Preach, father

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padre-alejandroOver the last few years, Father Alejandro Moreno has established himself as an authority on the topic of Venezuela’s crime epidemic.

For years, he has toiled in Venezuela’s toughest neighborhoods. This has given him an insider’s look at what makes these criminals tick.

This interview of the father by the Venezuelan news outlet Contrapunto is astonishing. Moreno terrifies us by providing his assessment of the crime wave: its root causes in the failure of the State; its link to the family structures in our barrios; and the role that political discourse plays.

The interview is a tidy summary of the sociology of the problem. Here are some of the nuggets:

… We can now say that the criminal life of many of these offenders begins at 12.

… The adolescent frees himself from guilt fairly quickly. According to our experience, after the first murder he doesn’t sleep that night, perhaps. But after 24 hours, indifference sets in with regards to what he has done, and this will stay unless the young person has accumulated a certain level of ethical experience, unless he has a family that has given him positive experiences.

… These are not organized gangs, really; sometimes they are just “panas” (buddies), which is something very Venezuelan, the affectionate “you-and-me.” These groups are unstable – they lose some, they gain some, there are inner quarrels, and they kill each other off.

… As they relate to each other and weave organizations, these groups become something like a parallel State. An effective State.

… The older offenders, I mean those between 18 and 20 years of age, are the most succesful: they have their “jevas” (girlfriends), motorcycles, parties, prestige and respect. Some of them even have good relationships with the police.

… We have seen researchers ask in schools: what do you want to be when you grow up? A good percentage of the kids answer: I want to be a “malandro” (thug).

… The mother is frequently complicit with the son in order not to lose him. She is alone, and there is no father figure at home. She can fight him, give him advice, but if he comes home with something stolen, she helps him hide it. It is an ambiguous relationship.

Read the whole amazing interview. It’s searing stuff. (In Spanish)

1 COMMENT

  1. Kudos to JCN for posting this interview on Father Alejandro Morenos view of current criminal trends , there are others in which he goes deep into the mentality and ethos of barrio dwellers and its origins . To understand what has happened in Venezuela his works are a must read specially La Familia Popular Venezolana. He is priest but also a bona fide scientist , with a large body of work and has lived more than 50 years in one of Caracas most populous barrios . He is a recognized authority on barrio life and a very accomplished thinker and communicator.

    • It just goes to show that the Venezuelan thugs in power are not only stealing the wealth of the nation, they have stolen the very future of the country. It will be determined that the mortgage they have put on the youth of Venezuela will have no collateral in the end. It is so, so sad, and at this point one can only weep for the future (or lack of one) of such a beautiful nation. Maduro and Cabello are the death squad of Venezuela. Pinochet looks like a humanitarian compared to these criminals. The cost was too great but at least Chile emerged as a stronger nation in the end and there was a healthy debate about if the ends justified the means and a degree of justice (not enough) was served upon those responsible. Maduro and Cabello will leave a burning hulk of a nation and no good will come from these greedy hypocrites since there will be no end and nothing can justify what they have done and will do to this nation they are supposed to love. Makes me want to puke when these hypocrites even open their mouths to act like they actually care about their nation. Hopefully they end up with the one way ticket to the Hague or even better a similar hole that Hussein and Gaddafi were found in.

  2. Impressive interview in form and content. Thanks for the link.

    Comments:
    1) tarde piaste pajarito. Father Alejandro voted Chavez and then realised the deep hate and appetite for destruction chavismo has.

    2) insightful obseration: lower classes want the material things proper of the middle class status, but not the values of the middle class- meritocracy, industriousness, etc. I find that a remarkable and simple finding. Typical of what a true researcher arrives to after thorough work.

    3) Chavismo, according to him, is not popular but rather imposted. A parasitic growth attached to the true Venezuelan identity. The opposition should really listen to this guy.

    4) Criminality and violence exploded under this regime because the state failed and the government doctrine is violent and hateful anyway.

    • Alejandro, how do you know he voted for Chávez?

      Personally, I’m way past the point of blaming people for having supported the government one way or the other. If we’re ever going to come out of this mess, forgiving them for *that* seems like the least we can do. In fact, we will need to forgive much more serious offenses.

      • … And I agree with you that blaming does not accomplish anything. A LOT of people voted for Chavez the first time around.

      • “I’m way past the point of blaming people for having supported the government one way or the other.”

        One thing is to have voted for the corpse THE FIRST TIME in 1998 because you honestly were deceived and believed that the bastard could do something good for Venezuela, ok, I can take that.

        But come on, going full “dale que aquí no pasó ná” to those who TODAY vote and actively support this mountain of sewage?! No, man, just no.

        You can’t just give them what they want, the feeling of that thet managed to “get away with their revenge against you”, regardless that you, or any other person, actually had something to blame to desertve their hatred.

      • quoting Malcolm Gladwell

        “I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.

        […]

        If you create a system where you make it impossible, politically, for people to change [their] mind, then you’re in trouble.”

        http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/24/malcolm-gladwell-nypl-interview/

      • Though not as eloquently stated, I agree with you, Juan. Used to be I could forgive only the younger set for having voted for Chávez; now I forgive all for having been fooled. And yes, we will need to forgive more serious offenses, but I have my limits with the intellectual authors of same, i.e., DC and the brass.

        Re forgiveness, I give credit to Capriles for having seen and enunciated early on the human and political need for galvanizing the entire population.

      • not blaming. it’s history: millions voted for Ch and later saw their mistake.

        that is just what happened, and it would be useful to remember it.

        • “…millions voted for Ch and later saw their mistake.”
          Like I said, if you voted in 1998 for that turd, hey, maybe you were deceived by his mermaid songs and shiny promises.

          But keep voting for that stuff after 15 years? Now you really want to destroy Venezuela.

    • Alejandro,

      “… lower classes want the material things proper of the middle class status”

      I arrived in Venezuela in 1978. I was a well to do kid living in Peru, a rather poor country. The consumerist culture was a novelty to me. Having the appropriate brands and the trappings (periodic trips to Miami to shop, or at least Margarita) was one of the measures for your social success. It certainly wasn’t the only measure, but it was widespread. El sifrinismo.

      Conversely, if you did not participate in this consumerist culture, you could easily be dismissed as ‘muy niche’ for the -in- crowd. It could be cruel.

      I left Venezuela in 1990 but would return to visit my family-in-law regularly. In spite of the hard times of the 90s, ‘la marca’ was alive and well. Many of the family in-law, including they young cousins dressed with ‘marcas de cabeza a los pies’, a contrast to my consumerist habits developed in the US during the same period.

      With a little thought I realized that ‘vestir de marca’ is equivalent to driving the right auto here in the US. If you want to advertise your status this is what you do.

      Conspicuous consumption and materialism is very important to Venezuelan society and it operates as an exclusion to those which do not have the opportunities.

      So the bargain criminal culture does is quite reasonable, albeit inmoral. There is no honest way that Mr. Bad-Dude will EVER access the latest iPhone, however, if I go out and stick Rodrigo Linares (he wrote a few weeks ago about it) you’ve solved your problem efficiently.

      I see the Venezuelan consumerist culture as long acting and incredibly corrosive force in Venezuela operating for 40 years.

      • Rampant consumerism and the hunger for frivolous novelties is something all Venezuelans share , the delight in proudly exhibiting socially emblematic possesions is very much alive both in the middle class sifrinos and in many barrio dwellers , the objects may differ somewhat but the sentiment is always there. It was one of the character traits of the ‘Caraquins’ mentioned by the Holstein fellow in the Bolivar biography Kepler posted some time ago , A jewell of a book !!

      • You would think that a consumerist and materialistic society like that would welcome and embrace capitalism, free trade agreements, low taxes, low bureaucracy to do business etc. in order to forge a society similar to the American one. And given the amount of Venezuelans in the US, they really love the American way of life, yet they chose the Cuban model. It’s paradoxical.

        Or maybe it’s not that paradoxical, because we could argue that communism is very materialistic and consumerist at a first moment, when the poor are still stealing from the people who are faring better than themselves. In this particular moment of a revolution, everything is great, the possessions are still up for grabs, the curtains are brand new, the TV set is state of the art, the problems only start when the makers decide to shrug and leave the party, and the possessions stolen, which are now with the takers, start to rot. But there are no replacements.

        Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

        http://imgs.notitarde.com/Imgs/2013/11/bb11261b-a029-4e1e-81ca-461531b70164_W_00600.jpg

        • Marc,

          I think the Chavista elite are the kids that were mistreated by the in-crowd back in the day. Now they are doling retribution under the guise of socialism . For chavista elite it is not about consumerism is about ‘joder al hijo de papa” which they openly state.

        • Consumerism is not compatible with orthodox communist doctrine , but this regime is orthodox communist only to the extent that it feeds the moral narcicism of the rethorical revolutionary , they like the good life same as anybody else and am not ashamed of their consumeristic tastes . Thats why to see this regime as an exemplar of some ideological model is wrong , they are a mish mash of different ideological or cultural threads born of particular historical and cultural conditions . There is no sense of inner congruity between their ornamental (but deeply felt) beliefs and their functional beliefs (those that actually guide their behaviours) . They are full into a life of Cognitive Dissonance. !!

          Remember an interview made to Danilo Anderson before he was blown to bits. he said he was dedicated to the revolution but that at the same time he liked buying and wearing the most fashionable clothes and trinkets and found nothing unnatural about that .!!

    • This interview has no weaknesses. I read it and re-read it to find new meanings and implications each time.

      Really, it’s typical of the Venezuelan opposition to ignore this guy.

      His insights about “meanings”, “symbols” and “emotions” and how chavismo is foreign to Venezuelan popular culture are really outstanding conclusions.

      For an opposition without a narrative and a chronic identity problem, unable to see itself as popular this priest provides a deeply necessary solution.

  3. On Alejandros 3) comment , what Father Moreno is saying is that traditional venezuelan values of prizing personal relationships above social status and the spontaneous solidarity of people sharing a problem or situation together whilst maintaining a respectful sense of differentiation between the barrio dweller and the middle class has been in part superceded by a posoned discourse of class hatred or class confrontation which is what Chavez instilled in the mind of the barrio dweller .

    “En Venezuela siempre ha habido esa cosa de tomar en consideración la parte personal, humana, de los otros, pero estableciendo diferencias. El mundo de las élites es el mundo moderno y para ciertos venezolanos ese mundo no es suyo en absoluto, de ninguna manera. Así que tenemos dos sectores, dos mundos, que no se encuentran y que en este momento están más separados que antes, porque le han infundido a los sectores populares ya no una distinción sino una voluntad de enfrentamiento.”.

  4. Drugs and Gangs or Organized Crime are missing in this guy’s picture.

    Corruptzuela is a known gateway for drugs, and “el crimen organizado” begins with Chavista “police” thugs.

  5. Lets not forget that in Venezuela most traditional middle class people were neither very rich nor socially isolated , also many of the modern middle class became middle class through the rapid social mobility which democratic govt enlightened policies of education and bureaucratization made possible so most every one had close familiy and relatives who were of humbler social condition , thus the hardened class distinctions which existed in the rest of Latam were absent in Venezuela .

    Morenos reference to Venezuelans delight in couching their social exchanges in an informal and personal way is pretty near universal , there is respect but also an element of innocent leg pulling and easy banter that makes for people from different social stations to be able to share a good moment together without any dificulty . the opposite is true we hate exchanges were they are too impersonal or functionally distant !!

    Remeber the anecdote of a Chilean lady who after living many years in Venezuela had adopted the local ways and then went to visit her two sisters in Chile , her sisters were scandalized at the familiar way she talked to people of interior social station . Had a friend who had lived in Chile as a child ( father was a diplomat) and remembered the lady neighbors from the nice neighborhood they lived at comming to visit her mother to explain to her that in Chile the servants were not treated so generously as she was treating her servants . ( she even had the tmerity of making them the gift of a old TV set !!) .

    • That world is gone Bill.

      My family benefited from those policies and that fluid environment. But that world is gone.

      Now the poor have their own universities planned to keep them poor.

      Polarisation has kept these guys in power and they will keep it that way.

      • Perhaps govt induced polarization has made such coexistence less widespread , but everywhere I go and meet people from other social classes I find it so easy to relate to them on a personal level , I also see it with people which surround me , the exchanges are easy and agreeable , full of banter and cheer , In the old days it was almost de rigeur , now you have to be careful in how you broach certain topics (if you suspect the other person wears a Chavista badge). The trend of course is to make the political divide more important than the easy going fluid conviviality than was part of our cultural legacy.

  6. In Europe we have the Mediterranean Sea. In TV they just show a group of 14 year old Erritrean girls in Sicily, sent by their parents to earn money in Europe. They try to hide them from the people smugglers, who are going to facilitate them “work”.
    Great article.

  7. Brief Synopsis of World-Record Crime in Corruptzuela:

    1/ Close to 95% impunity: Corrupt and complicit “police”.
    2/ Economic disaster: entire average monthly salary, even professionals, can buy 2 arepas sin queso.
    3/ Broken families without education or moral values.
    4/ Drugs and Gangs, as everywhere else.
    5/ “Democracy” worked: Choro voto por Choro: o robas por enchufao o robas en la calle, ‘pal fresco.

    It really ain’t much more complicated than that, dear Padre Moreno.

  8. What father Moreno is saying ( and we must make an effort not to put our own views into his statements) is that despite all the awful conditions many if not most people in the barrios manage to scape the temptation to become criminals even if they dont make as much noise as the latter (example: all those mothers falling ill and trying all they can to stop their children becoming criminals)

    . the second thing is that before Chavez destruction of the state and the start of his hate mongering our crime rate was similar to that of other countries , so that the crucial factor in our high crime and homicide rates is due basically to the failure of the state to function normally. giving way to a pseudo state where all crimes are allowed and moreover incentivated by the regimes call for violent class confrontation ..

  9. There are many parallels between the incubators of crime in Vzla and the inner cities/gang “homelands” in the United States. I think the big difference is that in the U.S., the same issues were over all outliers to the culture, whereas in Venezuela they seem to be pretty common throughout the country.

    One point in particular that is touched on rather lightly is that the “gang” becomes a collective father-figure of sorts to the youth. The seniors encourage, teach, and when necessary discipline, the juniors. It creates an endless circle that screws the kids and the country.

    OT: I like the new masthead. Is that Hotel Humboldt?

    • Piti: Many traits of the US urban gheto family are similar to the barrio family and milieu which father Alejandro Moreno describes in his works , the coincidences are amazing , the fatherless famillies , the importance of the more elderly women in each family in keeping whats left of the family together’ the prosmicuity , the gang culture where having a car or motorcycle and lots of women is a badge of manly pride , the influence of drugs , the similarities are uncanny . Difference is that in the US the state institutions are much more competent and organized and there are important efforts to control these problems , What is hear rending is that despite of all efforts the gheto family culture is still largely intact . To change the people and allow them to scape their prison of poverty and crime , a change in the culture must happen and thats very difficult to do , school programs help but not as much as people might think !!

  10. Best part of the interview, which destroys chaburrismo in a one shot.

    “–Pero este ha sido un período del arraigo a lo popular, de identificación y representación de los sectores populares con la política y la gestión de Gobierno.

    –Los discursos del Gobierno son violentos. Son agresivos. Modelan violencia. Eso no es popular. Si ustedes creen que lo popular son las formas, el folclor, déjenme recordarles que también lo había antes. Pero el espíritu, el contenido, los significados, las emociones representadas por este gobierno no son populares.

    –¿Ah, no? ¿Que serían entonces?

    –Violentos, revolucionarios. Marxistas. Son discursos de enfrentamiento.”

    “–But this has been a period to appreciate the people stuff, identification and representation for the popular sectors with politics and government work.

    –The governments’s speeches are violent. They’re aggresive. They model violence. That is not popular. If you believe that popular is just the forms, the folklore, let me remind you that it was there before too. But the spirit, the content, the meanings, the emotions represented by this government are not popular.

    –Oh, yeah? Then what they are?

    –Violent, revolutionary, marxist. Those are confrontational speeches.”

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