Fear on Thursday

Although half of Caracas was deserted for Thursday’s strike, downtown buzzed with activity… and dread.

The lady was more afraid than expected. “I can’t, I can’t,” she said when I started the interview. I asked and engaged, yet she always shook her head.

“Do you agree with the protest? Is anyone forcing you to open? Why didn’t you join the strike?”

Not a single word. And then she looked at me in the eye.

“You shouldn’t be asking all these questions” she said. “There are colectivos around here. If you ask the wrong thing to the wrong person, you’ll be in trouble.”

“I’m not keeping quiet for me,” I heard her say as I left. “I’m doing it for you”.

After crossing the empty streets of Eastern Caracas, the experience of hanging around Capitolio the heart of Caracas’s historic downtown is overwhelming. The music, the people, the screaming of “Dona, dona! (donuts for sale); everything seems… normal. The streets close to the National Assembly are full, with none of the barricades you’d expect on the second day of a National General Strike. “Compro oro!, a guy yells.

The place is chaos with heat, shouting and traffic.

“We don’t close,” the owner of a little shoe store tells me. “It’s not a question of our politics, if you close, it’ll be bad.”

There are colectivos around here. If you ask the wrong thing to the wrong person, you’ll be in trouble.

According to the opposition’s discourse, most of these folks are public servants or forced to work. But the tiny shops and restaurants are all open, breathing fear under a guise of normality.

Just weeks ago, the colectivos attacked the National Assembly in an assault that caused indignation everywhere. I was shocked, maybe you were as well. But here, violence is expected.

“What paro?” a 20 something seller in a tech store says. “Everything’s normal here!”

A few feet away, a restaurant worked for seven patrons. “If people come, we sell, business as usual. I don’t believe in paro because this is not a political party.”

With or without a strike, people know who’s in charge. Although there was fierce repression in the East, people downtown carried on as usual, though the unease in their voice was clear.

“We’re open until five,” the Middle Eastern trader says from his shoe shop. “We better. This is zona roja.”