Starting Your Day with a Bang

What would you do if two grenades exploded in your middle-class neighborhood within one week? Panicking, at least… if you don’t live in a place like Maracaibo

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Last Sunday at noon, a grenade exploded at a soccer-field distance from my house, the second in one week, the third this year. This is just counting the ones within walking distance from where I sleep; there have been dozens in the city for the last months. 

In a normal country, this would be the news of the day. At the very least, the local news team would be on a scene surrounded by police yellow tape. Well, that’s not the case here. 

These sorts of calamities are so ordinary that just after the third bang, I thought to myself, “perhaps I should write something about it.” At this point, a couple of grenades aren’t interesting enough for me, it took me three days to think about writing. No one panicked; in fact, I was mildly annoyed that this last blast interrupted my Sunday nap. The general reaction was “well, there goes another transformer,” but because we didn’t lose the electric service, we didn’t give it a second thought. Who cares about an explosion as long as the AC is still running, a major concern in this perpetually hot Maracaibo?

I realized that the last explosion was a grenade because my brother was frantically calling me from Argentina to see if my father and I were okay… interrupting my nap yet again. The news had already spread on social media (with all sorts of inaccuracies), so I walked to the site of the bang and, to my horror, I saw the neighborhood watchman in wrecks. Then I remembered that’s just the way he looked before the grenade, too. There were no injuries, just some blown windows on an abandoned house. Meaning: good news.

At this point, a couple of grenades aren’t interesting enough for me, it took me three days to think about writing.

There’s a prominent opposition politician living in the neighborhood, and he might be the target of an intimidation campaign. That’s one theory. The truth is that there’s no way of knowing the reason behind a series of grenade attacks in the city, if they have a political background or if they’re extortion-related intimidation. This last scenario seems very likely, but there are no proper investigations by the authorities, and no investigations by the media (who definitely lack the means to do them). In our latest case, CICPC detectives came almost four hours after the incident, and didn’t even set foot on the property where the explosion took place. 

One of my dearest friends, who shall remain nameless because of the delicate nature of the subject, is a business owner. He’s had two grenade explosions in his place of work in the last few months, a prominent sports bar in the city. Evidently, he’s not that comfortable addressing the issue, but he’s very calm about it too. It’s as if he’s talking to me about the nuisance of dealing with bureaucracy, just the price of working here.

When I ask him about the authorities’ reaction, he explains that they went to the site and basically acted as regular bystanders. They asked questions with the curiosity of a civilian witness and, the cherry on the top, they leaked the CCTV footage of the explosions in social media after they left, which is how I found out about the incident.

Who cares about an explosion as long as the AC is still running?

There are comical aspects in this rather dark turn of events. The perpetrators, even though quite scary, also seem unprepared to handle dangerous weapons. You can see their haste on the videos. My neighborhood’s watchman says that the young fellow who threw the grenade last Sunday, tripped at the time of the toss, which made me think that we almost had a “Wile E. Coyote situation” on our hands.  

To most people in the world, being close to a grenade explosion will give them, at minimum, a great conversation starter in cocktail parties for the rest of their lives. To us, it’s not even in the top five eventful things of the year. This normalization of traumatic things is very concerning, one of the reasons we seemed to be stuck in this hellish ditch. It might have to do, though, with coping mechanisms we’ve developed in Venezuela to keep away from insanity. 

To us, multiple grenade explosions are just one more thing, perhaps part of the new normal!