miranda

Caracas Is Done With Politics

The city that saw hundreds of thousands of people protest over and over again, and saw hundreds of them die under repression, doesn’t know whether or not to vote in the elections on November 21st

People are packed in front of the passenger car doors. The train hasn’t moved from the station in over an hour and doesn’t have air conditioning; the Caracas Metro hasn’t been comfortable or safe for years. 

In the subway car, some wipe their foreheads with their hands. Others take off their masks and exhale loudly. An old man looks for a discussion to pass the time.

—This country can’t be fixed, what they did was steal the money from Venezuelans. That is why I’m not going to vote in those elections. No way…

Immediately, a younger man responds:

—The worst mistake the opposition made was not going out to vote. I believe in voting, because, for example, there’s (Juan Pablo) Guanipa, who practically gave away the government of Zulia to the regime, simply for not appearing before the National Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, in Táchira the opposition governor managed to keep her seat. 

—But we’re not going to win anyway. If the regime wins, they’ll assign a… a… What do they call it?

His interlocutor doesn’t remember either, so I decide to intervene:

—A protector.

—Exactly, mijo, thank you: a protector. The last credible election was that of the National Assembly. They didn’t let us win anymore after that—he replies as he adjusts the mask that leaves his nose uncovered when he speaks.

—I’m going to vote, and not for Carlos Ocariz, he’s already burnt. I’m going to vote for the other one, Uzcátegui? The one from Baruta.

—You’re right, Ocariz is old news. What’s more, all those people are. Even Guaidó himself! That one stole millions from the humanitarian aid—says the older man.

No one mentions Carmen Meléndez, the retired military officer and former governor of Lara that chavismo wants as mayor of the largest Caracas municipality. Nor Roberto Patiño, the young leader of Alimenta la Solidaridad who had to decline his candidacy for Libertador in favor of Tomás Guanipa from Zulia. Nor do they speak of Antonio Ecarri, who has run for mayor several times. Apart from the two debaters, the only voices heard are those of the candy vendors and the operator who announces that they will soon resume movement. Another pending promise that’s repeated from time to time.

—I live in La Cota 905 —says a lady in an animal print blouse—. We haven’t had water in fifteen days. Do you think that (Tomás) Guanipa worries about that? He makes his visits, knocks on doors, but that’s it.  And yet he says that he will resolve the issue of the Metro. 

—Stop the talk about politics, it’s getting annoying and it’s too hot in here!

It’s an old man wearing a red baseball hat. 

—Put some earplugs on, then —replies the woman— . If it hurts you to hear bad things about Maduro, get off and grab a taxi. Everyone gets to say what they want here!

Water’s All That Matters

The regional elections on November 21st raise little expectations. In Caracas, there’s a generalized ignorance about the candidates and their proposals, and the electorate stands divided between those who distrust the process and those who are totally disinterested.

The disagreements between Carlos Ocariz and David Uzcátegui about being the unitary opposition candidate for the Miranda governorship have contributed to that. And although they apparently reached a consensus a few days ago, with the withdrawal of the Ocariz candidacy, many people feel manipulated. One of the spokespeople for Primero Justicia in Petare, who prefers anonymity, left the campaign: “We handed out flyers every day in favor of Ocariz and we even got in trouble with the communal council. Now they tell us that they decided to support Uzcátegui. Things are not like that, we’ve been down this road before.” She’s 63 years old, and although she went from the ranks of COPEI to those of Primero Justicia, her commitment to her party seems to have clear limits.

There are few people who truly believe that their vote can affect the reality that they endure every day.

They rely on their own individual work to overcome it. However, the State and the institutions have responsibilities. This is a given for Maritza, a neighbor of the José Félix Ribas neighborhood in Petare, where lack of water replaced insecurity as the main problem. “We’ve gone more than 15 days without water. We’re tired. I don’t know the others, but I won’t vote for anyone. Neither Chola, nor Ocariz, nor Uzcátegui, who are out there looking for votes.”

She is 64 years old and has advanced arthritis. She doesn’t have the strength to carry water up the 115 steps that pave the way to her house. Her children work and she takes care of her grandchildren. Apart from the lack of water, she has to deal with gas and the (CLAP) food box that the communal council sporadically gives her.

The solution to the water problem only appears in the proposals of one candidate, Andrés Schloeter a.k.a. “Chola”, who’s been working in the area for more than a decade and knows its problems first-hand. He has climbed the stairs to Maritza’s house over and over again, but now the electoral campaign demands a presence elsewhere and he can’t focus on José Félix Ribas. There are more vulnerable areas, such as La Dolorita or Caucagüita, where chavismo always wins. And he’s determined to beat it in this election. “It’s an unusual thing because it’s where there’s more poverty and injustice. But in this election, we’ll see a great punishment vote, a vote that José Vicente doesn’t have on his radar. Every time I talk to these people, I find that they want change because they don’t feel represented.”

Photo cortesy of Andrés Schloeter

Photo: Andrés Schloeter

While Uzcátegui banners fill José Félix Ribas, there’s no chavista presence. Although it’s one of the largest low-income sectors in the country, Petare has been a stronghold of the opposition for years. Since the time of Enrique Mendoza, who was the first mayor of the municipality and governor of Miranda. Currently, according to some spokespeople for Primero Justicia in Petare, chavista mayor José Vicente Rangel Ávalos governs thanks to the almost 60 percent abstention in the 2017 elections: according to the CNE, only 197,738 of 486,130 registered people voted in the municipality.

The same seems to be on the horizon for November 21st if the water problems continue. Like Maritza, other neighbors, aware of the detachment of the opposition leadership and the government with their problems, refuse to participate in a process that has been confusing from the start. “First they didn’t want us to vote, now they do. I’m not going to vote, that won’t solve anything. These people come looking for votes while they bathe comfortably at home. What a miserable life for the poor,” says a man on the main avenue of the neighborhood. He has been waiting since morning for a tanker truck promised by the communal council. There’s a line of people behind him. They all have big blue water tanks and different colored tufts. The water truck, which arrives at nightfall, doesn’t solve their problems. Now you must figure out how to get it home. Some pay up to $20 to have their water tank filled.

“Enable water intakes and develop a plan for the drilling and construction of drinking water wells, orderly and legally,” say the first five lines of a list of priorities for Chola, the only candidate who has published his proposals. His opponents, Rangel Ávalos for PSUV and Rosiris Toro for Fuerza Vecinal, have limited themselves to repeat the messages of their respective candidates for the governorship. The former promises building materials and food; while the latter promises “deepwater wells so running water reaches our community 24 hours a day.”

Noise in Los Palos Grandes 

Mirna, Maritza’s daughter, explains that, apart from cooking, she keeps tobitos at hand to wash her teeth, face, and armpits. She cannot afford to skip a workday. Her family group depends on her work. She works in a fast-food restaurant in northern Chacao, near the Cota Mil. 

Under the administration of Gustavo Duque, in Chacao, shops and nightclubs proliferated in residential areas. “Many establishments here promise valet parking and, of course, next thing you see a bunch of cars parked in front of my house,” says Nieves, who’s lived in Los Palos Grandes since she was a child and assures that nothing similar had ever happened. “They always respected the residential areas. Los Palos Grandes was one of the best areas and, right now, there are open shops and activities at night every day.”

But Duque has had to face more than neighborhood complaints about permissiveness with residential spaces. There was an extensive conversation on social media about the controversy over discrimination in Vera Pizza against a gay couple, and more recently insecurity became a concern again with a massive assault on a posh café.

It’s raining when I finally get out of the Metro in Chacaíto. I’m headed to Las Mercedes but all its avenues are flooded. In Baruta and El Hatillo, the streets look like rivers. The flow over the Prados del Este highway seems to be that of the Guaire. But the current mayors don’t talk about it—neither do those who aspire to replace them. This is the most privileged part of the city, and the detachment with the elections seems to be even greater, despite the fact that it also suffers from problems such as constant power cuts.

I go inside one of those new places in Las Mercedes that everyone says are owned by enchufados. As I sit down, I notice that the table is made out of a large slice of a tree trunk. The rind on the edges is intact thanks to some transparent sealant. I can’t help but wonder, with the first sip of coffee, if it comes from the indiscriminate felling of trees frequently reported on social media. Could this slice of wood be that of an old Caracas samán?

Without being able to reach my destination, I tried to take a bus to my house. But they are all full and I prefer to walk. Between clouds and buildings, I can see El Ávila, majestic in the face of urban chaos. And I ask myself another question: is there really someone with enough energy to manage this chaos? I really don’t think so. And deep down, people know it too. 

Caracas is a beast that devours us alive, with no one to tame it.

Read the whole Electoral Fiesta series here