Image: The José Felix Rivas shantytown area in Petare, Eastern Caracas.

“After January 23rd, FAES [National Police Special Forces] has imposed a curfew. Everyone is terrified.” Joana, a secretary and mother of two, confirms the rumor. Like everyone in this story, we’ve changed her name to protect her.

Word got around Barrio José Félix Rivas, a shantytown (highlighted in the image) in within the big Caracas slum of Petare, that at 7:00 pm, an armed group would take the street to protest. News gets around fast via WhatsApp, which is how everyone communicates. The word: don’t go out tonight.

They were using automatic weapons and tear gas. We heard screams, chaos.

At 7:30, Joana saw a large group of men armed with bottles, sticks, rocks and rifles. Soon, FAES, PNB and GNB officers arrived in riot gear, trucks and firearms.

“This area hasn’t reported any looting,” she tells me. “These people protest, they’re in your face about how much they want Maduro out. Most side with Guaidó. I don’t know what they know about him, but the barrio is talking about him and supports him.”

By 8:00pm, Joana thought a war had started. A three-hour shootout took hold of the area. “They were using automatic weapons and tear gas. We heard screams, chaos.”

Why? Because of something people in the “formal city” have barely noticed: the barrio turned on Maduro.

The chavista regime can no longer count on the big shantytowns in Caracas for support. What was once the cradle of urban chavismo and colectivos, is now the main focus of protest and violence against Maduro and his government.

Today, before sundown, they came back, took two of my friends. They broke into their homes, beat them in front of their families, put them in a truck and left. Will we see them again?

Repression has been fierce in urban areas: the death toll keeps growing, as reports of FAES executions keep people terrified. Reports proliferate of growing numbers of arbitrary and underage detentions, the barrios speak up, but the shadow of repression wants to slience them.

“We’re afraid to talk about what FAES does with people. How do you tell someone how they kill you?” says an anonymous pedestrian from Petare in Plaza Los Dos Caminos in Caracas.

“Yesterday I told you everything was OK, after FAES left,” says Kleiver, a 26 year old mechanic and father of a two year old. “Today, before sundown, they came back, took two of my friends. They broke into their homes, beat them in front of their families, put them in a truck and left. Will we see them again?”

Kleiver is a demonstrator, but today he’s too scared to leave home. “I’ve lost so many brothers at the hands of FAES,” he tells us. “One of the ones they took is disabled. Are they going to execute him?”

“I heard that barrio José Félix Rivas, in Petare, has an unofficial curfew,” says Alejandro, who lives in San Blas. “Everyone says that men are not allowed to walk the streets after 6:00pm, or they’ll get killed on sight by FAES.”

Petare is Caracas’s biggest slums. in 2017, reports of violent protest and vicious repression by the GNB flooded social media. This week, it’s FAES that has taken over the repression. And they are far, far more violent.

“FAES is what nightmares are made of.”

There are no profiles on FAES officers, little public information on its structure, no accountability. We only know about the patterns that consistently appear in repeated victims’ stories: intimidation, home break-ins and executions.

What the country’s suffering is a slow massacre, and the PNB’s special forces are a key piece of it.

FAES amounts to the bolivarian police’s death squads. “According to official figures, there were 4,998 casualties in 2017 at the hands of State security forces, about 14 daily,” explains Keymer Ávila, researcher for the Central University’s Institute of Criminal Sciences, and PROVEA advisor.

“What the country’s suffering is a slow massacre, and the PNB’s special forces are a key piece of it. If we use these figures, we could estimate that the PNB may have killed 1,500, a figure that represents 30% of murders in the country.”

Kleiver was protesting when security forces arrived.

“We fought back with bottles and rocks, but one of us was killed, El Feo. That’s when we dropped the rocks and took out our guns. I got out as soon as the shooting broke out, it was mayhem. I’ve only seen shootouts like that in jail. People say only one person died that night, it’s a lie. Many died after El Feo.”

That evening, FAES took total control of the area.

“We see them patrolling by foot, in motorcycles, trucks and armed vehicles all day and night. Hiding in alleys and corners, silent. Many have reported executions during illegal trespassings in Zona 7. They steal everyone’s smartphones. They’re careful to not leave evidence behind.”

Kleiver claims that January 24th was even worse: “They brought six armored vehicles [tanquetas] as soon as the sun came out. We could hear choppers above us, people had to work, but FAES was shooting on sight at anyone who ‘looked suspicious.’”

The night of the 24th was hell.

Joana had to leave work before 3:00 pm, because “the street was getting hot early.” When she arrived at Petare, it was a ghost town.

“The night of the 24th was hell,” says Yorman, a 17 year old demonstrator. “They killed 14 of us, but we got one of them. We are waiting for Guaidó to fund us, so we can strike back with strength. But it seems we’re alone in this. ”

“FAES took control of the area until the 28,” says Joana. “They left, but they came back on the 29th. Guaidó has called for another protest on Wednesday. How are we meant to go out with a death squad watching our every move?”

“Still, my hopes are up. I know FAES won’t be here for long, I know what we’re seeing is the fall of the government. I had never seen so many people on the streets like I saw the 23rd. Everyone from the barrio joined. Somehow, we weren’t afraid that day.”

“We’re tired of getting killed,” Kleiver agrees.

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