2008-2018 In Pictures: An Inventory of Catastrophe

From the Cordonazo de San Francisco to Leopoldo López’s arrest, a stroll through the images that defined the second decade of revolution.

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.