Caracas isn’t normal. For a skyline we have a mountain, not buildings, our river is our sewer, and the bit of town with the best educated is also the place where the most aggressively ill-informed people live.

I spent the day driving around southeast Caracas, or trying to, as I sought to keep friends and family up to speed on which streets to avoid during yesterday’s trancazo. I found myself driving somewhere between brilliance and insanity.

The Greater El Cafetal Area — the east-side of Caracas south of the Rio Guaire — is easy enough to stereotype that “cafetalero” has become the instantly recognizable codeword for “recalcitrant and right wing.” Forget Altamira, this is where the opposition’s most fervent supporters live. The oppo vibe is so strong out here, it’s capable of harming the movement it supports.

With nothing but a bottle of water and a gas mask, I set out, dodging roadblocks and sending voice notes as I ventured deeper into the heart of Elcafetalness. Right away, barricades on Los Naranjos’ main avenue, around Plaza Las Américas and the intersection between El Cafetal and Santa Paula: doña land. But the further I drove, the less shocked I was: just cafetaleros cafetaling.

Once I realized the Bulevar de El Cafetal wasn’t an option, it was time to hit the backroads and caminos verdes. A different Caracas emerged. One where people were shaky and in a hurry to get home, but had no real obstacle getting there. The streets turned into a road-rager’s wet dream: empty avenues made for speeding.

I had a harder time explaining to an old lady in need of a ride why my car had no crucifix or estampillita of Jesus than I did finding my way back home.

To many, yesterday was all about gaining spaces and blockading roads. The latter was done effectively, but at the expense of the former. A neurotic sub-set of cafetalero types couldn’t help but repeat the same mistakes they made back in 2014, when #LaSalida stumbled, deflated, and resolved itself into a self-defeating, self-imposed siege.

Tuesday was also the first time since the current crisis began that El Hatillo, the furthest removed of Caracas’ five municipalities, experienced repression right on its doorstep. It never made sense for the National Guard to crawl its way up the steep hills on which El Hatillo rests. Other than the Mayor’s office, the biggest political target is the Danish Consul’s house.

But in a war chavismo has a slim chance of winning, a show of might in the opposition’s hardest core was a show worth putting on. And so they did. Armed with little patience, the National Guard didn’t wait long after the first stone was thrown to open a flurry of tear gas and rubber bullets at CIED, between La Boyera and La Tahona:

Locals decided to spend their late afternoon trying to spook the enemy away from their hideout at the CIED office, right on the border between Baruta and El Hatillo. In total, two protesters were injured and five were detained after a couple of hours facing off. It set off alarms in this outpost of El Cafetal.

The reaction was pitiful. More roadblocks, less brains. No burning tires, just piles of garbage and what few tree branches they could scrape together. Surely nothing to feel proud of.

Yes, El Llanito was violent, ruthless and relentless, with colectivos opening fire on neighbors who attempted to participate in the trancazo… chavismo at its finest, and the highway was, yet again, overtaken by protesters at Altamira. But the headline here is that, in the midst of the worst series of protests in years, chavismo was able to strike those who oppose them at home for the first time. Had these neurotic El Cafetal radicals stuck to the initial plan, a lot more would have been accomplished.

Then again, neurosis is an El Cafetal staple. It’s a neighbourhood where conspiranoia fueled by fake news plays a key part in the Whatsapp ecosystem and the social dynamics. It’s one of the main reasons why the opposition seems entrenched, almost as if it doesn’t trust the world around them and their ability to have an impact on it.

Once the sun set, less than a handful of barricades remained manned in the expected areas: the intersection of El Cafetal and Santa Paula, the Santa Fé highway and El Cigarral, a few hundred yards from the CIED office. Handfuls of guys “defending” a parapeto that meant nothing and does no good. It felt like a defeat, because it was.

The lesson for the opposition’s leaders is that they’d better avoid playing on home turf for some time, since its inhabitants have a habit of entrenching, no matter how well things seem to be going.

My day ended at a minimart, surrounded by pop music, annoyed cashiers and regular Johns queueing to pay for basic goods. I stopped to stretch my legs and buy something to munch on my way back home. To my surprise, they had the widest selection of BBQ sauce I had seen in this country for ages. I was ready for dinner.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. Shit. El Llanito was my neighbourhood

    So, basically if I get your point, you think the return to “guarimbas” is a losing strategy, specially when the guarimbas themselves are pitiful and unmanned?

    I can understand the fear that colectivos generate prompting people to try to barricade themselves, but, well… tough luck with that. They have weapons and time (they dont work). Neighbourgs have what, bits of debris and a few moments per day to man the thing?

  2. “But in a war chavismo has a slim chance of winning, a show of might in the opposition’s hardest core was a show worth putting on”

    I don’t want to give you bad news but unless there is something more than make everyone lives miserable in the East (and in Caracas), I tend to believe that chavismo has a lot more than a slim change to win this war.

    We are reaching a point were we have to be a lot more creative and resourceful. I think we need to extend a hand to the chavistas that hate how Maduro destroyed the finado legacy. The ones that albeit chavistas, have a deep believe in democracy. The ones that want to move on and try something different.

    My point here is to repeat El Valle (not the looting but the way the Valleros kick the cronies’ ass out of their barrio) but in many other places. Go on a general strike for a day (or two) even if it brings some bad memories. Block the Regional del Centro, get Maracaibo in line and keep the pressure on the government.

    Keep the pressure on the military and let them see that they are betting on the wrong guy, that chavismo pays loyalty with jail. Make them see that there is a chance they will be held accountable, that supporting this adefesio will be short gain but a long term loss and that going against the people’s will be their ruin.

    • Yea, I think so. Marches, specially ones that tie the whole city and bridge the divide between “rich” and “poor”, traditional oppo vs traditional chavista places, are the way to go. Better than holing up, in any case; same risk, more value in showing the true face of the regime.

    • Excellent post!! I live in the heart of the guarimbas on Margarita. These guarimberos have zero strategy. ZERO.

      Secondly, and getting to the thesis of this article, we have to remember that not too long ago on Margarita, Maduro was heckled and chased out of Villa Rosa, a hotbed of Chavismo (youtube this video, classic!). So I agree, lets play along with this stupid discourse of: “yo soy Chavista, no so Madurista” and expand this movement to more fertile grounds. The battle ground has to be here because only here you can expose the hypocrisy of the Maduristas and hit them where it hurts.

      As far as the guarimberos erecting these “chimbo” barricades in opposition neighborhoods. Well I am sorry kids, but it is time for the adults to stand up and take charge. Your “chimbo” barricades have little strategic importance and are more about narcisism, youth angst and rage. I understand the sentiment, but your guarimbas are accomplishing little strategically. Ultimately, what we will see is nothing more than a repeat of 2014 and we just grow more tired and demoralized.

      Btw gringos, if you want to summarize the situation in Venezuela today into one word, “chimbo” pretty much wraps it up. Very hard to translate. I wish I could say this is all because of the Bolivarian Republic of Chimbo, but the chimbo in Venezuela runs much deeper than this and is culturally entrenched on all sides. Nothing will change overnight.

  3. “Caracas isn’t normal. For a skyline we have a mountain, not buildings, our river is our sewer, and the bit of town with the best educated is also the place where the most aggressively ill-informed people live.”

    1/ El Guaire is not La Seine : That’s why Kleptozuela ain’t France:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=la+seine&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjrx-vXt9TTAhUK4WMKHWLPCGAQ_AUICigB&biw=1602&bih=802#imgrc=W7EozUCxewdJyM:

    2/ Careful about your words about us in El Cafetal. We are VERY well educated and VERY well informed. Sadly, most of us, those who could, left El Cafetal long ago, for better places like Miami or Madrid. Thanks to Chavez, and the millions of Chavistas, who do not reside in El Cafetal, last I checked.

    • Definitively… if only the rest of the “bravo pueblo” had heard what we said on the first place, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. But no, el bravo pueblo decided to vote for the red disease 19 times (yes, they voted 19 times) for something that was very clear it was the inception of a dictatorship… but people voted happily for them just to keep receiving cheap dollars, cars, flats, etc. So Daniel, please, choose well who the culprit here is and to whom you should be directing your efforts. If anything we saw everything crystal clear from the very beginning. That is something the ultra moderates (like many readers of this blog) hate to admit. You rather keep demining us, basically the only ones who had a clear view of the problem from day one

  4. Can they not just raise a perimeter wall and form their own duchy? Under the Duke and Duchess of Imported Condiments….

    • I’ll always be in favor of a República Independiente (y Paranoica) de El Cafetal, and imported condiments. So I’ll rally around your cause.

  5. You forgot to mention one key point on El Cafetal’s origins: it used to be called El Adecal as many of AD leaders used to live there and many of the buildings there were constructed by AD while they were in office , with public money and handed out (yes, for free or on very favourable terms) to party supporters and family members of politicians…Something similar happened with flats around Parque Central…

    • Yes. This is where most of this fight or flight cafetalero instinct stems from. Wasn’t the only time it happened.

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