Insanity is contagious”

– Joseph Heller, Catch-22

It’s hard to see the upside of being put under house arrest for political reasons. At least stuck in your own house you get the benefit of a police officer stationed permanently at your door. In a crime-infested country like ours, that almost sounds like a perk.

Think again.

Marcelo Crovato has been under house arrest for more than two years. A volunteer for Foro Penal — a high-profile NGO that works on behalf of political prisoners — he was arrested during 2014’s protests when he went to assist a neighbour who had been detained. His case is already fraught with irony: a Human Rights activist arrested for offering legal support. A lawyer with a long history of public service, he was initially sent to Yare prison, a place where, years earlier, he had served as prison director. His trial has not even begun, the audiencia has been deferred 32 times. Thirty-two.

And then, the cherry on top: in early September, two burglars broke into his small two bedroom apartment in Central Chacao, bound him and beat him as they demanded jewels, dollars and cell phones. He doesn’t have dollars or jewelry. He hasn’t been able to work in two years. His family gets by because his wife continues to work. The policewoman stationed at his house to make sure he doesn’t escape was in a next-door apartment when the burglars entered. She turned up in the middle of the burglary and also got beat up. Her gun was taken away and a shot that was fired during the struggle leaving a hole on the wall as a token souvenir.

Are we at war? Is this a countrywide kidnapping? Are we all under arrest?

A few days before the incident, Daniel Ceballos was taken from house arrest in the middle of the night and thrown back in prison; political prisoners such as Carlos Melo, remain in custody even though a judge has ordered he be freed; numerous political arrests have multiplied in recent weeks; which leads one to speculate on the possible political motives of the assault.

But a few days later an 88 year old woman was murdered by thugs in her Chacao apartment, near Crovato’s place. So it could perfectly have been a “normal” crime.

Either way, the country seems to defy comprehension. Are we at war? Is this a countrywide kidnapping? Are we all under arrest?

In Caracas, people retreat to their houses as it gets dark, police raids flaunt having murdered 41 people in two days, pranes (prison gang leaders) kidnap prison personnel in protest over not having enough fellow prisoners to extort, newspaper reports now use the term “dar de baja”, when the police murder someone.

It is a grotesque and violent version of the absurd. We are all under house arrest in a madhouse with a beautiful view.

In Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, the main character, Ossarian, wants to be discharged from the aviation because war is driving him crazy. The psychiatrist agrees that he ought to be considered mad and that he has grounds for asking for his discharge, but there’s a catch, he explains: anybody that admits they are mad in a war is evidently not that crazy, and therefore cannot be discharged.

We have reached the point where, after any official pronouncement on the future of the country, any Venezuelan with a minimum of experience dealing with the revolution asks: Where’s the catch?

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