The pictures of Venezuela’s past decade mirror stories about the situation in which people and communities can sometimes find themselves in. They’re a window with a painful view: broken dreams, rising (and falling) stars, fear, paucity, hope, escape, unrest, brutality, death. These images are powerful, precisely because they question authority, challenge rules and conquer fear. After all, “A photography is an image of concepts”.

This last decade is filled with haunting images of a shattered country spiraling into chaos. To me, they are an inventory of catastrophes, a sad memento of a country interrupted. The caliber of journalism and photography produced in Venezuela in this era burns deep.

Photography’s not dead.

2008, CNN. Chávez speaks during a rally in Caracas on November 18, 2008.

2008, Christopher Anderson. Boys playing in a slum overlooking Caracas. This year, Venezuela flaunted the title of lowest inequality in Latin America.

2009, Alvaro Ybarra Zavala. One of the many colectivos from Caracas. Colectivos are criminal gangs armed by the Chávez administration, who have become urban guerrillas. They define themselves as “guardians of the revolution and keepers of Chávez’ legacy.”  

2009, AFP. Venezuelans vote, again, for the amendment project that would allow Chávez to be reelected for a third time in a row.

2009, Valerio Bispuri. Cárcel de Los Teques. The conditions of detention centers in Venezuela are dire, especially in terms of hygiene, overcrowding and violence from prisoners and the authorities.

2010. Meridith Kohut, NYT. The family of judge María Lourdes Afiuni built a shrine to her after she was jailed on Chávez’ command. According to the then Attorney General, Luisa Ortega, she had illegally freed high-profile prisoner and conspirator, Eligio Cedeño. Chávez had her arrested and thrown in a cell with more than 20 inmates, who Afiuni had sentenced on charges like murder and drug trafficking.

2012, Rodrigo Abd, AP. An Hidrocapital worker tries to fix a pipeline. That year, Hidrocapital lost nearly a 50% of its water reserves due to broken pipelines. The collapse of services had just begun.

2012, Gil Montaño. Amuay’s explosion killed 55 people and left 156 injured. PDVSA still struggles to recover from Amuay’s Tragedy, recognized as one of the world’s worst refinery disasters in decades.

2012, BBC. Exhilarating hope and massive support branded that year’s presidential election. Chávez and Capriles both rallied the country and changed the political scene, for a while, at least.

2012, Rodrigo Abd, AVN. Chávez’ last public speech, closing his third presidential campaign. “Here is Chávez, standing with you all” he said under the rain, five months before dying of cancer.

2013, Jorge Silva. David’s Tower is an unequivocal symbol of these 20 years: an unfinished grand project, a center of displacement and crime where both bonanza and crisis collide.

2013, Alvaro Ybarra Zavala. Police from the Sucre municipality during an operation in the Petare’s slums. Crime has been exponentially rising these past 20 years, making Venezuela the third most violent country in the world. Brutality: Chávez’s most important legacy.  

2013, Alejandro Cegarra. After weeks of mystery surrounding the president’s terminal disease, Chávez’ burial was emotional and magnificent, indeed the best part of Maduro’s presidential campaign. His supporters paid their respects, heartbroken and nervous about their future.

2013, Telesur. From sadness to victory. Maduro narrowly wins the presidential election, the closest vote in the country’s recent history. In his victory speech, he proclaimed a new era in the Bolivarian revolution, calling his victory “Proof that Chávez continues to be invincible, he continues to win.”

2014, Alejandro Cegarra. Bassil Da Costa’s body is lifted into a police vehicle. The nation spirals into scarcity and inflation under Maduro’s administration, sparking one of the biggest national protests waves the continent has ever seen. Bassil was murdered by government authorities, who were filmed shooting at terrified demonstrators.

2014, Reuters. Opposition leader Leopoldo López turns himself to the authorities, after being accused by the government of promoting violence, conspiracy and murder in connection with that year’s protests.

2014, Reuters. The 2014 protests lasted from February to May, and left 43 dead, 486 injured and 1854 detained. The Foro Penal Venezolano registered 33 torture cases. A new era of repression.

2014, Vladimir Marcano. Graffiti painting of Chávez, in downtown Caracas square. Since Hugo died, the government has continued to use his image to sell the idea that he’s alive, still with us, watching us.

2015,  Alvaro Ybarra Zavala. Food and medicine shortages intensify while prices rise at astonishing rates. “It makes you cry,” said Luis Felipe Anatael, bodega owner in Puerto Ordaz, in a telephone interview with the Guardian. “I think we are headed for chaos.”

2015, Ariana Cubillos, AP. Long lines at the voting centers for the legislative elections help Venezuela’s opposition win a key two-thirds majority, drastically strengthening its game after 17 years of Bolivarian revolution. A bittersweet victory to many and a hopeful sight at a more democratic future.

2015, Fabiola Ferrero. But not that hopeful. In 2015, 697,562 Venezuelans migrants were living abroad, nearly a 2,3% of the Venezuelan population. Since, migration has worsened, making Venezuela a country of fragmented families and friendships. Maiquetía Airport is now a sensible space for goodbyes.

2016, EFE.  “In less than six months, we’ll decide the Constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral solution for the cessation of this Government,” said Henry Ramos Allup in his first speech as head of the Legislative.

2016, Manaure Quintero, Bloomberg. Storeowners weigh money, instead of counting it, as Venezuela’s inflation reaches 784%, reflecting an economy akin to Germany’s Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe’s recent plights.

2016, Meridith Kohut, NYT. Venezuela’s State-run crumbling mental hospitals reveal a growing lack of resources, medicine shortages and inhumane conditions for forgotten patients.

2016, George Castellanos. Maduro orders the BsF. 100 bills out of the streets, as a way to “asphyxiate contraband inside the country and the borders.” It’d be one of the most surreal moments of the revolution, as citizens burned mountains of cash in the middle of the street, and long lines spread across the cities, to exchange useless bills for valid ones that didn’t even exist.

2017,  Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP. A demonstrator burns after a motorcycle exploded in front of him. Two days before this portrait was taken, Maduro summoned The Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, a brutal anti-democratic measure amidst the most violent protest the country had seen. The protests went from March to August, and left 127 dead, 3,000 injured and and 2,977 detained. This photo won the World Press Photo as Photo of The Year.

2017, AFP. Lines grow longer and slower as cash shortage affects everyday life and keeps prices rising.

2017, Carlos García Rawlins. A Venezuelan soldier tries to control the crowd, as people queue to buy food outside a market. Food control and a militarized lifestyle are the new normal.

2017, Meridith Kohut, NYT. Funeral for the child Kleiver Enrique Hernandez, in Cúa, Miranda. Kleiver died of heart failure after severe malnutrition. Over the course of five months, Meridith Kohut, on assignment for the NYT, interviewed over 200 people and tracked 21 public hospitals to amass evidence of malnutrition deaths. Kohut was finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography with this photo essay.

2018, Jorge Benezra. Men working in a clandestine gold mine, at a deforested area on the banks of the Cuyiní River, Bolívar. One of the promises surrounding the Mining Arc was the eradication of violence associated with mining.

2018, Fernando Llano, AP. At least 600 SEBIN, Armed Forces, FAES and National Police agents were involved in the operation against policeman and movie actor Óscar Pérez. Named Operation Gedeón, but commonly known as the Junquito Massacre, it resulted in 7 dead and 20 wounded, all broadcasted by Pérez himself, in what could be the one of the most Black Mirroresque moments of the revolution.

2018, Federico Rios, National Geographic. From migration crisis, to refugee crisis. The UN said it could reach a “crisis point’ comparable to what was seen in the 2015’s Mediterranean. But what future awaits these walkers? “Venezuelans forced by hunger, violence and lack of opportunities face stigma and discrimination in countries where local communities are also living on the threshold of poverty.” said Alex Moncada, country director at CARE Ecuador.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. 2015, Alvaro Ybarra Zavala. Food and medicine shortages intensify while prices rise at astonishing rates. “It makes you cry,” said Luis Felipe Anatael, bodega owner in Puerto Ordaz, in a telephone interview with the Guardian. “I think we are headed for chaos.”

    Which reminds me of this Gustavo Petro tweet from 2016. You know, the Gustavo Petro whom a CC article endorsed for President of Colombia earlier this year. The friend of my enemy is my friend, according to that logic.

    Entre a un supermercado en Caracas y Miren lo que encontré? Me habrá engañado RCN? ( I went into a supermarket in Caracas and look at what I found? Was RCN fooling me?)

    • There is a tweet in reply to Gustavo Petro’s tweet.

      JLee
      ‏ @jlnewsve
      7 Mar 2016
      Replying to @petrogustavo

      @petrogustavo No es venezuela, maldito infeliz, es Repúplica Dominicana, Supermecados “Aponte”. Mitómano COMUNISTA!

      The tweet has a photo with “(Supermercado) Aponte” emphasized with an arrow and red circle to support his claim that the photos are from Supermercado Aponte in the Dominican Republic. IIRC, I also ran across a tweet, which stated that Supermercados Aponte are located in the Dominican Republic and also in Puerto Rico. Search engine confirmation that Supermercado Aponte is a brand located in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

      Where did the tweeter get this photo with “(Supermercado) Aponte” ? I got that photo by clicking on the far-left photo of Gustavo Petro’s tweet- minus the arrow and red circle, of course. Which must be where JLee got the photo- from Gustavo’s tweet!

      Conclusion: Gustavo Petro, in an attempt to garner support for Chavismo, claimed that photos of a well-stocked supermarket outside of Venezuela were photos from a supermarket in Caracas. A supporter of Chavismo blatantly lies in order to garner support for Chavismo. What a surprise. (That was sarcasm, folks.) 🙂

      Recall that CC published an article that Rodrigo Palau authored which supported Gustavo Petro for President of Colombia. CC published an article which supported Gustavo Petro for President of Colombia. Gustavo Petro has blatantly lied in an attempt to garner support for Chavismo, for President of Colombia. Sounds like the kind of person CC would want to be President of Colombia. (sarcasm, folks)

      Take a bow, Quico.

      As Monty Python once stated, say no more.

  2. One of the hallmarks of Venezuela today is that there is little news of true significance. Oh, sure, atrocities occur daily. But, these are nothing new. Refugees are leaving in the thousands per day, but this is not new. Maduro anounces new deals with fellow autocrats around the world or new economic initiatives that may or may not be followed up on. But, this is nothing new. Venezuela has reached the stage of being moribund. The grinding poverty and the misery go on and nothing in the government really changes.

    Watching the news of Venezuela from the outside has become quite boring and predictable.

    • Somebody should say something about the courage of the Venezuelans who choose to stay and lobby for a free market democracy.

      We have a long tradition of free market democracy in the U.S.. We have arguably the best constitution in the world (we think so). We have a president who is willing to stand for all that, and for us as Americans. French stand for French, Chinese for Chines, why should it somehow be wrong for Americans to stand for Americans? And President Trump has been criticized and nullified by the socialists at every turn. His nominees have been so underhandedly abused as to draw world attention to the Democrats. The Republican congressmen who should be supporting him full bore turn out to be cowards and slime balls, turncoats.

      Imagine what it would be like if the socialists totally owned the Supreme Court. Imagine if the socialists totally owned the congress. And the army. And the police. And the FBI. Imagine if all levels of government were not just infiltrated, but totally permeated and soaked by socialists more than eager to sell the entire country down the drain.

      The situation in Venezuela is such, that the TSJ is a puppet to the regime, so is the army, the police, the petroleum industry, many industries, the banks, opposition people are jailed of forced to flee the country. You guys here know better than I what the situation is in Venezuela.

      So don’t call the people who march and protest even at risk of being shot “cowards looking for their next handout”.

      I’m at a point where I don’t really care if Venezuelans don’t like Americans. It would be totally cool with a whole lot of Americans if somehow, some way, with or without help, Venezuelans manage to free themselves of the destructive regime that has brought nothing but inflation and hunger and disease.

    • Not directed at you Roy. I just picked up on your theme, that it is a no-change thing to watch, and got into it, thinking about the people who seem to love to say that Venezuelans just want free things.

      • Hey Gringo,

        I would love it too, if Venezuelans could free themselves. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. The Cubans were not able to after 60 years. And it is the Castro government that is calling the shots in Venezuela.

        It seems to me that once all of the important institutions of government have been made subservient to the executive, no amount of voting or protests can succeed in toppling that government.

        The USSR collapsed mostly due to apathy. There was literally no one who believed in it any longer. I would predict the same end for the Cuba-Venezuela-Nicaragua except that the probable inclusion of Mexico into the club could provide an injection of fresh capital to keep them in business.

        As long as they can keep finding new hosts to suck dry, they can successfully continue to operate. In the short and medium term, I see international intervention as the only solution. However, in my opinion, if the intervention doesn’t include Cuba, it isn’t worth doing. And that would require substantial political will and diplomatic capital.

        • Gringo and Roy,

          Thanks for your above posts. Most sensible comments I have read here in a long time. From the outside (USA) looking in, the following excerpts from a Forbes article struck me as the common perception, and things have only gotten worse in the months since:

          “The currency is worth a dime, though probably not even that much. The brain drain is immense. People are starving. Unemployment is in the double digits. Inflation is triple digits. And its president, Nicholas Maduro of the disastrous United Socialist Party of Venezuela, talks to deceased president Hugo Chavez who comes to him in the form of a little bird.”

          “This is the world they inhabit: a hybrid world of Cold War political intrigue where the CIA is always working out of American Embassies manipulating all sorts of things; and banana republic colonial times, where the hero is some South American born aristocrat from a European family who decides to rebel against the establishment. The rich are bad. The poor are good. Maduro is for the poor. He has more of them in his country now. But less and less of them like him.”

          Kenneth Rapoza, WSJ staffer in Brazil, reporting in Forbes, March 2018

  3. Great presentation folks. These are stunning, and in many cases extraordinary images that humanize this tragedy and take the viewer behind the grim headlines and statistics.

  4. When the old Soviet Union was tettering on the brink, Regan famously said, Don’t worry. They have no money.

    Wonder where Chavismo really stands in this regards. As these pictures demonstrate (great/tragic pics by the way), many are already in epic situations.

    Can Chavismo really keep chugging along, as Cuba has? What would it take to stop this juggernaught?

    • A U.S. oil embargo on Jan. 10 stops it dead:

      This putz is bragging that VZ oil will now be bought with crypto, except who’s buying, and what are they paying with? The U.S., which dwarfs every other buyer of VZ oil, and they’re only using dollars. He lives in a fantasyland.

      Boycott the oil, strangle Chavismo.

      • He lives in a lie. There’s some saying to the effect that a man can begin to believe his own lies. I know I can do that – I have. Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I say a man’s got to recognize the truth. Funny thing about truth: it’s MUCH easier than a lie. The truth works; lies just weave tangled webs.

  5. The photographs we’re great. I am hoping you will follow up with a report card about the Venezuelan poor. The stated purpose of the Bolivarisn revolution was to elevate those folks.iread statistics that suggest that in all categories, income, health, and education, that the poor have not improved their lot in the past 20 years. Is that correct?

    • Bill – No, of course not! The poor have experienced very substantial, remarkable, even astounding growth! Almost 90 % of the population now qualifies!

      The two articles of chronological photographs are very cool. Must have taken quite a bit to sort through thousands of them to find ones that are top quality and also represent the denouement.

    • iread statistics that suggest that in all categories, income, health, and education, that the poor have not improved their lot in the past 20 years. Is that correct?
      That would appear to be the case. Consider what IMF and World Bank data say about income and health. In 1998, Venezuelan oil sold for ~#11/BBL. Today,Venezuelan oil would sell at a guesstimate of $50-$60?

      IMF: Venezuela: Gross domestic product per capita, constant prices: Purchasing power parity; 2011 international dollar.
      1998 $15,651
      2018$9,743

      World Bank.

      Venezuela: Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births)
      1998 20
      2011 14.3
      2012 14.6
      2013 15.4
      2014 16.9
      2015 19.2
      2016 22.2
      2017 25.7

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