In Guayana, the fear of crime has inscribed itself physically into our city. As crime has risen, so have the walls around our homes. Little by little, bars, electric fences and remote-controlled security gates popped up on every street.

Every street but ours, because of three families who refused, as it would be “too uncomfortable” for them when they hosted parties to be opening the gates again and again. We should’ve realized, it would make us a target. 

A few years ago, we attracted Edwin’s attention. He turned up out of nowhere one day, slim, with weather-beaten skin. Always in his shabby bera, the go-to motorcycle for thugs, with his .45 in hand. At the time he turned up, nobody knew his name, but Puerto Ordaz isn’t that big a city: inquiries were made soon enough.

He began small, as a raterito (a petty criminal) stealing cell phones and other valuables from people and from houses.

Hearing the screaming and begging of those being mugged or burgled by him became routine. Sometimes, you could open the curtains to see him attacking his newest victim. The people from the bloques in front of our street constantly reported car batteries and tires stolen from their parked vehicles.

As time went by, Edwin became bolder, more violent and his robberies more elaborate.

Edwin stole from more than twenty people only on my street alone. A couple of times somebody tried to turn him into the cops. But any Venezuelan can imagine the face of a police officer when you disturb him at his desk during a scorching day to tell him somebody just took your phone or your car battery.

As time went by, Edwin became bolder, more violent and his robberies more elaborate. Often, people would wake up and notice somebody had broken into their house at night and stolen some things. Other times, they would arrive after work to see their homes practically emptied out, with almost everything, including furniture, gone.

Once, a neighbor was leaving her house when he appeared. She did not have her cell with her, so he took her wedding ring and shoved her down to the ground, angry.

Everybody became paranoid, scared to go out and scared to stay in.

Another time, my mother was chatting with her neighbor who was leaning on our house garage bars. The usual sound of the bera gave Edwin away, mom and our neighbor knew what was about to happen even before he turned up. This time, he aimed his gun directly at our neighbor and asked for the usual: cell phone, wallet, keys. She told him she didn’t have anything and that he could shoot her for all she cared. He just pistol-whipped her and left.

Everybody became paranoid, scared to go out and scared to stay in. Our homes had become our prisons — the police station five blocks away, as useless as ever.

Finally, on December 24, 2014, somebody was arriving at their house after a party when he turned up. Edwin tried to steal his car, but the desperate and angry neighbor had had enough. He threw the keys over the wall to the porch. He was shot twice, but survived: it was the first time Edwin shot someone on our street.

After that, just like he’d come, he simply disappeared. Some say he’s in jail. Others, that he was killed. In this city without records, where disappearances are normal, nobody’s that surprised that he seemed to evaporate into thin air.

He was gone, but the paranoia stayed behind. Jaded and feeling forgotten by the security forces, the fellows in the bloques decided to arm themselves and take justice into their own hands. They let it be known they would shoot to kill from now on.

Last week, a car with tinted windows was parked on our street. Time passed, and by four in the morning somebody in the bloques, believing those inside the vehicle were waiting for a passerby to attack, decided to fire two warning shots into the air.

That’s the new normal on my street now: untrained armed civilians threatening to use lethal force on rules of engagement they make up as they go along.

The people in the car tried to get out of there, but since the only open route in the labyrinth of the neighborhood was our street, they had to turn around to go back out the same way they had come. As they did, at least other three guns joined the first, this time shooting at the moving target.

The bullets resounded all over the neighborhood. As it turns out, a friend was giving a neighbor’s son a lift. In typical Venezuelan fashion, he did not leave the car immediately but stayed there for a while drinking and chatting with his buddy, and ended up making people over suspicious.

Nobody was hurt. This time, police officers did come to the scene, and went door to door, asking for information. Nobody saw anything; nobody heard anything, and nobody said anything. The patrulleros arrested the naïve pair, thinking they must have been up to something, and left.

That’s the new normal on my street now: untrained armed civilians threatening to use lethal force on rules of engagement they make up as they go along. It’s just a matter of time before something terrible happens. We all know it.

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  1. “That’s the new normal on my street now: untrained armed civilians threatening to use lethal force on rules of engagement they make up as they go along. It’s just a matter of time before something terrible happens. We all know it.”

    Well, if I was living in Venezuela, I would probably get 3 firearms, and carry one at all times. People have to defend themselves, when the system or police don’t do anything. If you are attacked, and your family, with no other option, you just pull the trigger.

    Even in civilized countries, when you have a house, kids, the wife, it’s probably not a bad idea to get a gun. I’ve heard too many stories.. If you live in an apartment building, with some security, and dozens of apartments, a gun is probably unnecessary. But if you’re in Caracas, one of the deadliest cities in the entire world, statistically, you should be prepared.. I would carry a gun in the car, at all times.

    Next best option? Get the hell out of that war zone, and go live elsewhere where there is justice and laws. Unfortunately many people can’t do that, yet. But as soon as they can, they will. Because of the crime, and also terrible economy. That’s why over a million people have already gotten the hell outta there, recently. Can’t blame us.

  2. Private gun ownership is not allowed as far as I know. I myself have thought that it would be a good idea to be armed, however the amount of times I get stopped at checkpoints and searched it would be quiet frankly be a disaster waiting to happen. A couple of days ago I watched a ‘bad man’ shot in the carpark of Sambil Valencia, attempted robbery was the chatter…..the ‘bad man’ tried to rob some one who was armed. I don’t know how it ended up for the man the did the shooting, but the police really didn’t show any interest in the man bleeding out on the asphalt… I figure the shooter will be okay. So life just goes on in hyper alert state where for me it’s up to me to stay safe.

    • Not allowed? Is there a law against private guns? Unbelievable. So in one of the deadliest nations in the world you cannot protect yourself.. I would still carry a concealed weapon if I was still living in the wild-wild west.

      • it is my understanding private gun ownership was outlawed in 2012, this would have little impact on the guns already in circulation as of this date. Like I said before police/gaurdia check points are a regular thing here and as a gringo it is not uncommon to be pulled over, searched and documents checked. In reality I get the feeling that they are more looking for irregularities that they could use to solicit some sort of payment rather than some civic sense of upholding the law. However if a gun was found in my possession I imagine it cost me plenty to rectify the situation. Another point to make is that unless you are well practiced in using a firearm you stand a good chance of escalating the situation, I once was a member of a pistol club for target shooting and even hitting a paper target under calm conditions at 25m is a lot harder than it looks. Under pressure in split second If you were to draw a gun in defence you will not get a second chance if you miss. I guess this is what the ‘bad man’ now laying dead in the carpark of Sambil found out…..I don’t think anyone would choose to arm themselves with a pistol for defence if you had a choice. People carry pistols because they are easy to conceal, when it comes to defence a shot gun makes more sense but it is not a very subtle thing to conceal. The reality for me is I always need to be aware of what’s going on around me, don’t get complacent or relaxed, don’t have a regular routine or pattern, certain areas are off limits pure and simple…..don’t get drunk and just use plenty of common sense.

  3. interesante historia… es siempre un placer conocer la realidad venezolana vista desde la perspectiva de sus entradas en este blog.

  4. How far in time does it feels the guayana of my adolescence when we used to play domino or truco or agiley out in the street of our neighborhood until dawn without never ever being disturbed by nobody except the complains for the noise.

    We never were robbed, never.

    And that was in the eighties.

  5. I hate to tell you this, but something terrible has already happened.

    The fact that you only now wonder about the circumstances is most puzzling.

    All those times when nothing else was done to community police with a neighborhood watch or even post a lookout?

    And a society that has forgotten what it means to be free?

    This is no different than in Chicago. If people don’t value their community, then why should the police?

    The point at which people said “enough” was already too late and instead of personal security you have vigilantism.

    By all means, blame the guns, the police, and everyone else first. I know first hand how this makes it easier for some to sleep at night.

  6. Having guns may help protect oneself from crime in some situations but may have you lose your life in others, often criminals dont act alone when holding someone up , at least in Venezuela , one of them does the holding up, but usually there is a second armed gunman somewhere close, by, out of inmmediate sight keeping watch on his fellow and any coming policemen, so when the victims takes out his gun and tries to protect himself he is exposed not only to being shot by whoever he has in front of him but also by his hidden accomplice , have heard of quite a few cases were people lost their lives from ignoring this custom of criminals to act in teams…. !! Usually the criminal is more familiar with guns than an ordinary person , more accostumed to using them , and thus has a disadvantage over the criminal that is holding him up and already has a gun in his hand…!!

    Having a gun might expose a person to greater danger than if he didnt have one because guns are prized objects profesional criminals want to steal and thus gun carrying persons call the attention of criminals who will ambush then to take away their gun, a big number of victims of murder in Venezuela are policemen or other people who use guns professionally because they are ambushed on their way home by criminals who want their guns…!!

    Increasingly the criminals are people who have been or are still members of the police or the national guard , who free lance as criminals in their spare time ……or who have contacts with the forces of order or are protected by their political or personal affiliations or connections …….Criminals will sometimes present themselves as members of some security body stopping cars on the highways or in the streets generally so you never know for sure whether those waiving your car to stop are real policemen or criminals …..!!

    Comparing our situation to that in the US is so naive and lame……rule of law in Venezuela is so minimal that even if people arm themselves and form vigilante groups for their protection , they never scape the risks that living in a lawless society implies…!!


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