Just finished Jon Lee Anderson’s (infuriatingly paywalled) New Yorker piece about the ranchification of Caracas. Anderson well justifies his reputation as a journalistic legend here: the piece really is a remarkable read. (Update: Prodavinci published an authorized Spanish version)
It comes at the lawlessness angle we’ve long covered in this blog the other way around, as it were: from the bottom up.
Instead of doing what Juan and I usually do here, which is look at the great institutions of State (the tribunals, the CNE, PDVSA, Fonden, etc.) and note the way they operate without any consistent reference to law, Anderson looks at the malandrification of everyday life. He notes the way a squatter building is run or Juan Barreto’s new party/militia is put together, underscoring the menace that hangs around the swaggering, gun-toting thugs who run them and the thin, threadbare veneer of bolivarian socialist rhetoric hung around them.
One point Anderson makes shrewdly is the way the prison crisis has burst the banks of Venezuela’s hellhole jails and now inflects urban culture as a whole.
In his telling, jails have come to serve as the go-to model of authority in down-and-out urban settings. The Pran’s way of obtaining and sustaining power over his fellow inmates has become the template for how you run any kind of community in the absence of a deadbeat state. Prisoners released from jail go out and put those lessons to work in their barrios, or their squats, or their colectivos, gradually giving more and more of urban Venezuela the taste of a pran-run jail.
It’s amazing, reading all this, to reflect that just 13 years ago, at the start of the Chávez era, it was still possible for an intellectual like Carlos Zubillaga Oropeza to write a book like La Marginalidad sin Tabues ni Complejos, setting out a roadmap for WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) values to first gain a foothold and then gradually colonize the large swathe of the country that had no interest in them.
What Anderson’s piece shows is this process in reverse, with Pran values gnawing away deeper and deeper into every last remaining citadel of WEIRD Venezuela. Because what is the squatted Torre de David if not a giant, concrete-and-steel metaphor for that?