My neighbor Julio is a simple man. If you ask him about his political preferences, he’d probably tell you he likes baseball. He’d much rather talk about double plays and shortstops than about the latest, craziest policy Maduro announced in a cadena.

Long ago, he was a government supporter, though at the time they legitimately looked like the good guys, so cut the guy some slack. Now he knows better.

He’s in his 60s, happily married, with grandchildren, and he’s lived next door to us for as long as I can remember. He was part of the surge of unskilled workers that Ciudad Guayana attracted during its heyday in the 1970s.

About 13 years ago, Julio lived his own, private bonanza petrolera.

Coming from a small town, with only a fourth grade education, he managed to score a job as a laborer at one of the sprawling “basic industries” — the state-run heavy industry that dominates the region’s economy. They gave him an apartment and everything: soon he and his wife Dilia were living the Ciudad Guayana Dream, quietly embodying the ideal of social mobility through hard work.

About 13 years ago, Julio lived his own, private bonanza petrolera: the company he worked for decided to give out bonuses to longtime workers. Unlike the government, he didn’t fritter the windfall away. Instead, he set out to future-proof his life. He bought himself a campo: a tiny farm to supplement his income.

Owning a campo meant even more work for him and Dilia, but it would all be worth it when they finally moved in to fulfill every hippie’s dream: living off the land.

Julio is a stubborn man: he wasn’t going to give up until it became totally unmanageable. But soon, it was totally unmanageable.

And it went great: at its peak they were plenty of chickens, pigs, ducks and fruits to sell. The place became the spot for family get-togethers and the hallacas kept getting fatter every Christmas.

Things started to go downhill only last year, when they had to stop raising chickens. Without government contacts, getting their hands on chicken feed became increasingly hard. Julio is a stubborn man: he wasn’t going to give up until it became totally unmanageable. But soon, it was totally unmanageable.

This year things got even worse. Amid a harsh drought, the hungry locals around his campo started stealing from them.

The first time they came, they tied up the lone worker that lived there and took his food. The second time, they took two of his hogs, just the day before he’d planned to take them off to market.

Julio replaced that worker on the suspicion he had something to do with the burglaries and apparently he was right: on his way out “el piaso e’ gordo ese” (as Julio put it) took two more pigs with him.

But the burglaries didn’t stop.

The thieves slaughtered the pigs right on the spot, leaving a trail of blood that trickled all the way to a nearby school.

They instructed the new guy, an old man in his 60’s, to stay inside in case someone came. But they knew he wouldn’t be able to do much against armed and probably hungry thugs.

The next time burglars came it was in the middle of the night and they took all 12 of the turtles they’d been raising, some of the suckling pigs, and some green yuccas (which weren’t even edible yet). The thieves slaughtered the pigs right on the spot, leaving a trail of blood that trickled all the way to a nearby school.

All of those burglaries happened within a month. Julio and Dilia quickly decided that they had to get rid of the little they had left and sell the place before they got burgled again.

I’d tell them to hold on, until this storm passes but I don’t know how long that’s going to be, and keeping non-producing land is impossible at this point. You need to pay the worker and feed him when you’re struggling to feed yourself, you need to keep a pick-up truck running when you are already scrimping on maintenance, and you need to cross your fingers some consejo comunal leader doesn’t decide to take over your now idle land.

That awful day they slaughtered everything: the piggies, the ducklings and what was left of their dream.

That awful day they slaughtered everything: the piggies, the ducklings and what was left of their dream. My brother tagged along to help and returned with some ducklings. They ended up in my stew, all scrawny and tiny and sad.

It’s been a month since they first hanged that “for sale” sign on the entrance of the campo. The middle class that normally would be interested in a small piece of land like that is struggling to put food on the table so the market isn’t great.

Julio still goes to his campo to bring food to the worker and the dogs. Last week, I tagged along with him to see what had become of the place. I’d heard the stories, but I haven’t come since December.

On the day we show up, the dogs haven’t eaten for two days. It’s the second time this happens. The first time because the road was blocked by some hungry protesters. This time because there isn’t enough food.

“It’s sad,” Julio says, “but people are my priority. The dogs are going to eat me when they see me.”

It’s an hour drive to get there. The dogs are so skinny it’s painful to see. Famished.

When the six dogs notice the pick-up they go crazy, they bark, run, scratch the door, it’s not the typical “happy dog routine”, they are desperate for food.

IMG_7749“Dilia would die if she saw them like that,” Julio says.

When we get out of the car Julio hands down the bag of food to the worker, 1 kg. of corn flour and some fish.

“How are you for food?” he asks.

“I haven’t eaten anything today, con eso te digo todo.

It’s 2:30 p.m.

While I take pictures I notice how everything looks like a shell of its former self. No farm animals, no fruits. Some new plants here and there.

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The worker says they were burgled a fifth time. They took the wiring out of the hen house. They’re running out of things to steal, but they still come for more.

Julio is a hardworking man who did everything right. He worked his ass off, and then some more.

We don’t hang around long, I imagine the worker isn’t too interested in small talk. He is hungry and angry. He was expecting coffee. After feeding the dogs the sardines leftovers we brought, we go back.

The road back is way quieter. I’m stunned, the outdated mental image I had of the place contrasts too much with what I saw.

Julio is a hardworking man who did everything right. He worked his ass off, and then some more.

This should be the time for him to kick back in the piece of paradise he and his wife sacrificed so much to build, but the revolution they once supported ripped them off. Now they’re slowly pawning off their assets to cover everyday expenses.

I can’t help but think of that old song…

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  1. Good story. It reflects Venezuela’s reality from way before Chavismo. and now it’s only worse.

    You see, crime and theft in Venezuela is not just from politicians. It’s everywhere. It’s from “el pueblo” that we like to sanctify and venerate. Well, ‘el pueblo’ are no saints.

    My family used to own a ‘campo’ or finca as well. 8 hectares. Close to Barlovento. We used to go there most weekends, we built a house, a pozo de agua, even had electricity, and a campesino named “Demesio Borotoche” – believe or not – he lived and worked there for us. We had hundreds of orange and grapefruit trees, avocado trees, grew some vegetables, there was a “caño” where you could fish fierce but delicious’ guabinas’, 2 dogs, chinchorros, etc.

    But soon enough, things started to disappear, even the fruit on the trees. Even the guabinas. The campesino mysteriously left, and the house began to get robbed, everything in it. No one knew anything, neighbors or the ‘management’ of the finca.

    These were many locals, stealing all they could. Not the ‘government’ or the politicians, or the Chavistas.
    It was ‘el pueblo’ stealing, as many often do. That’s why I say that many of “el pueblo”, deserve what they are getting. They are no saints. Not all, but many. Corruption and crime in Venezuela are everywhere, at all levels. Not just the despicable government. It’s in every pueblo, every city. Granted, the “government” is largely responsible, because the police doesn’t catch all the thieves, but it’s a more profound problem: lack of good education, moral values. To educate all of these people, and many thieves, will take a long time..

    • In fact, the guilty one IS the chavista government, because the government’s first obligation is to guarantee security for the people, and instead chavismo opted by letting criminals do as they please just for a mere political reason.

      If the justice system from the government worked, the kleptomaniacs would have to steal their own turds or else get caged for years for their stupidity.

      • chavismo opted by letting criminals do as they please

        Correction: chavismo opted by courting criminals to do as they please. The objective was to destroy the society and its morals, destroy the economy and its motors.

    • El que no roba es pendejo. Raterismo at all levels. I owned nighclubs in Anzoategui in the 90s. Constant war with stealing employees. My brother has a construction company and the tools keep getting stolen and night raids in complicity with vigilantes. Stealing is socially acceptable. It starts when kids steal a soccer ball and their parents compliment them instead of punishing.

  2. The story clearly has a before and an after , a period in the past when even people of humble origins could realize their dreams of a happier life , when life was more sane and normal, and a now when those dreams are dashed and made impossible , when life is impoverished and destroyed by the corruption that the chavez regime practices and by the increased corruption it generates at every level of social life.

    The before clearly includes the pre chavez era where corruption existed but did not reach the destructive scale and magnitude that it now has. and an after period, when Chavez took over and let the hounds of hell loose to devour and devastate our lives and that of our children , all to serve his disordered megalomaniacal delusional cravings !! .

    His worst legacy is not the number of people he had killed but the number of lives he has destroyed !!

    • “His worst legacy is not the number of people he had killed but the number of lives he has destroyed !!”

      I read your post several days ago and this last sentence really hit me. I hope this legacy of the Chavez regime is long remembered for how it has and continues to destroy the lives of millions. So, so sad.

  3. I knew several guys who did the same, buy a peace of land with the benefits of its work in the Guayana’s Industries.

    I always thought it was a bad idea, not for the reasons exposed in this article but because i’m simply lazy and i figured that land is more work.

    I’m pretty sure all my aquitances who chose this way of investment are regreting it right now, in its moment they though it was a good idea.

    I totally indentify myself and others i know with the “we all did the right things” thing.

    I know people that played by the book, worked, got married, rose a family. No mistakes, no alcohol, no drugs, no women, just work and family and now are struggling.

    That’s the legacy Chavez and Maduro are leaving behind.

    Thousands, millions of families in poverty when they shouldn’t.

  4. We had the same problem. We had chickens and the would come in the night and steal them. We had pigs to sell and the thieves would come like two days before it was time to sell them. Like they were watching to know when. We had fruit, vegetables everything we did was robbed by the local people. Now it is worse with the food crisis. WE saw one guy carrying an ayuama from our field and he refused to leave it saying his family needed food. What do you do?
    We no longer have pigs, cows, chickens, it is not worth it.

  5. Julio’s grandchildren will attend schools that will teach a lost Camelot, a romantic and wistful view of the Bolivarian revolution.

  6. NO human effort will ever give rise to a perfectly ordered society , but between the unmitigated disaster of the Chavez Maduro regime and a system ruled by more commonsensical liberal values (like those proposed by mainstream opposition movements) there is a HUGE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT , A system of governance doesn’t need to be perfect or exemplary in all respects for it to achieve good things for the country …..

    If Maduro and Co continue ruling the country we will fall even deeper into the abyss , if a new oppo regime comes to power things will improve if anything because whatever its flaws it will be a hundred times better than the current regime ….!!

    I have absolutely no doubt that if Venezuela had continued its flawed but more commonsensical liberal system of governance we would never have gone thru the miseries and tortures of our current situation !!

    Just compare ourselves with the way things have turned out in many oil dependent countries , they’ve taken a hit but they are still afloat , using saved oil income from the past to alliveate the present fall in oil prices . there are no queues of hungry people in Russia or in Iran or Ecuador.. and no one can claim that corruption does not exist in those countries…!! Bolivia which follows the same ideological discourse as Chavez is in pretty fair contidion …….so there is something particularly malignant in the Chavez Maduro regime that makes it deserve to be removed from power as punishment for the ruin they have brought to our country!!

  7. The net result of all this thieving from farms large and small will be less food production. Will Chavismo then inform us that as the land isn’t producing, that it will be expropriated? We know how well Expropriese has worked for Venezuela.

    I wonder how much thieving there was before the current crisis. When I was working in Trinidad in the 1980s, I was told that many farmers had stopped growing vegetables because of midnight raids on their land. If this was a problem in Trinidad, I suspect it was also a problem in better times in Venezuela, just not today.

    • My dad had a house in Chichirivichi, Falcon (beach town). This was until the late 90’s when he sold it because someone(s) from “el pueblo” broke into the house and took everything, even those things nailed to the floor including the toilet and bathroom sink, and two ceiling fans.

      So things were bad before, but now they’re even worse.

  8. When you see a government clinging to power in order to perpetrate this kind of life for the pueblo, you see power gone mad. Blaming the situation on others is crazier still. Very sad.

  9. I wish I could post in Spanish, but I no longer can. My Grandmother was a firecracker from Caracas many years ago. She made sandwiches for us that she called “Arepa..,” with the little sigh at the end.

    Do you think someday, when flour is available, that we could hear about the best arepa recipes? I know it’s hard right now…I know everyone is hungry and I don’t want to add to the distress, but maybe someday soon? We might be able to have an arepa contest.

    I hope it will be sooner than later, cousins.


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