A Lynching Outside My Window

As lynchings become commonplace in Venezuela, some let the violence creep in, while some just turn up the TV.

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In the last two years I’ve seen colectivos and National Guardsmen beat protesters, I’ve seen a sicario execute a man at a party, I’ve seen policemen shoot at thieves as they run away, miss and hit a neighbor, I’ve been woken up at night by shots and shouts ringing out in the dark. The city resembles a battlefield.

But six months ago, a new step up the ladder of horror was reached when I heard screaming yells of “¡Agárralo! ¡Agárralo!” – Grab him! Grab him!

It must have been about three in the afternoon, the sun reflected on Plaza Altamira and a crowd appeared on the avenue on the other side. A circle of people screaming and kicking towered over what seemed to be a man, a suspected assailant. Luckily (I say luckily, some will disagree) the police arrived to grab the man from the clutches of the mob.

Our tribal, mob-like capacity for organization is surprising.

Lynchings have now become commonplace. Our level of barbarism just scaled up a notch. According to the Provea report on Human Rights, from 2001 to 2011, from 6 to 25 lynchings had occurred in Venezuela each year. But in 2015 a new high was reached in our terrible streak of horror records. From January to October, 38 lynchings were reported, 13 of the from August to October.  Tal Cual reported last week that 29 attempted lynchings have occurred so far in 2016, with 5 of them resulting in death. After a man was beat and burned to death in Los Ruices, newpapers reported that he had not committed the crime the mob lynched him for.

Lynchings have doubled and are a symptom of loss of civility, but they have also become more complex. Their new found visibility comes from the fact that they have migrated from the poorer communities to middle and upper class neighborhoods.

I’m intrigued not only about the meaning of this increase but also by the reactions our society has to them. A post by Rodrigo Linares here on Caracas Chronicles describes how lynchings are filmed and then shared on social media. I’m shocked not just that people, in their vulnerability, react by taking justice into their own hands, but also by the heartfelt celebration these episodes set off. Our tribal, mob-like capacity for organization is surprising. For a society that tends to have difficulties with teamwork, this is quite a phenomenon.

It’s been reported that neighbors in at least two middle class neighborhoods have organized themselves with whistles and networks to signal the occurrence of robberies and coordinate responses.

A report in Efecto Cocuyo describes how in Lomas del Ávila, neighbors use whistles to set off a collective alarm that has led to lynchings. Something similar seems to have happened in Los Ruices. As a neighbor told journalists:

“The press doesn’t register all of them, but we’ve grown used to them. In my case, every time I hear shouts saying ‘grab them!’ I turn up the volume of my TV so I don’t hear too much. At first it scared me. But not anymore. I don’t even look out my window to see what happened”.

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Of course, I’m not alone in seeing horror outside my window. But that’s a simple matter of fact. The more worrying aspect is subjective: some of us, like the woman in the interview who can’t think of a better way to respond than turn the volume of her TV up so she doesn’t have to hear too much.

Lynchings have installed themselves in our fantasyscape. National surveys show that large majorities condone them as a response to certain types of crimes, such as rape. They’ve become part of our cultural repertoire.

In 2012 the rock group Famasloop put out a fascinating video of their song “The Choro Dance”. We see the lead singer kidnapped by what turns out to be a muppet that imposes his “dance” through violence and intimidation. It is funny and disturbing at the same time. In the end, redemption is gained by an armed Christ who, along with a mob, grabs the muppet and burns him alive in all his plushness.

Ignacio Martín-Baró was a social psychologist who studied the effects of the civil war of El Salvador on the country’s way of life. He described a “militarization of the mind” derived from a chronic state of violence, one that produces a simplistic logic when trying to understand and solve social problems, one where violence becomes the privileged way of dealing with conflict.

A large part of the of bestselling venezuelan Hector Torres’ literature is based on the sights he has looking out his window of his Avenida Baralt apartment, right in downtown Caracas.

At first glance his books “Caracas Muerde” and “Objetos No Declarados” might seem a simple inventory of our varied forms of hobbessian city life. I beg to differ. Hector goes beyond a pulp fiction Caracas, he does the opposite of the Los Ruices neighbor and turns the volume up on the events outside his window, not to shock but to explore the many subtle ways that violence creeps into our way of living, thinking, feeling.

He writes:

You get to thinking about kids in whose homes all they talk about is crime, about how expensive everything is, about the life sentence involved in being poor, and you see them going out of their homes each morning in places that are dimly lit and absolutely given over to crime, and you can’t help but ask yourself: what do these children think of themselves? What sense of hope can they have? Can they be expected to believe there’s room for them in the future?…what else can they possibly express, with what language, if not with the same language the city uses to speak to them?

I think these are some of our most urgent unanswered questions.

32 COMMENTS

  1. There’s a video circulating on social media of the the moment they set the poor guy on fire (the guy that supposedly was helping an older man get up after being assaulted), I have no words. Plus in broad daylight near metro station Los Cortijos.

  2. It’s a natural, primal human response when left defenseless. In the absence, or vacuum of authority primitive societies composed of decent people will always defend themselves. It was quite predictable.

    • Survival.

      As barbaric as lynching is, I can’t help to put myself in the shoes of the people losing all kinds of civility an succumbing to their anger. When I lived in Venezuela I was fucking angry all the time. Arrecha. I left almost a year ago and I’m still angry for the people I had to leave behind.

      I can only imagine if, on top of the standard arrechera, you’ve lost people close to you because some malandro wanted their phone or something, and you know there will be no justice. Then along comes this other malandro, stupid enough to have let himself get caught by the angry mob, and suddenly your arrechera has a place to go. Blind rage.

  3. “Lynchings have now become commonplace. Our level of barbarism just scaled up a notch.”
    I Believe that is has scaled up several notches, not just one. Lynching is in my eye the most degrading form of barbarism a human could lower himself to do.

  4. The restraints that civilization takes centuries building , restraints that are basically habits of the mind that shape peoples responses so a shared well ordered life is made possible , can be ravaged when traumatic social experiences rent the fabric of those habits allowing past latent , primitive , brutal instincts of violence and lawlessness to take their place ,

    Civilization is life ordered according to certain customs which serve as invisible barriers to that brutality that once ruled the life of men in barbarous times , In Venezuela we have gone thru 16 years of chaos , of a war of a fanatized regime against civil society , of frenzied officially promoted hatreds, of break down in all the institutional checks that sustained that order , as a result we are experiencing an involution to more primitive brutal times , the lynchins are a sign of the process of primivitization , of brutalization now taking place …….

    More worrisome they are a sign that people are accumulating an inner feeling of repressed anger at the frustrations and harships that they now have to suffer as part of their daily lives , feelings that suddenly can turn to explosions of lawless violence , both when provocation is high ( as when someone is victimized by crime) but also when suffering some mishaps in an everyday activities such as waiting in an endless queue to buy some basic foodstuffs . There are many reports of people rising to mass anger when in a food queue.

    • “Civilization” is but a thin veneer in the best of circumstances. Personally, given the circumstances, I am shocked that civility in Venezuela has lasted as long as it has. Many a lesser people than the Venezuelans would have long since descended into utter barbarity.

      • The threat of getting your face blasted off by a bullet is very effective at keeping angry people making lines for food.

  5. Great post! It is so sad to look around and watch how violence is taking over our city, our country. It will take a lot of time and effort to rebuild peace and coexistence. A huge challenge we will have in the years to come.

  6. Unfortunately, we fain to see both our responsibility in this demise and the regime’s driving force.

    First the later, its been systematic attack on he gentilicio and in all forms and civilities. (the presidential couple dancing salsa brava on the day San Antonio and Cucuta residents were being affected by the latest round of forced exile measures for example). The downplay of merito and education and the rise of “loyalty” to the party and the “revolution”,,,, Long etc.

    Also the citizens have been disbanded and divided over the last 18 yrs. in many ways as possible by the unified hegemon and the social fabric has finally torn.

    Ricos y pobres, Oligarcas y patriotas, Negros y blancos, Emigres and the ones that stay behind, etc. all kind of divisions, artificially promoted and signified in speech, symbols, slogans etc. carefully crafted adn executed in all state propaganda, wears down the social Psyche and delivers the current barbaric state.

    Every one tend ofr him/herself, la ley de la selva, with still same hegemon with all the weapons, all the dollars and all the social control machine.

    It is sad to have seen it from so long ago, and how the communist recipe has been allowed to run so deep. Immense responsibilities for the politicians and military elites and bodies that should have seen it better. Immense responsibilities on the media and also on the international community of pimps and interests, but more so an immense responsibility on the citizenry that has allow the abuse to continue.

    This regime’s fear lies in the “pueblo” finally realizing how they are all fucked up and in the same pot as the “oligarcas” and that the real culprits are all dressed in red and lying to them daily, The day the “pueblo”has this realization, the day this whole house of cards fall down. It wont be pretty.

    I like to think the new AN and the media are working in this direction.

  7. I lived in a community in Guatemala where the residents organized groups that took turns going on sorties in the community as a means of protection. My contact, a law student no less, was never really clear on what would be the response if something came up on one of these sorties. Perhaps I naively believed it was simply the presence of the large group of men that was intended to act as a deterrent, but it does not take much imagination to see how that could quickly change. There was something admirable in their courage and something worthy in what they were trying to achieve, in an area that was falling into the control of a vicious gang, and yet, a longer view probably shows that they might quickly become part of the problem they were trying to address.

    There seems to be a spectrum of responses to impunity which include spontaneous lynching, the sort of collective action I saw, and para-militarism. Obviously lynching cannot be condoned and is both a symptom of and beneficiary of impunity. But I wonder, what is the rational response when there is no law enforcement, or the law is a hostile force? What can people do to protect themselves, and to achieve some level of deterrence that the state does not provide? I don’t know. What I do know is the felling of futility of going to the police, and how that feeling of futility quickly becomes anger.

    • That is a very good question you’re making. You’re taking a step forward and thinking, yes there is lynching and it seems to be a result of the chaos in our society, but then again if we try to understand these people they are trying to find a solution to the problems that the state cannot or will not do. So as you said, what can these people do instead? Create a smaller version of the rule of law in their area with prisons and everything? That’s a time consuming and very difficult task, so lynching seems to be the solution. People here are complaining about how Venezuela is going back 200 years, and yes lynching is not a good thing to have in a society, but then again what are these poor people going to do??? Keep on accepting their status quo of robbery killings and kidnappings expecting the government to do something about it? What else can they do when the government won’t do anything for them?

  8. The foundation of chavista strategy is fear. Chavismo is not interested in stopping crime, because it is a (big) part of the structure that keeps them in power. Begging them to do anything is simply stupid. They would rather have us all killed and repopulate this land with Cubans or who knows what other will-less souls.
    What can Venezuelans do to defend themselves? This is not about “quedar feo pa’ la foto” o “qué dirán” we’re talking about a serious life-threatening reality. I repeat,the government, if anything, IS the enemy, the powerful ally of criminals, that is very much willing to punish you for punishing you if you ever dare try to defend yourself.
    Some think that lynchings mean we are going back into barbarity. I think lynching shows that we’re coming back from or at least fighting the forces pushing us into it.
    The lowest point, the most basic state of a human aggregate is that where the whims of biggest gorilla with the biggest stick are an obbligation for everybody else and, if someone doesn’t agree, he must kill or be killed by the big gorilla. No negotiations, no dialog, no mercy. You do as he says or one of you will die. Period.
    That’s where we’ve been for long, particularly in barrios.
    Lynchings mean people are organizing themselves against a common problem. It’s a step forward. Brutal, yes. But at least it requires some people to agree about something… way better than a big stick that only responds to the wishes of the gorilla of the day.
    Hopefully, people will take the next step and the one that follows, until we recover a more civilized way of dealing with such life-threatening situations. But believe me: trusting chavismo means letting gorillas rule about our lifes and deaths and that is not a reasonable solution.

  9. We are back in time, around 200 years because there is no rule of law. Impunity levels are over 92%, you have to be very unlucky/stupid to get caught after performing a crime.
    The entire judicial system is trash, this is just the people’s frustration that is starting to flourish and will be stopped unless a deep change comes.
    Honestly, the guy that was burned at Los Ruices capped my positive attitude toward any social recovery.

    The biggest damaged caused by Chavismo is not economic but a moral destruction of our society. Money can be earned again, moral values are lost for at least 50 years.

  10. Some people have been living these lynchings from the police for decades, acting shocked betrays that it isn’t the lynchings that bother you.

    The price to pay, whether through lynching or throwing people in cages, for demanding that people conform to the way you think things should go. Or, in democracy, the way most people get convinced things should go, which is the same thing.

  11. The government has enforced and amplified incompetence in all levels of government. Essentially the government bureaucracy is completely ineffective, this is a default feature of Chavismo. One of Chavismo effective means of control was to allow criminal class to rob steal and murder unchecked. Essentially the police in Venezuela do nothing to protect civil society. The lynchings are a very positive sign the general population is trying to take control of their neighborhoods from the criminals. Columbia was a basket case not so long ago but is really doing well now. There is hope for Venezuela but it will likely take a generation or more to improve the lot of the average Venezuelan.

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