It all started on Avenida Bolívar, a major east-way road into central Caracas. Together with Andreina Flores, my colleague from RCN Radio, I was on an assignment to get some footage of Caracas’s main landmarks. We got a taxicab in central Chacao and headed west. Once there, we unfold the camera and we started shooting from inside the vehicle.

It was a bad decision.

Our idea was to stop in Plaza Diego Ibarra and film the Consejo Nacional Electoral, as well the Palacio de Justicia (we really wanted to film those two images of Chavez and Maduro displayed in the wall of the Court where leaders like Leopoldo López are judged). But the cab driver missed his turn, so we ended up reaching las escaleras de El Calvario.

We saw the now iconic Chávez Eyes printed in the famous stairs, we asked to pull over to get that image. To be clear, El Calvario is not some sort of Area 51 in Caracas. Far from it. El Calvario is a bustling corner three blocks away from Miraflores Presidential Palace. There are people yelling, horns honking, and… a lot of assholes stealing cellphones. That, in fact, was what we were worried about, not the bit of dadaism that would take up the next four hours of our lives.

“Can I please see your credentials?”, asked two guys dressed in casual clothes while parking their motorcycle right besides us.

 
“What talent!”, I thought to myself for a moment. Of the hundreds of cars that drive through the Avenida Bolivar, DGCIM managed to pick us out recording from inside a taxicab.

“And who are you?”, my colleague replied emphatically, both of us figuring we were about to get robbed. “We’re military intelligence. We were following you since you were recording in Avenida Bolívar”, he said.

He actually showed us the pictures he took of us minutes before. Now we’re really freaked out.

A couple of intelligence officers had been chasing us and we hadn’t even noticed. “What talent!”, I thought to myself for a moment. Of the hundreds of cars that drive through the Avenida Bolivar, these guys managed to pick us out recording from inside a taxicab. Why the heck don’t they use such incredible skill to catch kidnappers, thieves, drug-gangsters, and the rest of disturbed people that make my city one of the most dangerous in the world?

Things got tense. We didn’t want to show our credentials to people who wouldn’t even identify themselves correctly. Eventually, proper IDs were presented in both directions and the situation was supposed to be over once they took our IDs and wrote down our names. Not a chance.

“Please, come with us to the National Guard command post. The taxi driver comes with you”, they said.

“What!? What for?”, we replied.

“You both violated a Security Zone in the Presidential Corridor and the National Guard needs to ask you about it”, they alleged. We push back, trying to persuade them to not make us waste more time, but it was an order “from on high”.

Next stop: The Bolivarian National Guard command in El Calvario.

Once in the GNB command, we stepped aside and waited. They took our IDs and give them to the captain in charge. While we waited, another official was busy feeding birds. He stared at us trying to look mean, but did not stop feeding the birds…it was weird.

The scene was suddenly interrupted by an absurd announcement: “Well guys… We are going to take you to Fuerte Tiuna”, they said.

“There is no way I am going to go to Fuerte Tiuna”, Andreina said, decisively.

 
As “detainees” inside the Military Intelligence office, all we could do was wait.

“I am going to make this clear for you. There are two ways to take you there: either you cooperate, or I will handcuff you both”, he replied.

Turns out, being the Nth person to snap a picture of El Calvario really can get you detained in Venezuela these days.

As “detainees” inside the Military Intelligence office, all we could do was wait.

The taxi driver was the first one to be interviewed. We were not allowed to get in touch with lawyers or anyone else. As we stood there, we could count up to 8 images of the Bolivarian Lord Commander in a room not bigger that 5 x 5 meters.

Our tedium was relieved by the view of kilos and kilos of Harina PAN going from one office to the other one, as well as any number of bags of pasta and other hard-to-find staples. Intelligence needs provisions, I guess. It makes sense.

After a while, an DGCIM agent, Major Mantilla, began asking us questions. But before he was through debriefing us, Major Parra (the official in charge of the detention), suddenly burst in the office, cell phone in hand. 

“Yes, my General. I am here with them. They are about to be released”, Parra said to an never-identified person on the other end of the lind.

 
You know, guys, I like to respect freedom of press and that’s why we are freeing you.

We sensed the meaningless charade was coming to an end, but of course that was not possible to be over without one other Chavista-surrealist situation: a sermon from Major Mantilla.

“You know, guys, I like to respect freedom of press and that’s why we are freeing you,” he said. “You both broke the law, but in the name of freedom of speech we are going to finish this procedure.”

Out of morbid curiosity, right after we were let go I went into Google and typed “El Calvario – Caracas.” There are over 384,000 photos, videos, descriptions and stories of the famous stairs there.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Broke the law?

    What law says you can’t take photos?

    Can you imagine being arrested for taking pictures of the White House or the Parliament buildings in Ottawa?
    What a crazy country we live in.
    Sounds like Russia during the days of communism, Cuba or North Korea.

  2. Wow really? this story is borderline North Korean experience, the only thing missing was the 1 hour trial and manual labor lol.

  3. There is a delicious irony about the Orwellian image of big brother watching you and this article, sad but true….I was only mentioning the exact issue of this image to a friend this morning as we passed a government building festooned with images.

  4. “We’re military intelligence”. Who says the military are “intelligent”, and why.. ? Guess you also have the not-so intelligent military, and the dumb military. But especially the Corrupt military. They are paid mercenaries from the regime, that’s all, and thieves too.

    These are just street thugs, with minimal training. Usually lacking proper education, and not too bright. They seek bribes, after they intimidate people they arrest. And this is nothing new. I remember several times I was stopped, or friends and relatives were stopped at ‘alcabalas’ or in the street, for no reason, or just for speeding, and we were threatened with jail, unless, of course, “si te bajas de la mula.” One day, going down to the beach in la Guaira, we even had to give them our watches, besides cash.

    I’m sure it’s even worse nowadays. So my advice is don’t wear watches, and carry little cash. And these “military intelligence” thugs are PSUV registered Chavistas, which means total impunity. They can get away with any abuse against innocent civilians, they know they won’t go to jail. So it’s the wild-wild-west in Vzla, not just with the “very smart military intelligence police” , but with the Guardia Nazional, the Police, the Sebin, and the corrupt military.

  5. I though that one of the most sickening parts of this story was the sight of the sacks of Harina PAN in the military quarters. Although it only confirms what we all must have suspected, it is disheartening to be confronted with the brutal, corrupt truth.

  6. I insist. The military have been the worst cancer Venezuela society has suffered since Independence. Abuse, theft and impunity. Tell me how many generals have retired only with their salary?

    • Yet many oppos keep saying that, at the 11th hour, the “Institutional FAN” will stand for Democracy in Venezuela. This one is a big red flag for me when I’m trying to figure out if a given person is just an idiot.

  7. These are for the most part not very intelligent people , methodically and constantly fed propaganda to inflame their paranoia , heavily indoctrinated to play the role of the righteously rigorous enforcers of rules or orders they dont fully understand , desperately and childishly trying to seek the approval of their bosses and bored to death by having to spend long periods with nothing to do !! all of which results in their incurring in stupid abuses like those narrated in this post ….

    Its obvious that their superiors were aghast at what they did and at the bad propaganda overspill their actions might cause (the overheard phone conversation with their superiors shows it) .

    The average IQ in Venezuela is 84 , lots of people attend school without their erzats schooling leaving anything in them , many are given an uniform , shown how to salute smartly , provided with some basic gun training, made to hear some soaringly pathetic speeches and then sent off to act as ´men of authority’ before their fellows in the streets !!

    Maybe they have friends or relatives within the govt or military hierarchy which entitles them to some cushy , slightly better paid job inside the force or are judged to be more fanatical and thus trustworthy to act as armed defenders of the regime….!! It is all so pathetic, stupid and sad……that these little men are made to act the role of our vigilant masters..!!

    Wearing an uniform or being handed a credential doesnt make these sad sordid little people into true military men !! It takes lots more to make one……..!!

  8. The corrupt military will go and support whomever lets them get richer.

    They are not different than most politicians. They claim they took an oath to “defend the nation”, but there’s nothing to defend, no threats. Venezuela should not have a military, like Costa Rica, no one is gonna attack us, the USA would intervene if Colombia or Bolivia … wanted to invade Vzla.. J. kidding..

    But the Vzlan military are just well-paid leeches that do absolutely nothing, except maybe one parade per year. Do they go out and apply Law Enforcement and send crooks to jail, and enforce the law, and prevent crime and murders? Nope. They shine their boots, and collect their checks.

    Do they stop illegal immigrants and protect the border? Nope. They stay at home, shine their boots, and watch HBO.

    Is there an alien invasion with secret weapons of mass destruction that they are preparing to repel? Nope. They go to the beach and watch movies. Countries like Venezuela should have zero military. How many times have we gone to war with the nazis or the taliban or Isis? Are the indian comunities from the Amazon going to invade Caracas? Or the Chinese will fly war planes over our cities and bomb us? Will the Russians take over Maracaibo any time soon?

    As usual, it’s all about money and corruption, and ineptitude.

  9. So instead of you coming away with photos of Chavez’s eyes, the regime arrests you and takes you to a place where you witness the military hoarding food wile Venezuelans go hungry. Then, because of the violation of freedom of the press. the whole story gets international exposure here.

    They are truly inept.

  10. Told to me by a lady with whom I recently shared a place in a long long line to buy some scarce food articles ( which never arrived) ….a few days ago she and a big bunch of people were waiting in a line before a supermarket , food was being slowly distributed , suddenly a group of colectivos in their motorbikes arrived and announced that no one else would receive anything until they were given what they wanted……arguments ensued but ultimately the frightened shopkeeper gave them what they wanted and everyone else was left with nothing , if you get rid of the army ‘come the regime change’ whats to stop our lives to be ruled in the future by the abuses of armed civilian colectivos ….the notion is silly , what you need is more conscientious , properly instructed military to take care of public disorders …..cant throw out the baby together with the bathing water…..!!

    Things may be reaching a tipping point of some sort , a relative saw a line rapidly forming before a neighborhood supermarket and quickly joined it , the rumour was that some regulated food articles would be arriving at the store any moment….the shopkeepers closed their door and called some national guardsmen, who proceeded to break up the line saying there was nothing coming to the store and that every one should just go home. the relative tells me of a mature middle class lady going off to the centre of the parking lot , and shouting in a loud clear voice , enuntiating every syllable ,her fists raised ‘Nicolas Maduro…wherever your are ……your mothers c…t’ , repeating the last curse several times !! while the national guardsmen tried sheepishly to avert their eyes and appear as if they were not hearing anything..!!

    It used to be that the times you entered a line and ultimately received nothing because all the stock had been distributed before you got to the end of the line was rare , then it became more and more frequent but now whats starting to happen is that people begin a line , at a time and place where food is routinely distributed and after along wait nothing gets distributed…..it is more than disheartening it is infuriating !!

  11. I wish I could act surprised by the level of instability and corruption.

    But having hung out here long enough, I realise that I am becoming more numb to the treachery.

    To those who say that the military in 323rd world countries are any more respectable than the theives, reality dictates otherwise.

    Laws are for the little people and the laws are what they say at the time.

  12. This has all the hallmarks of a group of idle people who are terrifically and tragically bored. And the silly excuses and warnings are, like the whole charade, based on nothing and mean nothing but ways to kill time. Nobody sounds happy or engaged. What makes this all tragic is the total lack of meaning to anything any of he officials do or say or imply, save that they can do what they want. And when sacks of white flower are seen as booty or swag, we know how far we have fallen. But the crisis is evident in both the waiting around and the nothing to do. Even the authorities are paralyzed, and look for any stimulus to liven their day. Glad this ended with just another waist of time, which have come to mean little when there is nothing to do and no future to pull people toward tomorrow. Waiting for Godot. And starving in the process. Damn….

  13. “the relative tells me of a mature middle class lady going off to the centre of the parking lot , and shouting in a loud clear voice , enuntiating every syllable ,her fists raised ‘Nicolas Maduro…wherever your are ……your mothers c…t’ , repeating the last curse several times !! ”

    There goes my mom again.

  14. […] Last week, two of them were detained for hours by Military Intelligence agents just for taking a picture of El Calvario stairs. But this situation is far from new: Days before the Legislative elections in December of last year, several reporters complained that MinCI was putting severe restrictions on their work. And in 2015, the Foreign Press Correspondents Association in Venezuela (APEX) released a strong written statement, in which they demanded authorities respect for their work. […]

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