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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Venezuela is not an island nor is it surrounded by an iron curtain. The old secretive communist control tactics of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al cannot be hidden in an era of cell phones and satellites. The revolution will be televised.

  2. Paragraphs such as this worry me:
    “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”.

    It worries me because we are not unarmed in the true sense of the word. We can movilize, We can take to the streets, we can sit on the streets, we can go to general strikes of indefinite duration, we can act as citizens who do not have to rely on the violent zaperoco, as defined by An dres miguel Rondon or side with colectivos.
    A massive civic protest is not a zaperoco, is an integral part of democratic, constitutional action.
    In spite of these attempts to define the advocates of civic protests as extremists and violent, what we are witnessing today is that the abusive dilatory actions of the regime are leading the opposition, almost by deafult, into massive movilization. Capriles and Ramos Allup are now openly talking this language and every day the national situation gets closer to La Salida, defined as the moment when citizens say: Enough is enough.

    • That is precisely my point. Our only true arms are the democratic process, because in any other contest we are doomed.

      But integral to that point was the fact that La Vega’s protests were not ‘civic’. Some of the guarimberos were the looters of earlier (who also murdered the food truck-driver)… We should beware what we’re calling a civic protest before we do so.

  3. This perfectly describes my discomfort when seeing the La Vega video. I had no pleasure in seeing our police force crouching and protecting themselves from getting killed or attacked. Our police force!! When the state loses monopoly over the legitimate use of violence then I wonder what will be the difference between us and Libya…

  4. This isn’t anything completely new tho. Heck, “El 23” has been a “free zone” for yeeeeears. While malandros and Chavismo have been more or less on the same side they’ve always had smaller skirmishes that the gangs always seem to win.

    This may be getting more visibility, even “support” among the scarcity and looming famine which is something certainly idiotic.

    I do agree that if the 2 sides go all out against each other won’t be pretty for anyone.

  5. “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.”

    Let’s remember too that the Picure was killed when nobody was looking in a 3-hour skirmish which found him in his “super secret hideout” and promptly filled with bullets, that it only took killing a sizeable number of “pendejos presos por averiguaciones” (Shmucks imprisoned for inquiries) to stop the whole Rodeo 2 charade, that the army’s been admiting all kinds of criminals for years, and that the colectivos with all their gunfire and spunky attitude were beheaded by MRT’s orders because they weren’t happy about getting one of theirs killed by the sebin’s goons. The Conejo’s funeral was only proof that he was another protegé of the chavista regime.

    Let’s not forget the infamous “Topo”, who went famous for controlling the illegal mines in Bolívar until the government decided to shut him up because he was getting too uppity.

    Remember that, chavismo still holds ALL the monopoly of violence in Venezuela, and that since its beginning chavismo turned the criminals into their disposable shock troops against the population, criminals nowadays in Venezuela are akin as napkins: Disposable stuff that can be discarded without any mourning for them.

    Chavismo is only reaping what they spent many years sowning: Collateral damage caused by having grown the most ferocious criminals in this continent.

    “…these are the men La Salida needed but couldn’t mobilize…”

    And here, two and half years after, there’s still a lot of people who don’t understand anything about what the Salida actually was, or what caused it, or how it developed.

    • “…these are the men La Salida needed but couldn’t mobilize…” thats meant to be sarcastic.

      And I agree, the colectivos and malandros have always been silently negotiated into the Chavista monopoly of power, but increasingly they are turning on each other. As the crisis deepens, this tensions can only increase. And as they do so, and they rebel all the more, they reap and voice the general frustration of the Barrios.

      I may be getting too ahead of myself here, but I think Im seeing a trend that, if it increases as it is bound to, may bring us into something completely new.

  6. These are almost precisely my thoughts on the matter, which I have voiced here time and time again over the past few months…

    The ‘zaperoco’ as is secretly (or not-so-secretly) desired by many is naively framed in an ‘us vs. them’ context, as though it would somehow be the violent expression of the will of our repressed –there hardly is a better word for it– population.

    No… the zaperoco, as you say, would be non-ideological and criminal to the core. It would serve more as an anarchic vacuum for armed gangs to fill with their looting, their debasement of the value of human life, their ‘no creo en nadie’, overflowing the valley with blood for ultimately selfish gains.

    Civic, peaceful protest is all we can intelligently wish for, now that the last nails are being banged into the RR’s coffin. But is that really possible? What I mean is… does there really exist such a window for the peaceful destabilisation of the State that wouldn’t be usurped by the armed and violent as an opportunity to do whatever the fuck want in the chaos AND get away with it?

    I know this may reek of pussyness, but still…

  7. As I said in an earlier post, anarchy has no sides, and I suspect that going forward it will be increasingly difficult to identify the Chavistas and opposition camps, and harder still for either camp, combined or together (hard to imagine) to reign in the violence. A certain way to make people crazy is to leave them starving and powerless. Here, there is little more to lose. If this escalates much further, both the opposition AND the Chavistas might have little power to intercede because neither has been able to stop the slide, with the Chavistas seeming to actually encourage it. But with no side to appeal to, the whole shebang might have to implode. The sad and scary thing is the feeling of total irrelevance per discussions about dialogue and democratic change. Both sides have had six months to get something done as the ship was sinking. Now one wonders how even the most enlightened intervention might ever be imposed, why the population would believe, after 17 years, that government or any stripe is willing or capable of doing something more than talking about the problem, even as it swelled like a rotting corpse. That much said, I hope I am totally wrong about this, that change can occur without the whole country melting down. But either way, the fuse is burning fast.

  8. The zaperoco is simply a consecuence of our incompetence and cowardice.The MUD and the PSUV are both to blame fot this tragedy. Some thought that it was a good idea to wait for this to happen. Well, this is what happens when you wait. And If we keep waiting, it will only get worse. We are too fraid to lead and support a popular insurrection and the consecuence is we are face total anarchy. We are trapped in some stupid reality tunnel in which Maria Corina Machado is violent and radical and Jorge Rodriguez is someone you can negotiate with. I repeat anarchy is a consecuence of our hesitation. If we want something different… well, we have to do something different.

  9. I don’t think your comparison to the Spanish Civil War is valid. From what I have read, there was no “large-scale civil unrest” in the months before the Army rebellion. Rather, there was an increasing level of violence by political extremists, mostly Reds and anarchosyndicalists; and it appeared that the Reds at least were also gaining control of the civil state.

    There were no mobs thousands strong raging in the streets. Instead there were assassinations – hundreds of them, which Venezuela has not seen. That is, instead of many thousands of angry people throwing rocks, breaking windows, looting shops, or torching cars, maybe two thousand political fanatics committing murders.

    The Spanish state did not collapse – rather, it split. Civil order was maintained on both sides. There was mob action during the “Red Terror” immediately after the rebellion, but it was incited and directed by Red and anarchist activists, and after a couple of weeks was suppressed by the Socialists and Communists (the latter thereby making themselves acceptable to the remaining middle class in the Republican zone).

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