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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