La Camionetica Intergaláctica

What happens when a normal Caracas commute goes Star Wars.

It was 8:00 l.m. when I hopped on my “camionetica” — the crammed micro-bus that takes me from my house to the Metro station. Like every day, the journée started to the beat of the son of Jerry Rivera and his “Cara de niño” blaring through the 60s-style Linea de la Cultura bus.

Anyone used to getting around with public transportation in Caracas knows that, with time, you get to know the other commuters, the little cast of characters that go to work at around the same time as you just like an army —an industrial army— Marx would say. Even if you don’t get involved, there’s a silent sense of community there.

That day, the chatter started with a chronicle of another armed robbery, this time perpetrated on Antonio’s sister. It was the regular deal: two malandros on motorbikes took her cell phone while she was waiting for the metrobus at La California.

“I’m just tired of this, I eventually got used to getting held up, but I still can’t get used to living in fear,” he said while the bus commiserated. We all sighed, feeling ashamed that we just keep going.

Traveling in a stylish 1960’s Ford Falcon bus though the streets of Municipio Sucre is more or less like dodging asteroids in the Oort Cloud: y’know, skipping potholes, blasting malandros, jumping into the Metro’s hyperspace…you’d think you were on the Millennium Falcon, if it wasn’t for Jerry Rivera on the radio:

Con cara de niño…alma de hombre!
Tururu tun tun

It was Ventitrés de Enero — January 23rd. Capriles had called a marcha to the CNE in order to demand for state and local elections and to commemorate the day the last dictatorship (before this one, obvs.) was overthrown. The day when the Republic overtook the “Regime.”

But that day wasn’t like the times when oppo called people out to protest last year. In the camionetica, there wasn’t anyone wearing white or chanting liberen a Leopoldo or anything like that. Not even the omnipresent doñas del Cafetal were there. It felt like any other Monday.

The bus stopped to pick up more passengers.

“Are you going to the marcha?” I asked to Yolanda, a 46 year-old lady who never finished high school and is mom of two kids.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “it’s the military brass who decide who runs the place…”

“No way in hell, for what? Waste of time!” Yolanda said. She works as housekeeper in Chacaito and weighs about 200 kilos — not the marchiest of figures. “I’m not opposing the people who attend the march, but I think [protesting] must be done with a purpose.”

She looks annoyed.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “it’s the military brass who decide who runs the place…”

I was thinking about her words, Yolanda is not precisely an expert in politics but she oozes some of this “popular wisdom” that drives the pueblos’s thinking. Unexpectedly, Yolanda’s words set off a tertulia in the camioneta’s tiny cramped aisle that made my usual commute feel more like a Rolling Senate.

Antonio jumped in. He’s maybe 27 years old and works doing something with computers at Concresa. He looks like these American Comic-Con guys and is a big time Star Wars fan.

“I don’t think there will be fair elections ever again” he said “these gangsters won’t play a game they’re sure to lose.”

I replied that it could be true as long there’s no cost for them in doing so, and precisely, the opposition’s role was to manage to hike up this cost.

But they don’t! he said, frustrated. And they can’t! In fact, MUD is aiming at the wrong target when they try to pin the cost on Maduro and his crew, they need to look at the Armed Forces.”

Suddenly, Antonio put on his Darth Vader face and I realized he’d just been cogiendo impulso.

Antonio was clearly in the mood. The camionetica stopped to pick up more passengers but we barely noticed. We were involved, the tone of the conversation took us to a deep, unexpected travel into the hyperspace of opinion while Jerry’s soundtrack continued to blare.

Suddenly, Antonio put on his Darth Vader face and I realized he’d just been cogiendo impulso.

“Remember Star Wars? How did Palpatine manage to dissolve the Senate and create the Empire? Because the clone army was loyal to him, more than to the Republic. That’s what he did to destroy the Jedi, the only ones able to bring balance to the Force.”

Bring balance to the Force? How did we go from Maduro to this?

I was furiously leafing through my mental files on Star Wars and I remembered the words of chancellor Palpatine when he asked the Senate for temporary supreme powers as Emperor.

It was something about bringing peace back to the galaxy and fighting corruption. Galaxy/ La Patria de Bolívar? Corruption in Couruscant/”Las Cúpulas Podridas”? Maybe it’s cabin fever, but man, this all made sense to me somehow right then and there.

He got me. I asked Antonio what he thought about the value of democracy in Venezuela.

“Given this whole mess, I thought people could lose their confidence in democracy as a system, as something valuable that deserves to be protected. Chaos is what stokes the nostalgia for a mano dura —a strongman government— just like it did in 1998. I’m feeling too tired about surviving to concern myself with MUD, or El Aissami or Maduro, I just want someone to come and create order…

The words resonated in my mind. “Venir a poner orden…”

Someone to bring back the balance to the (armed) Force(s).

I guess he had a good point about that, but really he’d just rolled all the way around to pinning for “el déspota ilustrado”: 98 years after Vallenilla Lanz published his thesis. We’ve spent a long, long time looking for a “caudillo” to clear the path to democracy, just like the Jedi’s code said. But we have tried that before, and it seems like the prophecy hasn’t been very accurate. The force still unbalanced.

Maybe, the worst part of this whole disaster we’re living is that people are so tired of fighting that they’re looking at the fight for democracy as something sterile, irrelevant, even meaningless.

I noticed we were arriving to the metro station. The bus slowed down and the driver, who was following the conversation, shouted: “¡Metro espacial!” with a belly laugh.

We laughed too.

Maybe the worst part of this whole disaster we’re living is that people are so tired of fighting that they’re looking at the fight for democracy as something sterile, irrelevant, even meaningless. We’re too far down on Maslow’s pyramid for this kind of nicety. Democracy has come to be seen as valuable only as long it’s able to put a chicken in your pot and stop the choro on the corner from stealing your lunch.

The balance in the Force must be restored, it’s true. The thing is: how do we make it happen? And, which kind of Force are we talking about?

I hopped off my Milliennium Falcon, said goodbye to Antonio, and ducked into the Metro. The bus rode off into hyperspace. Maybe we have to wait for the next Anakin to come.