – working class fellows, shop owners, writers, artists. Good, honest people that get up everyday, manage a poorly dealt hand, and come back home with a meager pay. There is some sense of order here too, of social contract.

The last sphere is a hobbesian sphere. It is a sphere where the barbarians inhabit. It is the war of all against all in that sphere.

Sphere one has placed every resource in its arsenal to not deal with that war. Armored vehicles, bodyguards, the whole deal.

The sphere of the commons don’t have the resources to shield themselves.

And here we are – sometimes collateral damage, or sometimes simply pillaged by the barbarians fighting their war of all against all.

The funny thing is that this Hobbesian nightmare is the state of nature. It is the absolute freedom state. According to Moreno, barbarians get a rush from this feeling of absolute freedom.

One must wonder then. When opposition figure heads call for freedom, when the protesters call for freedom, is it really the right call?

It seems to me that the right call is for justice.

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