During the time men live without a common power

to keep them all in awe,

they are in that conditions called war;

and such a war is as of every man, against every man.”

– Thomas Hobbes

Friday in La Vega we saw a worrying new level of social conflict: one where both sides are armed.

I imagine that when people talk about the final eruption of the zaperoco, what they have in mind is a more widespread version of this: a full-fledged confrontation between armed civilians and the army, the exasperated poor and the authorities, with mounting dead and wounded on both sides of a festering swarm of bullets; protesters zeroing in on —high atop the terraces of their bloques, the verandas of their ranchos, the last flights of the escaleritas— a contingent of cowardly GNB boots nervously shielding each other on the street, waiting to be shot.

Fighting out of desperation and taking aim, these are the men La Salida needed but couldn’t mobilize. The zaperoquista party’s imagination must now be in overdrive: could this be the start of the near-biblical “coming down of the barrios” that is to wash and heal us all in redemptive violence?

Daunted by the prospect of an impossible referendum, this kind of violent uprising of the barrios is the end-game many people are now betting on.

 
Locals reported it was the looters from earlier in the day who ended up manning the barricades.

Yesterday’s events in La Vega should serve as reminder to us all that violence relies only on the violent. On the armed and willing. Not on you, not on me, not on the most frustrated soul in Venezuela.

What had started early in the morning as a series of looting incidents involving food delivery trucks trucks as well as a couple of shops at the lower of end of the barrio, had by midday, mutated into a deadly cross-fire between what one can only call malandros and GNB/PNB footmen. Locals reported it was the looters from earlier in the day who ended up manning the barricades. Bachaqueros, that is.

Sometime during this mess they murdered a truck-driver who unwisely resisted, took his food cargo, and shot two officers in the face.

Malandro-Bachaqueros are increasingly willing to impose voice of popular frustration. After all, they are the armed grass-roots. Their motives, however, are not necessarily political. On Friday it  was all about loot.

The ramshackle barricades of La Vega were no triumph of popular grass-roots protest; they were the triumph of hampa, of thuggery and the criminal state. Drained even of the ideological motivation that fuelled La Salida, this was pure violence and malandrería.

The GNB/PNB retreat from La Vega crystalizes what, until now, has been an unofficial truth: the Venezuelan State’s monopoly over the legitimate use of violence is increasingly precarious. For too long we’ve seen how criminals of all kinds manage to plunder about with perfect impunity. The issue is that now they are increasingly entering into direct conflict with the staten security sources, the supposed sole legitimate purveyors of violence.

Let’s remember that El Picure at its height was too big for an army battalion to deal with, that el Rodeo 2 had to be besieged for weeks before they managed to evacuate its fully-armed prisioners, that the army is divided, that two years ago there where skirmishes between the colectivos and the SEBIN and that, according to some estimates, there is half a gun per capita in Venezuela. El Conejo’s funeral in Margarita is all the proof anyone could have needed that criminal violence is perceived, by large portions of the population, as legitimate.

If violence is the game we’re playing, then Venezuela’s board is large, cluttered and bloody.

 
The end of the state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of violence does not imply the end of the government; it implies the end of the State.

When actors outside the state use violence, and whn that violence is perceived as legitimate,  large-scale civil unrest is just around the corner. This is what happened in Spain early in the last century. This is how civil wars start.

Each time malandros moat up their particular barrios and fend off the forces of the official state, a new battle-line is drawn and our last vestiges of civil authority crack some more. We cannot wish for it to crack completely: the end of the state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of violence does not imply the end of the government; it implies the end of the State.

If we’re ready to give up on our (yes, improbable and daunting) democratic solution, then we need to be ready to side with the malandros and the bachaqueros. To be defended by them, in fact. Or, indeed, to become malandros and bachaqueros ourselves.

Why? Because we are unarmed, and amid a war of every man against every man, refusing to take sides is a luxury no one can afford. On Friday the citizens of La Vega certainly couldn’t.

 

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M.A. in Economics from the University of Edinburgh. Madrid based. Wealth management, roots in banking and microfinance. Voracious reader of Classics, specially the Russians, and History. Caraqueño and Caraquista, inescapably a lover of Salsa, wheat talk and Rum. Fascinated by South America's indigestion of modernity, owes his political understanding mostly to Octavio Paz, Ivan Karamazov and dad.