It was my neighborhood’s turn to feel the perversion of the so-called civilian-military union. The only thing missing from Palo Verde to be a proper town is its own Plaza Bolívar, but it has everything else. The version I grew up in was much nobler and beautiful, with plants instead of bars on the windows, all kinds of stores and children who could visit them on their own without causing their parents to panic. It’s painful to see how little of that remains.
Palo Verde has always had a difficult relationship with barrio José Félix Ribas, reaching critical mass during the Caracazo (1989), when the community painfully realized that looters didn’t have to come from the slums, that they could be and were, in fact, their own neighbors, destroying the trust and means of many shop owners, including those who could never recover their stores.
Last night, both the neighborhood and the barrio were calm until about 8:00 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, a significant group of motorizados and another group of pedestrians -all of them men, by the way- left Zone 1 and entered the neighborhood to intimidate. Palo Verde is hugely disadvantaged because of failing public lighting, so the headlights of vehicles light the roads better than street lamps.
But motorizados and pedestrians arrived almost simultaneously to the GNB post and even worse, despite having two armored vehicles in place, the GNB allowed considerable chaos, using speakers to “explain” that the tear gas was meant for violent protesters and even to warn neighbors who were throwing objects at them, instructing their officers about where those objects came from and what to do.
Like all previous instances of repression in residential areas, authorities didn’t care about children or the elderly, the asthmatic, the alergic or even pregnant ladies; they didn’t care that most apartment kitchens in Palo Verde are open, so they shot dozens of tear gas canisters and the gas leaked into lower stories and dust reached the upper ones, helped by the evening breeze. As in all protests, while residents of Res. Orituco and Res. Caparo had to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas, Res. Caroni and Res. Arauca barely caught a rumor and the houses could only hear the music streaming from José Félix, like any given Friday.
Chavismo’s paramilitary groups had leeway to operate with impunity, that’s why they intimidated, stole and even kidnapped people. Nothing about this can be farther from the “civic,” part of “civic-military union” but also, nothing should be more offensive for a career soldier than to have to “work” alongside malandros to drum fear on a community for the sake of the most corrupt and demented political elite this country has ever known.
There was tense calm when armored vehicles descended upon the small buildings in Las Vegas de Petare, in the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús parish, but they came back shortly after that and people shouted for protesters to go back into their homes. There weren’t even 30 people. I can understand that a kid feels the euphoria of the past few days and wants to forge his own chapter of “street resistance,” the picture they’ll put in their profiles, the story they’ll tell on WhatsApp chats, but there was something seriously wrong with this choreography between GNB and criminals, too shameless really, even for chavismo.
If they stick to their usual protocol, today they will blame mayor Carlos Ocaríz for what happened, to hold onto chavismo’s script: they don’t repress, they simply defend and if perchance they happen to resort to repression, it’s justified by the opposition’s “terrorism,” even as they try to impose a rather flimsy image of normalcy, with high-ranking chavistas uploading pictures and videos calmly driving through a city as if nothing happened. They’re geniuses of coherence.