January 23rd: Fire on the Borders, Anger in Caracas

While the push for getting the aid into the country faced military and paramilitary violence in three of our borders, at former chavista strongholds people demand a change, now. This is the second entry of Camille’s motorcycle diaries, a series of dispatches on mototaxi from Caracas.

Photos by the author.

My day starts in Cotiza, ground zero of the new rebellion of 2019. Fifty meters away from the GNB post where a bunch of soldiers rebelled on January 21st, I start talking to a cobbler about the atmosphere in the area since that day. “Nothing is going on here,” he says. “People are just waiting for the smallest thing to happen so that everyone goes out to the streets.” Suddenly, a scream breaks the calm: the lady in the next stand, a small kiosk that sells everything from candy to yucca, starts to cry out of nowhere. They ask what happened and she says “they got it in, the humanitarian aid.” She’s visibly moved and the two children helping her at the kiosk fight to see what she’s looking at on her phone.

“People paid me to bring them water from the mountain,” says a kid around 11 years old, very proud of himself. “It’s been hard,” says the lady in the kiosk, and proceeds to add that if in Caracas we’re having a bad time, the inland regions have it worse; her sister lives close to Colombia. Here in Cotiza, north of downtown Caracas, they spent two years without water supply. According to her, in what used to be red territory, the chavista presence is null. “No one dares to say they are chavista now.” She refuses to give me her name. “Everyone is waiting for someone else to start the fire… from then on, there’s no way back.”

Graffiti by the colectivos in downtown Caracas. “Shop owners here have to pay “protection” to them,” explains Luis.

“You have no idea, this is not even the shadow of what it used to be,” says Luis, my mototaxista. He is from El Valle, a very populated are in the Southern arm of Caracas, near Fuerte Tiuna, and used to be a colectivo, even though I don’t see him carrying a gun. He insists that, just like him, El Valle was chavista. “No one here likes Maduro, I assure you 100%. Act as if you were in Altamira,” says Luis, inviting to me to relax as if I were in a traditional anti-Chávez area. For a Saturday, there’s a lot of activity. Street vendors and a lot of buses going in different directions. I tell Luis how calm it looks. “This is another world, the rules here are different. Don’t stick around after 7:00 pm, that’s when the FAES start to hunt for people on the streets.”

Building behind El Valle metro station. “No one here likes Maduro, act as if you were in Altamira.”

Nearby stands Angel, whose only wish is to be able to work again and live off his job. “We work hard, we do two and three different things, but it’s not the same. What everyone wants is change. Change now, we can’t wait anymore.” After a couple of minutes of conversation, he admits he used to be in the military, his eyes are kind and calm. “We can’t possibly say that this government has done nothing for the people, that would be a lie. The problem is that corruption has gone too far. We now have nothing as a country, they robbed us.” Angel says he reads a lot of history. “I’m scared that people will forget everything this government has done to us, then we will have another government and they will miss this one, and vote for them again. That always happens. We Venezuelans have a short memory.”

“We Venezuelans have a short memory.”

Eglee is a forensic technician, but now she sells candy, cigarettes and phone calls right in front of El Valle metro station. She loves her profession but she had to give it up because her first salary wasn’t even enough to pay for the antibiotics she needed to cure the infection she got due to the unsanitary conditions at her workplace. Her eyes tear up when she speaks about giving up her dream job because she couldn’t possibly feed her kids with that salary. “One has to work, people got used to being fed by this damned government. ¿Qué vaina es? In order to eat, you need to work, not stay at home like a parasite waiting for the bonuses.”

With what Eglee sells, she makes enough for herself and her two children. “It’s not easy, but I do this so my girl doesn’t have to exchange sex for food. I’ve seen girls her age, eleven, twelve years old, having sex for food because they think that’s the only way they can get it. One of them, 11 years old, got pregnant and her mom took her to get an abortion.” She despises the regime and everything about it, and used every possible curse word she knew, to speak about Maduro. “There are still some ignorant people who believe in him, but I assure you, here in El Valle it’s 1 out of 100.”