One Metro Station Reveals an Entire Country

At Plaza Venezuela, the most crowded station in the Caracas Metro, three Metro lines and the people who come from an interurban train converge where all basic services are failing and a suffering mass tries to survive an everyday commute that looks like a nightmare.

Photo: Traffic Caracas twitter account, retrieved.

People walk in all directions. Three train lines join in the same spot. Bodies avoid one another on their way. Some come, some go. Some are Central University students, carrying their backpacks; others, loaded with suitcases, are going to La Bandera bus terminal; others are going to corners of the city, Antimano, Caricuao, Zoologico or La Rinconada.

Everyone slowly files down the staircase, all walking at once, with the same pace. Those in front mark the tempo; a step at a time, there’s no room for more. Nobody can stop or lift a foot without brushing the leg of the person in front, or interrupting the flow of people and packages sliding down as one into the darkness.

There’s no lighting in the first half of the platform. Reeking water drips from lightbulbs, wetting the floor with a stench that burns the nostrils. The rank smell of beer, aguardiente and filth; of sewage and rust; of unwashed clothes and sweaty, unbathed skin. People walk over puddles of stagnant water trying not to wet their shoes.

“National Police officers, requested at the main booth.”

“My God, how long? Why did you make me poor!”

A man in blue throws his backpack on the floor and sits on it. Colors, backs and heads moosh together one on top of the other until it becomes impossible to distinguish faces amidst all those bodies. “Earrings, earrings. Ten bolivars a piece.” A man squeezes through the people shouting “get your earrings” with a hard foam board full of shiny trinkets over his head.

“Here comes the fighting,” a male voice announces as a train going in the other direction approaches the platform. My goal is to reach the following station in line 3, Ciudad Universitaria.

The cart in the middle doesn’t open its doors and the one to the left opens and closes constantly, not letting anyone in. A boy sticks his nails into the doors’ rubber lining and unsuccessfully tries to force them open.

“My God, how long? Why did you make me poor!” a woman cries somewhere nearby.

“Get up, Gabriel. Come,” a very young woman holding a cell phone tells a baby who’s sitting on the floor, hidden behind an ad banner, looking at his mom as she drags him by the arm. “I wish the guards would take you.”

“Is a train coming? Did one just leave?”; “Let’s see if we can get into the next one”; “I told you I’d carry you when we get in, not yet.” A girl in a purple odontologist uniform hums the song she’s listening through her earphones and she misses the conversation of voices overlapping one another, while a lady by her side buys a coconut snack to a vendor who’s waiting for the train like her, carrying a plastic tray on his shoulder.

The crowd keeps growing on the platform. Now the line of people reaches up through the stairs and people are sitting on the steps, motionless, waiting. There’s no air conditioning, in this station under the ground of a tropical city, and the air is filled with whispers and an indescribable smell, the smell of a population that can’t find or can’t pay for soap and deodorants.

“And you think Bolívar liberated us for this shit?”

“Oh, no! If he’s gonna jump, let him wait until I’m outta here.”

“The country’s not to blame for what’s happening. The country gave us gold, oil, diamonds. The country’s given us so much, hasn’t it?”

A new train arrives. The bodies start moving forward, all eyes fixed ahead. There’s no room to turn around, much less look behind amid the writhing, steaming, reeking mass of people. Everyone moves by inertia, pushing one another; we all react to the crowd.

The man at the front is almost at the brink of the platform. “Excuse me, excuse me,” a silver-haired man shouts from the left corner. He pushes his way through, along the yellow strip that represents the security boundary, no more than a reference now. “But sit, where are you going?”; “Hold him! He’s gonna fall over!”; “Oh, no! If he’s gonna jump, let him wait until I’m outta here.”

“The door won’t open on that side and I need to board,” he answers, to everyone and no one.

The train arrives. Bodies slam against doors and seats. A baby cries. Someone asks whether “María” managed to get in. A third says “I’ll wait for you at La Bandera,” while another begs people not to push anymore.

When it started to operate in 1983, Caracas Metro was the envy of the region. But lack of investment, mismanagement, and corruption turned it into a nightmare. A nightmare that we can’t wake up from.

“Let them kill each other! Let them eat each other. Let them all in.”