The first thing I see is a lady holding a child. She runs, with her eyes fixed on a spot ahead and nothing -and no one- will prevent her from getting to her destination. The kid squirms trying to keep his trousers from falling off from the jamaqueo.

I move aside because we’re on the same path: a collision course. Two more women come behind her, and on and on until the thing becomes a stampede. They’re not running from a bomb, or escaping from any town-burning monster and much less hiding from an alien invasion. They’re running toward the Chinese-run store that’s soon to open its doors. From what I hear from the people running, they’ll sell two packs of flour and two bars of soap.

Scenes like this play out again and again every day in Caracas. Many of us who remain in Venezuela have witnessed them. This, in particular, takes place on Avenida Victoria, which used to be famous chiefly for its acacia trees and its European-style buildings, showing the influence of Spanish and Italian immigrants who came to live here in the 50s.

Now, Avenida Victoria is a battlefield where the National Guard —and sometimes the National Police as well— sprinkle insults and peinillazos on people while they stand in long queues to buy food.

pelea-mercadoA number of shops, stores and supermarkets that once boasted about their family-friendly service are now like little trenches where people fight for toilet paper, a kilo of rice or a package of pasta.

 
Women, men, children, the elderly and even people in wheelchairs run (or roll) to eat, to survive.

I’m still astounded to watch people run like this. The reason for it boggles me more than the act itself. I haven’t lost my naiveté; I think that’s not right.

Women, men, children, the elderly and even people in wheelchairs run (or roll) to eat, to survive. It doesn’t matter if you have to sort through speeding cars to cross the streets. That makes the “adventure” all the more fun. Meanwhile, drivers are forced to maneuver Dakar-style to avoid running over some of these “adventurers”; who are just out to get something to cook for the day; who will, perhaps, turn on the kitchen tonight and cook some arepas on the budare. The filling they can worry about later.

 
Yes, we laugh. We don’t cry. Because survival mechanisms give us something we need as much as food: hope.

Caracas has empowered its fiction. Reality is child’s play. Bakeries don’t have bread here but they still open. Supermarkets don’t have food, but employees keep sorting the shelves. Queues form spontaneously, just to see what’s there to buy. They’re almost like a hobby. And the three meals a day every nutritionist recommends are a joke everybody laughs about.

Yes, we laugh. We don’t cry. Because survival mechanisms give us something we need as much as food: hope. You choose. Some people let off the steam with a mentada de madre to the government. Others are like statues, reacting only to the need to breathe. And many resort to prayer. “God will save us all,” says something I read somewhere.

Apparently the Metro is their new church. It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going, you see them. Worshippers from all walks of life. The last one I saw wore a suit and tie. Never mind that his style went out the door as he wore black shoes with white socks, the relevant thing is the small bible he held in his hand. With cat-like agility he read a verse about sin. About salvation and how “Jesus is coming.” Not losing the criollo touch, he talks of an advent, putting Chávez alongside Christ: “Jesús sí viene arrecho, no como Chávez.

Many of those present looked at each other’s faces, having no idea what this character was talking about. Wondering instead why air conditioning wasn’t working.

I think shortages and prayers don’t go hand in hand. But it seems that, in this city of contrasts —a bit cliché, I know— citizens have found two solutions that don’t cost a dime: running, and sometimes looting. And praying so that all evils go away.

So, every time we go out to the street, we hear stories about some shop that had to close its doors to prevent angry and disgruntled customers from looting it. With the respective phrase that sticks to our skin like the salves they sell in buses in El Silencio: “we’re living biblical times.”

And we keep searching for new messiahs, new redeemers, who might show us the new commandments that will magically restore us and take us through the path of righteousness.

None of this is new. During the Caracazo, my grandma, my mom and I had to hide in one of our apartment’s closets to shelter from the bullets that ricocheted from the building’s walls. We lived in Quinta Crespo, calle 500, just next to the market. The National Guard —it wasn’t “Bolivarian” yet— took every shop at gunpoint and dispersed the looters: the same ones who grandstanded before news cameras saying that they were hungry as they carried off TV sets and stereos.

They say history repeats itself. Only this time, it seems, it comes with a touch of “divinity.”

15 COMMENTS

  1. “None of this is new. During the Caracazo, my grandma, my mom and I had to hide in one of our apartment’s closets to shelter from the bullets that ricocheted from the building’s walls. ”

    Don’t forget the days after the caracazo, when the choros that rallied the morons that stole TVs and stereos the days before, would comb the city looking for people to kill in the streets just to destabilize even more the government.

    • Uh?..El Caracazo was arguably a “destabilization” event, in the best sense it was an spontaneous and unplanned thing that got everyone out of place. It did evolve into a political issue but after the killings and whatnots, remember Caldera?.

      CAP was just elected with a lot of pomp and the Adeco smell did not stink as much as after 3 years later with the first coup…

      ..and the hot heads were still plotting in their dreams like they have done for many years hence their nickname “revolucionario e’ cafetin”.

      The killing began and continued when countryside troops were brought to Caracas to pacify El Valle. So, some gochos and maracuchos did not think twice to shoot at a Caraqueño much less if the Captain was giving an order. That is when our “Liberation” army showed their choice between protecting the country or protecting the government. (By they way that choice seem to carry on almost 30 years later).

      So, I beg to differ on your version of this event. I was living at the 14th Street at El Valle, and got the memory seared in my brain of a red building at the 18th Street “Fetra Salud (?)” been peppered to oblivion with lots of FAL 7.62 mm full metal jacket just because some dude shot a lieutenant.

      • “…in the best sense it was an spontaneous and unplanned thing that got everyone out of place…”

        It wasn’t spontaneous, Castro brought loads of firearms to Venezuela through diplomatic cases for his agents in Caracas, which later spurred the people to go to the city and do as much damage as possible.

        Also, one of the reasons for the massive repressive response of the army against the looters was the murder of Felipe Acosta Carlez (The lieutenant you mentioned), brother of the “burp general” Luis Acosta Carlez, Felipe was murdered by one choro at the beginning of the riots in El Valle, and since old times in Venezuela, the standard response when some security officer gets offed is to trample over as much people as possible.

        Acosta was killed because neither the troops nor the police never expected that there were so many armed people among the looters.

        The existence of destabilization and subversive castro-cuban-communist agents was known, and today there’s proof of that well-documented fact, undermining the state after infesting even the high government spheres, as many rabid leftists traitors gladly helped them from Venezuela’s side and the population’s minds were poisoned and becoming rotten with pro-communist propaganda.

        They could’ve been called “coffe-table revolutionaries” as you say, but they really did a lot of damage to this country, to the point where it is today.

      • Could I get some translation here to help me understand this thread which sounds very interesting. Thanks!

        choros:
        Caldera (event):
        Adeco:
        El Valle: I assume this is a district of Caracas?
        gochos:
        maracuchos:

        • Choros: Robbers, thieves, muggers, of the murderous kind, venezuelan criminals are quite vicious and will kill their victims even for having no valuables on them.

          Caldera (event): Rafael Caldera’s second term was during the second half of the 90s, part of his relationship with today’s chavismo is that under his government Chávez and all the other coupsters from the february 4th 1992’s coup were released and completely freed from all responsibility for their crimes, which made it possible for Chávez to run for president because he managed to keep his political rights even after having struck a coup against Carlos Andrés Pérez’s government in 1992.

          Adeco: From the Acción Democrática (Democratic Action) party.

          El Valle: I assume this is a district of Caracas? Yes, it is, a zone from Caracas.

          Gochos: Term used to call the people that live in the Táchira state.

          Maracuchos: Term used to call the people that live in Maracaibo, capital of the Zulia state.

  2. Its really sad, how little of that serious stuff reaches german speaking media.
    There is one notable exception: Neue Züricher Zeitung (nzz.ch). They still have a foreign correspondent in Caracas. ‘En terreno’. They interview real people. Like in the posting above. You get a sense how things affect individual people. The german language has a nice word for that: ‘Einzelschicksale’.
    Other media cover the events from Sao Paulo or Mexico D.F. From them we get more the ‘no beer in Caracas’ type of reporting… and sterile discussions about socialism doesn’t work … no, it actually does… it doesn’t … etc in forums.

    • Hear, hear! The NZZ has always been a good newspaper in general. Still, it is sad a Swiss newspaper is the ones doing the best analysis when the Geman Swiss are 5 million and German Germans 82…and it is not like the Germans are much poorer, by orders of magnitude.

      In Spiegel I just see the same stuff from one journalist in Mexico (you must know him) plus
      information regurgitated from general press releases from news agencies.
      Spiegel never ever interviews Venezuelans from the opposition even if you constantly see interviews from opposition people from Albania to Madagascar.
      And the big channels ARD and ZDF: “conservatives demanding a referendum against socialist president Maduro”.

      Even Norwegians seem to have more mature conversations these days
      https://tv.nrk.no/serie/urix/NNFA53051816/18-05-2016#

      • There certainly is this division of work thing of Foreign Policy among EU members. We deal with Turkey and Russia, Latin America is run by Spain.
        But thats no excuse for bad journalism of the mainstream media. Deutsche Welle en espanol is ok, but there is astoundingly little cooperation between Deutsche Welle and the nacional public TV channels.

  3. Jefferson’s post is very much what all venezolanos already know. Still, I can’t argue with the need to narrate this impossible daily reality. But then he really puts his foot in it with that unnecessary and absurd Caracazo dismissal. Can one read more into this, yes probably.

  4. Hard to imagine the toll the stress of living in such an environment is taking on people, beyond the lack of food and medicine.

  5. “A Metro passenger reads the gospels and quotes Chávez. Senseless, bizarre, but real.”

    Probably over half of the Venezuelan population still venerates and adores Chavez. That’s the level of general ignorance..

    BTW, I remember a wall in el Cafetal with a huge graffiti years ago : “Jesus ya viene, y viene arrecho”

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