The Cheap Masculinity of Venezuelan State Watchdogs

Venezuelan military and police forces have become the worst type of authority: bullies with a badge. The government loves them, but society resents them.

Photo: AlJazeera 

You can see them everywhere. They stroll the streets like they own them, their rifles hanging on their shoulders or in their hands, a finger on the trigger even though there’s no immediate danger. Their bullet-proof vests make them look bulkier, but that can’t conceal the fact that some of them aren’t eating as well as they used to.

SEBIN, GNB, PNB, FAES, CICPC, CONAS. In Venezuela, we know you have to be cautious when you see these letters. Members of any of those bodies wave their guns and their pissed-off attitude around like testaments to their manliness and volatility.

They’re hardly ever alone. If you see one, chances are there’s more somewhere nearby. And it’s not strange to see them drive by in dread caravans, in their bleak uniforms that always remind me of insect swarms, riding their motorcycles that sound like howling beasts, or in ominous vehicles plastered with their service branch’s initials, with complete disregard for traffic regulations or citizens around them.

Members of any of those bodies wave their guns and their pissed-off attitude around like testaments to their manliness and volatility.

They’re a load of big bad bullies often far worse than malandros, corrupt to the core, armed to the teeth, set loose on a civilian population ravaged by every possible plague a country can endure, with full license to do as they please.

The regime loves them, however. They use them for every possible task, from guarding electric substations to cracking down on municipal markets. Back in 2014, when the critical generalized shortages were just starting, you could always see an officer from one branch or the other guarding supermarkets while people stood in long lines to be able to buy the now mythical price-controlled products. That year, we also had a taste of how much these guys enjoyed repressing civilian demonstrations; the OLPs and last year’s protests ratified their commitment to cause suffering, and it’s gotten worse.

Their pumped-up manners and their drawn weapons are a disrespect to the most basic decency, an insult to every citizen of this country, but they seem to take pride in them.

And it’s true: they’re dangerous. Security forces in Venezuela may arrest you at the least provocation, downright rob you or even kill you in certain contexts, with utter impunity.

To be honest, we despise and resent them more than we fear them. And last weekend, we had a clear image of how cowardly and useless they truly are. Despite all their bravado and the way they exhibit their blood-stained, metal peacock feathers for everyone to see, we now know they’ll break down and run at the first sign of trouble.

The scene is equal parts pathetic, discouraging and funny. The equipment they tend to carry around makes them seem well-trained, professional, but most of them are no better than street punks with a badge. Right after this shameful incident, which the regime calls an “assassination attempt,” SEBIN officers were recorded by security cameras kidnapping constitutionally elected lawmaker Juan Requesens in a building in Terrazas del Ávila. This is just the latest of a long string of violent, arbitrary arrests these guys have carried out.

A friend of mine once told me a saying I’d never heard before: “Some men grow old, but they never become true men,” and I guess that’s the deepest root of toxic masculinity. Since they never learned how to be true men, they fake it, but in the face of danger they wouldn’t last ten minutes. 

A day will come when these criminal show-offs will regret their very public cult to violence, when their institutions are dismantled, cleansed from their poison and their indignity, free to fulfill the purpose they were meant to fulfill. Fancy that, security bodies that will actually defend the people, instead of running for cover in shameful disarray.