Access to roads and businesses is closed, strangers are walking in groups, without the certainty of reaching their jobs or their homes, long queues of vehicles, power cuts in El Paraíso that later spread to sectors like El Cementerio and Cota 905… Once again, western Caracas is seized: more than 800 security officers are looking for Carlos Luis Revete, a.k.a El Koki, in every house of the Cota 905.
In La Vega, they say the clashes began on Wednesday, June 7th, because the police wounded a thug who was a friend of El Koki in El Valle and left him to die in the hospital. They say it was because the criminals fired at El Helicoide and wounded two officials and the police responded. They also say that the shooting is happening near Madariaga Square, El Cementerio and Victoria Avenue, as that the confrontation also reached the La Rinconada Hippodrome area.
They say that the main difference with the previous episode of violence in the area is that the response doesn’t seem to be a show from the government. The police managed to enter the Cota 905 (currently a Peace Zone, where policemen or other security forces aren’t allowed) and destroyed “La Gallera”, the gang’s party spot. They say that “the government seems to be taking the situation seriously now, because they were the ones who gave the criminals a lot of power and now wish to take it away.”
Everyone agrees on the effects the gang has had on their lives, and that “the nonsense of the police taking luxury SUVs from those who passed through El Cementerio or subduing people who walked by the area is over because that didn’t solve anything.”
The violence, anguish, and uncertainty are now greater than they used to, and “people who protest have to leave the bullshit behind, they can’t have the neighborhood in mind and continue defending the gang because it helps them. Everything must be done to live in peace, but we’ll see what happens tomorrow. “
We collected several testimonies of people’s experiences on Thursday, to paint a picture of how the conflict feels from the field. All the names of the interviewees were changed in order to protect their identities.
María, from Redoma de La India
“The detonations began on Wednesday around 3:00 p.m. Twenty-four hours of detonations have passed since, non-stop. First, we heard the shots very close to La India. Then further away. Today, Thursday, shots were fired very close again in the morning at 6:00 a.m. In the afternoon, they were heard further away. Now I’m working from home while the situation calms down because it was very difficult for me to be able to come home and cross the neighborhood.”
Mario, from Los Bloques
“Today was so ugly that I couldn’t even go home. I had to stay in Catia … I went to work around 9:00 a.m., I was waiting for the shots to stop. I always go along the boulevard of La Vega to get the bus in La India, but today I had to walk through the rear street. On the way, I kept hearing shots and while I was at the office my friend told me the shots hadn’t stopped all day long… When they told me there was no access to La Vega, I started looking for rooms for rent around Catia to move. If I find one, I’m not going to think about it twice: I don’t want my life to be in danger anymore. You can’t live like this. Some people are against the police getting involved because innocent people are going to get hurt, but it makes me mad because they don’t see that there will be more injured and dead people if we let the gang continue to do what they do. Perhaps I’m a bastard for thinking this way. But this is the price of war. Still, not all the dead will be innocent, because those who kill with violence, die violently.”
Isabel, from El Petróleo Sector
“To get the bus to go to work I had to walk past the La India gas station. It was around six in the morning and there were already a few buses and a small crowd. The neighbors told me that we have to be careful, that we don’t have to go out and risk our lives; but we do have to go out, because, how do we buy groceries if all the stores in the area are closed? I went up on foot around five o’clock, and there were bursts and bursts of shots, even where I live. The group of people walked together praying to God. The streets were incredibly empty.”
Pedro, from Terrazas de La Vega
“Today we woke up with shots, as has been customary since the gang of El Koki has been venturing into this upper area of La Vega. The neighbors were very anxious because of the explosions and intimidation that, although they weren’t precisely in this sector, affected us collaterally. When I left early in the morning, by car, the tanks were already coming up with many officers. I couldn’t go back. Some of my neighbors left the car somewhere else and walked up. Now we ask ourselves: when is this going to end? Do the police forces have enough capacity to deal with this? What is going to happen and what is going to happen to us?”
Andrés, from Los Cangilones Sector
“They say that this is nothing relevant and that the real bad part is yet to come, but let’s pray that nothing else happens … There are no shootings close to the house, but they say that the nearby gangs are getting ready in El Carmen and Valle Alegre, which is where several criminals live. The anxiety in the house starts when we hear the shootings because we have boys in the house. We are all at risk of anything happening and this makes us think, but things aren’t exactly easy right now, to go live elsewhere. Here is my boy soaking up the situation, understanding what is happening, because he isn’t so small anymore. We are all tense trying to monitor who our boys hang out with and hope they aren’t bad influences. There is also another fear: they say that La Vega is going to be taken as a Peace Zone, because this guy has a lot of power and the government hasn’t been able to deal with him. What can you expect from that?”
Sara, from Las Casitas Sector
“I don’t live in La Vega, but I go there practically every day, because there are things at school that have to be solved personally. Yesterday I was there all day. I arrived around 6:35 a.m. and the lady from the cafe on the corner of the school wasn’t there, it seemed strange to me. The street was very lonely, very quiet. I started to check the news on social media and that’s when I knew what was going on in the area. Other teachers couldn’t get there because there was no transportation or access in lower La Vega, and they also had to run away because the shooting had started. The man who makes the outbound transport to kilometer 5 of the Pan-American Highway couldn’t arrive by 2:00 p.m., he got there at around 5:00 p.m. When we got there around 6:00 p.m., we saw older people climbing that steep hill, looking so tired. The police didn’t let this man make the turn on the street and he had to take the entire Pan-American highway again to try to get to his house through La India.”
Ana, from Las Torres Sector
“Early in the morning, I took the bus to go to work and the police kept us for half an hour at the Fundapol building checkpoint… My mother told me that, in the morning, many policemen went up to Las Torres with water bottles and filters. Apparently they are setting up camps, because this is going to go on for days, but when things got ugly, all the policemen in this area were evacuated for safety, can you believe that? This area is completely taken by the gangs, there was a shooting here, but I was walking from the Poliedro to the house. I don’t know what to do tomorrow: whether to go to work or stay here.”
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