Photo: Scoopnest, retrieved.

In February 2005, I moved with my family to La Vega, a huge slum in Southwestern Caracas with over 200,000 inhabitants. We lived in Panteon Av., in the city’s northside, and I was a bit scared by the change, because La Vega is a “red zone,” top 10 most dangerous neighborhoods in town. I was 12.

My fear was justified, I soon learned. Within the week of moving there, I saw two dead men in the street, covered with a white sheet. It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. and I was going to school. I didn’t see their faces, the blood oozed through the cloth. People crowded like vultures around the corpses and spoke jovially as they waited for the authorities to take the bodies.

I remember wondering if that would happen every week, every day. But I’ve been living in La Vega for 14 years now, and that remains the only occasion I saw death in the streets I walk daily.

My fear was justified, I soon learned. Within the week of moving there, I saw two dead men in the street, covered with a white sheet.

Since then, my life has been fairly “normal” for Venezuelan standards, meaning everything’s alright if you avoid lonely streets and late hours, if you don’t exhibit any valuables or mess around with neighbors. I’ve never been robbed or attacked in any way while living here, so you can say reality has watered down my initial terror.

But I’ve also seen another myth of that low-income neighborhood crushed by facts.

When I moved to La Vega, the area was a well-known chavista enclave, a revolutionary community. Was.

The change was increasingly obvious. When Chávez died in 2013, the charisma that cushioned the crisis and gave hope to the most vulnerable sectors vanished; Nicolás Maduro has progressively lost the power to rally the masses willingly, and not in exchange for a food box, a bonus or just to keep their jobs in public administration.

Living conditions are all but ruined. Finding transport from and to this area is so hard that it’s almost like living in another city. It used to take me an hour tops to get back home from anywhere in Caracas, but now a trip to downtown Caracas might take two hours or more. Exhaustion is a part of the current Venezuelan routine, due to the long walks and the hunger you see in those on the streets.

When I moved to La Vega, the area was a well-known chavista enclave, a revolutionary community. Was.

During my first years in La Vega, it was common to see huge Chávez banners, and local chavistas tended to bully dissidents. During the 2014’s protests, my residential complex organized and we went out to demonstrate. One night, as we were protesting peacefully, we saw a lot of bikers with red flags, colectivos. They insulted us, ripped our flags, pots and whistles from our hands. One of them fired into the night, and that was that, we didn’t demonstrate again that year.

During the 2017 cycle, La Vega became a battlefield, pure guerrilla warfare where the police and the National Guard had the disadvantage because they didn’t know the area. The boys avoided and rounded them through side streets and alleyways, three armored vehicles were burned and when repression finally came, it did with a vengeance.

And after that, life kept turning more complicated. So far in 2019, La Vega has remained an important hub of protests in Western Caracas; there’s been some looting and the monstrous Special Actions Forces (FAES) have cracked down on the neighborhood, breaking into homes and prowling streets as agents of dread. Although the recent nationwide blackouts have pushed us to the edge, I can say people have awakened. They turned on the regime, they’re protesting, angry, humiliated and abused. “It’s Maduro’s fault,” I hear. The interjection “Maduro! Coño e’ tu madre!” is now common here. Attending opposition demonstrations isn’t frowned upon anymore, our numbers actually swelled. In the streets of La Vega, people call for protests.

Spring is here.

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