Breaking Down

Your car breaks down on a lonely stretch of road. Suddenly, your life is in danger. Four years after Monica Spear's family was gruesomely murdered, two baseball stars are killed. And a nation seethes.

Photo:  ESPN Deportes, retrieved.

There’s a free-floating kind of outrage now. In times of censorship and persecution, the changes in people’s mood are measured through mild gestures, modulations, silence. When the former beauty queen and TV actress Mónica Spear was murdered, on January 6, 2014, along with her partner, before their five-year-old daughter (who survived), the country was shocked. The murderers took advantage of a car malfunction and, mercilessly, shot them all.

Almost six years later, in the early morning of December 7, 2018, José “El Hacha” Castillo and Luis Valbuena, members of Los Cardenales de Lara baseball team, were returning to their city, Barquisimeto, after facing Leones del Caracas, when the car where they were travelling in crashed against obstacles put there by criminals, and flipped over. Both players who were travelling in the back seat without seat belts on, flew out of the vehicle, dying immediately.

This time, perhaps because there are no children involved, the feeling is different. If the murder of Venezuela’s representative in Miss Universe 2005 plunged the country in an anguished and dense piety, as if we were watching a love story with a tragic ending, now the anger is such that we can barely speak. We’re witnessing the unspeakable, because the murder of two big leaguers shows the death spiral on the roads hasn’t stopped, and it can’t have such dominance without the authorities’ support. The consent is indirect, because criminals act with impunity, and direct, because we know certain parts of the roads are cleared at specific hours, so gangsters can do what they want.

The death toll must be high indeed if it includes members of the Venezuelan star pantheon.

The death toll must be high indeed if it includes members of the Venezuelan star pantheon: a young woman who represented the country in the most important beauty contest in the world, and two baseball players, successful both here and abroad. It could be just a horrible coincidence, but it isn’t. The reality is that the ravenous guillotine of the roads, just to mention one variant of crime in the country, falls non-stop and has taken hundreds of lives. It isn’t strange that, every now and then, it also takes celebrities and beloved national figures.

As usual, public media said Valbuena and Castillo died in a “traffic accident,” tampering the information to conceal the facts, with the victims picked clean by the criminals after the incident.

Nicolás Maduro himself tweeted: “I mourn along the Venezuelan baseball family and all their fans, for the death of Luis Valbuena and José Castillo, talented and renowned players. My condolences to @CardenalesDice and their relatives. May they be strong in this moment.” Not a single word regarding the crime, much less his own responsibility to guarantee our safety. In the same style, other spokespeople juggled to mention the death of the players without touching the regime’s part of the blame.

All of this sparked quite a palpable anger. The talkative and frank Venezuelan has been replaced by silent masses, restrained, weighed down with affliction and humiliation.

Public media said Valbuena and Castillo died in a “traffic accident,” tampering the information to conceal the facts.

Everyone knows the government is aware of these road gangs, their numbers, their modus operandi. The military itself is a scourge for the drivers and it’s well known that if a crop or livestock product costs Bs. 10,000 in Caracas, it’s because it was originally Bs. 1,000: the gap grows with the checkpoints set along roads for extortion and robberies. There’s no way to escape the collection of bribes (either in money or in kind) demanded by soldiers.

Oswaldo “Ozzie” Guillén, manager of Tiburones de La Guaira, said it quite clearly: “There are checkpoints on the roads but not to care for people, [but instead] stopping cars, buses, trucks. Why do they stop them?”

That’s an obvious reference to the robberies carried out by the men in uniform with the viciousness of a tick in the jugular of Venezuelan citizens.

This is too much. And the mockery is too obscene. “Road pirates and cruel people everywhere,” wrote sports journalist Ignacio Serrano on his Twitter account. “No action is taken by the pseudo-government that rules behind bodyguards and escorts. There’s a lot more good people in Venezuela, but crime hurts so much, breaks so many hearts, because authorities don’t stand up to it […] Those who are bleeding our country to death should go. Take your money and your escorts, leave us alone to rebuild the country with good.”

That’s the pitch. Pain and anger, spoken through clenched teeth, contained, without fuss.