Two and a half years ago, PanfletoNegro ran an essay competition on the theme of dystopia. I entered with “Prannation”, a broadly satirical little screed on how “pran” (prison gang lord) ethics could metastasize, burst the banks of the prison system, and eventually colonize the rest of Venezuelan society.

This week, as the murder of Margarita’s legendary pran Teófilo “El Conejo” Cazorla convulsed the island, I found the think piece I’d written to underline the absurdities of a system bizarrely transmogrified, repackaged and served back up to me as the morning news.

This sort of thing has been happening to me with disturbing frequency this year.

“El Conejo” wasn’t any old prison gang boss, he was a visionary. The Steve Jobs of prans. He pioneered the “pax pranica” – the jail so tightly run under a leadership so absolute, it becomes safe. Paradoxically, safer than the communities that surround it. El Conejo was the first guy to see that if you could do that, you could plough back the profits from your other illegal activities into the jail itself, turning it into a kind of recreation center able to in turn make more money from the surrounding community.

El Conejo’s entrepreneurial vision – profiled by Simon Romero in this jaw-dropping 2011 New York Times piece – yielded jails that were the polar opposite of the hellscapes depicted in Carcel o Infierno, where several competing prans kept the jail in an endless cycle of violence, and where nobody remotely sane would think to spend a relaxed weekend with the kids. El Conejo’s vision is strewn all around, for example, Tocorón Prison, with its Disocteca Tokio and its petting zoo.

But El Conejo’s vision had long since burst the banks of Margarita’s smallish San Antonio prison. Virtually every taxi on the island now sports his trademark (-infringing) Playboy Bunny sticker – visual evidence that the drivers had paid their protection money. Nothing seemed to move in Margarita without the rabbit’s say so. And that’s why his funeral brought the island to a standstill, shutting down shops and schools and bringing throngs of mourners out into the streets.

The guy had a proper mass following. Margarita is now the kind of place where you can be gunned down on the street for expressing satisfaction that El Conejo got whacked. 

Forget Yubraska. Teófilo Cazorla is the real incarnation of 21st century Venezuela. Faced with a collapsed state, Venezuelans are doing what Sicilians did at the end of 19th century, what the survivors of the bombing – atomic and otherwise – did in Japan in 1945. They’re rallying around men able to organize violence, coalescing around systems called “mafia” in one place and “yakuza” in another but all basically offering the same thing: the kind of order the “official” state is no longer in a position to offer.

El Conejo was in the business of providing that order. Whether the organization he had begun to build can survive him, or whether Margarita now regresses to a state of war of all against all is an open question. More than an open question, it’s the reason why the island’s schools are closed and why so many of the island’s residents are just shutting themselves in their homes this week, just waiting. Waiting to see what happens next.


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  1. Excellent article…

    I got to say, I’m living abroad for so many years, that I don’t recognize my country anymore, so much that it scare the bejeezus out of me…

  2. My country ceased to exist decades ago. That ugly place north or South America has nothing to do with me anymore. Their inhabitants decided that, they should be happy now

  3. Isn’t it a sad statement that the prisoners are more effective at governing than those who govern and should be prisoners?

  4. Wow – excellent piece Quico. I’m petrified about all this, about the no-State that Venezuela is. I think the fact that we are talking about f***ing Margarita island, the place where we all summer at some point in life, the only place in Venezuela where luxury shops and malls keep booming, makes it all more ludicrous.

  5. Look, I heavily disagree with a theme of this post, this wasn’t an spontaneous reaction to the colapse of the State. This was engineered from the beggining.

    Quick evidence: This gang has MILITARY WEAPONS. And you can bet your ass that those rifles are the Kalashnikovs that were bought by Chávez to the Russians and then went “mysteriously missing” aka given to the gangs in exchange for their loyalty. The whole plan still is to use criminal gangs as the enforcers of the regime, which is helped a lot by the complete rot on the Judicial Branch.

    Another evidence is that studies show that 80% of the bullets used for homicide on this country come from CAVIM, which is a public company. Those are the goverment numbers, the unofficial ones puts it at 95% on 2011:

    The gangs would have never gotten so much power without the willing cooperation of the Police, the National Guard and the Army. Period. An easy example is the quick smashing of any gang that gets uppity, or the massive display of repression against the 2014 protests.

    • I think this is far too simple. The dynamics change drastically from place to place, from situations where the gangs’ alliance with the government is basically explicit to places where the government and the gangs are at war with each other. I know of several seats in the AN that the opposition won, largely, because local gang leaders stopped supporting the government and refused to allow government candidates to campaign there. The situation is *way* more complex than you’re allowing for.

  6. Underneath all the vociferous revolutionary hoopla the regime is made up of hoodlums and gangsters , thats why the get along so well with members of the profesional criminal class . behind a thin veneer of faux officiality they are as people , one of a kind !!

  7. The headline “el conejo killed while in a Rosita show” might be The most Venezuela thing you can write right now.

    Let’s hope iris does her job and solves this vacío de poder peacefully and so don’t have a full blown gang war.

    In the long run those pranes, colectivos, farc, fbl… Are bound to cross paths and maybe form a grey plastilina kind of thing, i bet there’s a lot of overlapping going on right now.

    • Don’t worry, fosforito will use all of her tact to solve this little issue, just as she did in Uribana some years ago, after all, what are 70 kills in a 3-day siege? No one will mourn for them anyway.

    • Kanako was telling me how the places where Yakuza first went big time in Japan were really all the cities hardest hit by US bombing, where the Japanese state just stopped functioning. Even today, the two biggest Yakuza cities are…Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      • That’s really interesting, didn’t know that.

        Thank you as always for cutting to the chase and telling the facts ‘sin pelos en la lengua’

  8. What one can easily notice by reading such news coming from Venezuela is that the absurd levels of crime serve as a buffer absorbing anything that can be perceived as ‘political dissent’ for Chavismo, making any human action that could help revert the status quo impossible. Journalists, politicians, judges, lawyers, police officers, etc, can’t do their jobs properly in such scenario out of fear for their lives and their loved ones, and suddenly there is an imaginary straitjacket paralyzing everyone in society, except the criminals and the regime, what truly disrupts democracy.

    I’m convinced that if Argentina had the same level of homicides as Venezuela, Macri wouldn’t have won the elections. It simply wouldn’t have been possible.

    • Your comment about violence and politics in Argentina reminded me of a book that I have thus far only skimmed, which suggests that the food riots in Argentina in 2001 were not completely spontaneous, shall we say. From Javier Auyero’s book Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina: The Gray Zone of State Power. : [Not in Blockquote because CC software still hasn’t solve this glitch.]

      In terms of the book’s substantive claims: I argue that clandestine connections count in the making of collective violence and in routine political life. This book explores the available empirical evidence and unearths a set of concealed connections between established actors (political brokers, repressive forces, etc.) that shape the distribution and form of collective violence. It also offers several examples of the operation of clandestine connections in everyday, ordinary, politics. In terms of the book’s analytical claims: I argue that political analysis should start paying rigorous empirical attention to this gray zone of semisecret political interactions. [page 27]

      Auyero points out that police protection during the riots tended to concentrate toward the chain stores, leaving the small individually owned stores more vulnerable.

      Detailed newspaper reports exist for fewer than half of the recorded [looting] 289 episodes. Newspapers and investigative journalists’ accounts provide some sort of detailed descriptions of the composition and actions of the looting crowds in approximately 130 episodes. In half of these reports, reporters noted the presence of Peronist Party brokers among the crowds, particularly at the two sites of the heaviest looting activity – La Matanza and Moreno – and particularly in the lootings that occurred
      in small stores with little police presence. In small-store lootings, in addition to the lower likelihood of police presence, there is a higher visibility of party brokers.
      [page 87]

      As the riots occurred only 2 years after he took power, I wonder if Peronismo’s implied using riots to achieve electoral success inspired Hugo’s alliance with the criminal set.

      • Interesting indeed, and I would say it’s possible because all these far-left political parties meet up officially and unofficially at an organization called Foro de Sao Paulo since the early ’90s, where they exchange ideas, policies to be implemented by mutual agreement; which country will fund country A or B, or Telesur, or the campesinos in Nicaragua; or what will be their next goal, etc.

        Foro de Sao Paulo is their ‘general-staff’, the clandestine capital of the ‘Patria Grande’. Some still think that you are a lunatic conspiracy theorist when you say things like this, but nowadays, after so many documents/empirical evidence have been collected, when not even the political organizations aforementioned try to hide what they do and want anymore, it’s hard to ignore how they work together. Thanks for the book extract.

  9. Parece que han tenido que pasar casi que dos décadas para que algunos finalmente entiendan que el chavismo convirtió a los criminales del país en su primera línea de defensa contra la misma población.

    • I saw it coming a long time ago, this is why i am leaving this Mad Max land in november now that i got enough resources to leave, a country where the pop culture and role models are the Rositas, Conejos,Picures, Niño Guerrero, etc of the world and being a Bachaquero is more profitable that being an Engineer for example…well all i can say we are at the bottom of the barrel right now as a society and we still aint hitting rock bottom, by next year i expect Venezuela to be divide in feuds and tribes under the tight grip of this Warlords(pranes)

  10. The “pax pranica” is not unlike what Escobar offered to people in Medellin more than two decades ago. El Chapo is another example. El Conejo was not really a visionary. The pax pranica model has been tried and tested for decades, by the Mafia, Latin American drug dealers, etc. The only novel thing is that he did it while confined in a physical space. You can’t really call it a prison. What’s the difference between being confined into the San Antonio “prison” and being confined into an apartment, or a small neighbourhood? None, really. He could bring anything and anyone he wanted. Had complete freedom to communicate with his people outside. What’s the difference between El Conejo running things from San Antonio (and running San Antonio), and Escobar running his cartel from La Catedral? Both were / are prisons just in name. A real prison is more than a physical place of confinement.

    Real prison gang lords, in real prisons, have much more restrictions. El Conejo was another cartel chief, a mini-Escobar, who happened to be confined inside the walls of a large building.

      • Yes, I know he wasn’t really confined, and that he was killed in a nightclub. And he’s not the first pran to be killed in Venezuela while partying outside the prison (happened before in Lara and Zulia, I think). But in El Conejo’s case I really don’t know if he was released from prison recently, or was just out for the night. I don’t know how long was his sentence, but since there’s no life sentence in Vzla, maybe he had already served it? I don’t know.

        In the news I’ve read they don’t say anything one way or the other. But well, my point remains: he was a cartel leader who happened to live inside a so-call prison.

  11. For those interested in these worlds (who knew, even in Japan!), check out Marlon James’ Booker Prize winner “A Brief History of Seven Killings”. As Marx said, tragedy repeats itself as farce. Reggae as reggaeton.

      • It is the real deal. And I generally stay away from Big Prize Literature now that I have a real job and a family. I will say, if you are a person like me unfamiliar with Jamaican idioms, you’ve got to be patient for the first little bit and let the language settle in. For the first bit I kept thinking, I’ve picked up a William Faulkner trilogy, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to read William Faulkner again even though it was great at the time. But this book rewards immensely. The origins of this story look a lot like Venezuela today. A lot.

        I shot the Sheriff? Well, as it turns out, it is not the sheriff you and I know.

  12. Excellent entry Quico and deep saddening circumstances.
    Somalia pero en castellano for sure. Mad max meet la virgencita del valle!

    For those who insist in not seeing the developments ahead, the regime will never stop blaming others, the party is over, there is not much left to loot, pranes and warlords will increasingly take the role of the state and, if the FAN actually does their job and pulls the brakes trying to stop this descend into hell, most probably a big chunk of it will splinter form it to continue the pran life of chavismo, soles y flores cartels and raw real power.

    A comprar calcomanias de conejitos y picures and assume vacuna costs on top of moot ISLR payments every year. Tax and death ! SDDD


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