Tents, bare mats, improvised shelters, tattered refrigerators, and used-up kitchen utensils cover the sidewalk of this stretch of Avenida Lecuna, in downtown Caracas.
Several government-subsidized buildings on both sides of the street are adorned with propaganda. Women, men, and kids stand by, looking at each other and at the cars driving on this busy street. They sit on the upper corner of the zinc-roofed area that used to be their home, laying their backs on the dark blue wooden walls.
One month has passed since these 21 families settled on the streets after being pushed out by the National Guard from a space they had squatted on since 2010.
“It’s destroyed inside, you can see it if they let you go in,” said a chubby woman angrily. “They won’t let that blanquita in,” said a middle aged dark skinned man sitting on an upside down garbage tub.
And he was right. According to the guards standing at the entry, only ex-residents were allowed to go in, to take a shower or to get food.
The closed-off space was supposed to become a government pharmacy subsidized by Caracas’ Metro company before 11 families occupied it in 2010 in the hope of receiving, within a couple of months, an alternative home from the government’s Misión Vivienda.
Years went by. Nothing. Then, on June 6th, the guards came.
El Gocho, a 26 year old mototaxista with dark black hair and big sad eyes, had to leave the guesthouse (pensión) he lived. He could no longer afford it on his minimum wage. It had become way too small when his kids were born. His name was one of the millions in the interminable lists of Misión Vivienda, the government’s flagshp public housing program. But he didn’t have the same luck as some of his friends who had already been assigned, if not houses or apartments, a place in government shelters.
With nowhere else to go, El Gocho found a group of people planning to squat on a big space that belonged to the subway company. They coordinated with the Bolivarian National Guard and with the Consejo Communal Los Horcones to set up a little improvised home there while the government came up with another solution.
And they did.
Years went by. Babies were born. Men brought girlfriends. Women brought boyfriends. More families arrived.
Four years later, there were 21 families confined in the same space where 11 families had squatted earlier. President Chávez, who was present in conversations, posters, and graffitis on most of the corners, didn’t offer a solution. But he didn’t directly object to them living in the illegally occupied space, either. In general, he egged on squatting through expropriations and through his discourse against private property, against landowners and businessmen who “didn’t share land with lower class people.” The 21 families waited hopefully.
That hope ended on June 6th.
That day, “El Gocho,” was celebrating a friend’s birthday. Some members of the 21 families that had become very close after living together for four years in an invaded space, were drinking cerveza while women showing their bellies watched over various kids.
They suddenly heard the sound of two gunshots, louder than normal because the doors that were hit were made out of steel. El Gocho and another fat middle-aged man went out to find a green human barrier of uniformed national guards.
El Gocho took his phone out to take pictures. One of the guards tried to grab it from him. He pushed him and shouted “¿Qué te pasa a ti?” only to be brought down and kicked by three other guards.
More people came out, and the men ordered the women to go inside with the kids. The guards went in and crashed everyone they crossed menacingly. The squatters were violently directed to a corner outside and ordered to stay there for a couple of hours while the guards checked if there were drugs or stolen objects inside the rooms.
“We had sent letters to the president, and we had tried to speak with the Fiscalía (Prosecutor) a million times chama. But that was the first time the government somehow answered,” El Gocho said, “although six months ago we helped Ernesto Villegas in his campaign to become Alcalde de Caracas. He lost but they gave him an even better job. De todos modos se lavó las manos, he hasn’t done
anything for us. Nada de nada,” he looked down, moving his head from side to side.
When they tried to go back in, the guards wouldn’t let them. Instead, they laughingly stole their belongings, putting even the least valuable stuff in bags.
“They even stole our lipstick pa’ darselo a sus novias,” he said “they robbed us in our faces … and I have pictures,” his cheek moved up and down in an angry manner deforming the scar on his cheek.
He was standing in what was his room, which he could access because, luckily, it is located outside of the area the guards have roped off. He opened it by pulling a half-wrecked wooden door. It was dark inside, and there were rests of a broken chair, an iron, a dirty towel, some cardboard and a little white table. There was no space to possibly lay down.
“The problem is the way they did it, too. Why did they have to come in with gun shots and steal our corotos?,” El Gocho said. “You should put away your camera in case the police,” and he emphasized the word with a higher voice and an ironic smile, “steals it from you.”
“Look at that, it’s kitchen stuff on the floor. And there’s a shoe, a mat. Inside it’s even worse,” said El Gocho’s chubby friend.
“Chávez is not there anymore. Now they’re really coming against us, I mean, I know we are invasores but the new government isn’t giving us any other options.”
He then approached a man to ask for some money to eat and went back out.
For all they’ve been through, these guys are not giving up the old religion. Even now, posters of Chávez’ face decorate the inside of many of the sidewalk tents the squatters live in.
For them, the problem is Maduro. As long as Chávez was around, there was hope. With Maduro, there is none.
53 thoughts on “Life meets pavement”
“For them, the problem is Maduro. As long as Chávez was around, there was hope. With Maduro, there is none.”
But will they finally help to throw these criminals out.
I don’t think so.
They will all drink the cool aid when told to.
The problem is maduro but then when it matters the most they vote for maduro
I am more interested in why so many people in Venezuela do not seem to care.
Interested in the situation appears to be waning.
I cannot even get any reliable info on the state of the shortages, colas, protests etc.For an insider it appears that most problems have just vanished.
Concentrating on certain examples and not on the general situation, and not delving into the National psyche, just simply is not giving those outside the county too much of a clear picture, and does not go into what really matters : where are people’s heads at now? And what is needed ???….
because it will be the answers to these questions that will determine the future, and nothing else.
“I am more interested in why so many people in Venezuela do not seem to care.
Interested in the situation appears to be waning.
I cannot even get any reliable info on the state of the shortages, colas, protests etc.For an insider it appears that most problems have just vanished.”
That, Fire, is called “regime’s censorship”, also known as “HEGEMONÍA COMUNICACIONAL”.
They want everybody to think that “those who complain are lunatic things that aren’t even human”
The question is why people are censuring themselves….I have friends who speak up, but most do not.I think the answers are not that simple and need to be investigated more.Until then and as far as I am concerned everything else is chit chat.
Because things rapidly become the “new normal”. After loudly complaining every day about queues, shortages, overall chaos…the complaints grow fainter with each passing day as we start shrugging our shoulders and saying “we could be worse”. Maybe we haven’t lost our ability to feel indignation, but our ability to be shocked has certainly taken a huge hit in the past 15 years.
Petro-State Peons will continue to vote for the Petro-State, until it can’t provide for even their bare minimum needs….
“As long as Chávez was around, there was hope. With Maduro, there is none.”
Without maduro, things would be worse than mere lack of hope; things would be sure to be worse, so they will continue to support maduro.
“Years went by. Babies were born. Men brought girlfriends. Women brought boyfriends”
“six months ago we helped Ernesto Villegas in his campaign”
““They won’t let that blanquita in,” said a middle aged dark skinned man sitting on an upside down garbage tub.”
There lies the reason why this country is screwed. These apes only reproduce, get wasted in booze and VOTE.
Refurbishing this country to be able to “sell” it in an almost decent shape will take decades.
A lot could be said about this but I’d just make the observation that many of those girlfriends and boyfriends and babies are connected to middle class and rich folks, but you don’t necessarily know because they don’t bring them home. Many get wasted, reproduce with poor folks, and then vote, but they vote for people who are also screwing the poor folks.
“Apes” …? OMG! So a racist comment is just what we need to turn things around?
So many nasty feelings behind that word… Such a terrible comment has left me speechless…
I didn’t see the comment as racist, though I’m well aware of the racist use of apehood. Would you prefer the term “gentlemen”, with or without quotation marks?
I would prefer the poor not be referred to as only capable of breeding, getting wasted and voting.
Being a mototaxista is a honest way to make a living, and invasions like this and Torre de David are full of mototaxistas, street vendors, INCES apprentices, secretaries, hair dressers, corporate motorcycle messengers, low level clerks and other minimum wage earners. There’s a fair share of thugs, to be sure, but that’s true of almost every barrio in Venezuela.
Here’s a story of 21 families with no hope to purchase a home legally, because the housing market in Venezuela is dysfunctional, who even being poor, got robbed of their few earthly possesions by the National Guard. Yet they get zero empathy from some people on the Oppo side, and then the some oppo minded people (not neccessarily the same) go on and on about poor people not engaging in massive demonstrations in view of the repression suffered by (mostly middle class) college students at the hands of the National Guard.
“Being a mototaxista is a honest way to make a living”
Really?. So do you think it is perfectly fine to violate traffic laws, destroy private and public property, use public spaces as parking and as cherry-on-top, commit the ocassional armed robbery in traffic jams.
Then wondering -why- venezuela is screwed is futile. Answer is right before our eyes. Educated, internetz-wielding people think that being a thug in a motorcycle is a perfectly fine way of living.
Sometimes it beats walking.
There is no requirement for mototaxistas to “violate traffic laws, destroy private and public property[…] and as cherry-on-top, commit the ocassional armed robbery in traffic jams”. It’s not part of the job description, just like speeding, having a crappy car, engaging in express kidnappings or drugging passengers aren’t part of the job description of being a cab driver.
Having a motorcycle doens’t make anybody a criminal. There’s plenty of mototaxistas (and motorcycle riders) who aren’t thugs, i.e. don’t commit robberies, don’t kill people, don’t damage cars on purpose, etc. There’s also plenty of thugs who don’t ride motorcycles: the average kidnapping gang drives SUVs, or some fast cars (Fiesta Power, maybe an Aveo). The most successful thieves in Venezuela drive luxury cars, yachts and private airplanes.
About your complain of their “use public spaces as parking”: Motorcycles are banned from lots of private parking lots, leaving them only the streets and the sidewalks most the time. The street is a public space they share with cars (that also use public roads as parking). The motorcycle use of sidewalks for parkings is a tragedy, that Municipalities should address by creating more spaces where motorcycles can be parked and by writing parking tickets to those who keep parking on the sidewalk.
Many of those who have had their cellphones taken at gunpoint by a mototaxista would beg to differ.
Yes. Some thugs have a day job as mototaxistas, but that’s not all of mototaxistas. Just like not every bank teller tips robbers on clients, not every cop is dirty, not every military officer is in the drug trade, not every lawyer is a crook, not every business owner is a boliburgues or figurehead for Diosdado, not every beauty queen is dumb, not every baseball player is using steroids, and so on and so forth.
Yes, we all should have empathy for the down-trodden poor who, after being kicked around and out by Govt. representatives, still vote for that Govt.–makes complete sense to me–and, oh, I forgot, it’s all the better-educated Oppo’s fault that this situation exists….
Never have I said that ” it’s all the better-educated Oppo’s fault that this situation exists”
If your gut feeling, when you see poor people losing everything they had after the National Guard robbed them, is “Bien hecho, sigan votando por Chávez/Maduro”. Don’t whine, when they see middle class neigbourhoods thrashed by colectivos and the National Guard, and their gut feeling is “Bien hecho, sigan trancando calles”.
Verdugo no chilla.
“Ape” is ambiguous. It is not just the animal, obviously, but
2) a racist term for dark skinned people
3) brutish guys, bad guys
The text makes reference to “they”. It is, at least to me and I think to the Canadian here, not clear what group he means.
* all those who are are poor and have voted for Maduro or Chávez, implying that most of them only know how to reproduce and are inferior to you or me
* all those who are brutish, mistreat their women, impregnate them and have no responsibility, etc
Its a “twofer” as we say up here, Herr Kepler: the comment is racist and classist!
The term “ape” is used in the context of a reference to dark skin, and the stereotype of dark skinned people being uncontrollably promiscuous (as distinct from light skinned people) is one of the classics of the genre we are talking about, so check that one. Throw in to the mix the stereotype of poor people being unthinking, animal like fornicators, and a clear dose of contempt for said fornicators, which goes back at least as far as the Irish famine period or whatever, and voila! c’est un twofer.
I know, Canucklehead. But I was trying to explain to Syd.
Theoretically there are two meanings but given he meant everyone, the meaning is also the classist and racialist one.
Of course, there is the other meaning, used in other contexts: dictator X is an ape, the apes of Lukashenko wounded several students, men behave like apes when they drink.
Obviously, that was not what he meant here. So I agree with you.
We are in total agreement. And I have no problem with calling Lukashenko an ape, or saying that Maduro is trying to ape Lukashenko.
Which apes Jamie? What are you blithering about. Why don’t you take your opinions to your local KKK chapter instead?
Classy first 3 comments. Last one is golden.
By all means, that kind of message sure is going to turn things around.
Sure, there was hope because Chávez had an exhacerbated discourse anti-property that gave hope to those that did not have anything. It was Chavez rethoric over and over. Chávez destroyed the building industry in the country. Destroyed any incentives for people to invet in anything, particularly properties to sell or rent.
It’s like Maduro is the Chivo Expiatorio. No mi amor, este peo que vive Venezuela hoy en día es obra de Hugo Chavez Frías
But those people will refuse to listen a mere sliver of criticism against their false god, while they stuff their heads up their asses.
Sadly, it seems like this group of people would rather live in the tents and complain for the rest of their lives than do anything else. Since at least 2002, people like this have been brainwashed by Chavez and others that protests and opposition parties are for rich white people who spend more time in Miami than Caracas. Just because they may have quickly lost any love they had for Maduro does not mean they are in favor of any type of change in government or society.
And is in places like this where pamphlets should be scattered among the people so they can read the message that ends breaking their connection made of stupid with chavismo.
One of those messages could be: “Tú le diste tu confianza, tu voto, y tu vida a chavez, y mira cómo te lo está agradeciendo, le dejó el coroto a su sucesor nicolazzz para que te siga jodiendo.”
How about something where the reader has to actually think, as in:
“Tú le diste tu confianza, tu voto, y tu vida a Chávez. Cómo te lo agradeció? Qué tal el sucesor del coroto? Crees que está encaminando bien el país? Cómo ves el futuro?”
These people deserve our deepest compassion whatever their politics , their personal miseries and petty misdeeds , their all but fringe capacity to hold a job , even the most menial one in venezuelas ruined economy. One also senses that our capacity as individuals to do anything effective is very limited , that this is a job we can only delegate to the Governent , which resources are the only ones that, if well applied, can make a difference.
To blame Maduro is to blame Chavez whatever these unfortunates may think , but beyond Maduro and Chavez (who could have been able to help their lot and give them a ladder to improve their lives but didnt ), the conditions that created them , that maimed their lives were there long before Chavez came to power .
If tomorrow the regime ruling us were to change for a more competent and compassionate one what could it do to improve their lives in any sustainable way , to make them economically competent enought not just to hold a survival job but one which allows them the promise of a better life ?? Dont know if there is enough money and organizational resources in our country to do the job,. its a task for generations to achieve if they act smart and are blessed with a bit of luck. !!
These conditions have been building up for decades , making things worse and worse , almost untractable . they are through no fault of their own a deadweigh on society , there is very little that most of them can meaningfully contribute to the economic development or welfare of the country as a whole or to the improvement of their own lot , they are born govt dependents. They also represent a political liability , blindly and vociferously supporting demagogues pursuit of total power.
We spend a lot of time gloating on the failures of the regime and feasting on the condemnation of their terrible misdeeds and abuses , maybe we should start thinking a bit more about what can be done to face these human and social problems for real , beyond the politics.
We can try to educate the poor all we want, but if there is zero effort on their part to change, it’s all for naught. They have to help us help them. But then, when you hear stories like this and realize that people in other countries have endured far worse from their leaders and yet still find a way to idolize them, it doesn’t exactly do wonders for your hopes.
Wellborn your are right , the govt can attempt to provide them with a social safety net to protect them from the worst consequences of poverty and then an opportunity for those who are able to rise above their current miseries to do so through their own efforts, beyond that it cant do much .
My own fear is that there are not that many who can on their own rise to a better status in life , not because they lack natural intelligence or some good qualities of character but because poverty affects not only a persons living conditions but also their phisical health and development and more important of all the way they think and see things , impairing the development of some desirable traits of character and the latter is a handicap thats very difficult to overcome even with the best of external conditions.
The phocus then becomes one of salvaging the next generation , of giving then the opportunity to become better developed persons . The thing is that poverty doesnt only make the life of the poor miserable it is also capable of maiming a persons mental and character development in all sort of ways .
I feel nothing for these people.
They keep making the same mistake over and over, they pray and worship the revolution as if it was a god, it took their fucking homes man,not their plasmas or their ADIDAS.No. Your HOME,roof,where you live,where your family lives.
But they pray and pray and pray.
Fuck people like this all around the world.
And they feel nothing but contempt for you and your dismissal of their plight.
And thugs and thieves rule because instead of realizing that BOTH sides are being cheated out of what they should have by all rights (a working country with robust democratic institutions where poverty is erased) they have been trained to hate the other side and descend into “apes vs roaches” stuff.
The same dynamic somebody hear explained some articles ago about Chavismo giving the poor an emotional fix for their feelings of impotence, well, all this apes bullshit is the same. Feel nice, you are better, they are subhuman idiots.
Solutions achieved? None, but how nice it feels. Same as dismissing stuff because an escualido says it and they deserve nothing. Cheap thrills.
Among other things Chavismo is about ‘giving the poor an emotional fix for their feelings of impotence , that is true , but that doesnt mean one scorns their humanity , only their foibles , same as there are some foibles which are to be found among the better off middle class and which also deserve our scorn .
Also bunching the poor in one big estereotype , one size fits all categorization is simplistic and false. there are many who scape the brutalizing effect of their life conditions , there are plenty of examples of that in our society , but recognizing that poverty can strike hard at a persons human development is no myth and cannot be ignored. We should not feel obligated to respect idiotic notions just because we dont want to belittle the humanity of those that profess them .
Why is it so difficult for government opposition to understand the supporters of the government? We don’t need to teach them anything; it’s us who need to learn that the opposition option sounds even worse to them than however lousy is the government.
In general it doesnt and it shouldnt, but it only takes some idiotic loudmouth to give them chavistas an excuse to say all their “escualidos” bullshit is true.
I also wonder what the hell some people think should happen. Because well, if the masses that voted Chavez are subhumans that dont deserve any consideration, then who exactly is going to rule the country and how. Is not only that it sounds like asking for a Franco or Pinochet to come. It is that well, from where in hell do you think that is going to come?
JCF, I like the point you make in the second paragraph. I agree. But, from your first paragraph, you are still missing my original point: The opposition *does* sound worse to the supporters of government because the opposition talks about belt tightening and making things more efficient, implying that those who depend on government have a higher chance of lower income and voice than what the current, however lousy, government provides *and* promises. Also the opposition *should* sound better, by proposing to belt tighten and efficiency increase, but emphasizing no worsening for those suffering the worst of the current lousy situation.
Exactly. It’s not poor people’s fault that the Oppo message doesn’t persuade them. It is the oppo politicians and their comunication strategists who should make their message more convincing.
Jesus one thing that worries me is that when dealing with our view of poverty ridden people beholden on the regimes poisoned message the emphasis is on how politically inconvenient it is to scorn them for their human failures . I think thats all wrong , even if we had no chavista regime we should feel for them the same care and compassion that all human beings living a misfortune deserve from us . Also that does not mean turning a blind eye to their human miseries which DO exist , but instead to deem them worthy ,despite their human miseries ( which in part we all share) of our compassion and concern .
Lets not idealize them , lets not think of them as invested with a kind of sanctifying victimhood that makes them noble and good , lets recognize their faults but at the same time feel it in us that they deserve to be protected from the worst ravages of poverty , from their own ignorance and if possible an opportunity at achieving a better live.for themselves. . .
Look I’m onboard in not sanctifying people, and I’m more than aware that this kind of conduct shows deep ingrained problems in Venezuela’s society that make change to better very difficult.
I draw the line at calling people apes and saying they worthless. Mistakes and all, those are CITIZENS. They have AS MUCH RIGHT as anybody to a country that does not fail them so bad, and MORE URGENT needs that many others.
That they are politically mistaken? That they need to be critiziced for it? To be shown how badly wrong they got it? Sure. I can always understand that one gets frustrated seeing how people keep making the same mistake. Lets see how better to get them to realize it is not a Maduro vs Chávez thing. Lets find how to make they see the error of their political worldview. In a democracy, the fact that you are right is meaningless if you cant convince enough people of it – so treat people with the respect citizens deserve. Make your case, put your arguments, and keep at it. That starts at understanding why they do and feel and think what they do and working how to make them see how it is counterproductive.
The “ape” stuff, on the other hand, is just the victory of Chávez and his methods. Reducing politics to a contest of hate between citizens is just what he played at, and won at, and playing that game will not only not solve anything. Is just what they need to keep in power forever, and to make people like the ones in this news article flock to them. Maduro may be an incompetent without one drop of the dark charisma of Chávez, but with stuff like that, he is going to sound like a champion to the masses, while screwing them as usual.
Or to make it shorter, there is an abyss between telling people they are wrong, even that they are very much wrong and should now better, even be angry at them for making the same mistake, and talking about them like subhumans that need to be put into their place.
I’m with you.
Now: it’s kind of exasperating we have to tell grownups it is not good to call everyone who is somehow on the other side or indifferent “animal”, “subhuman”.
Of course thinking of them as apes is totally unaceptable , even when their thinking ( not their brain) has become idiotized by fanatical delusions and their customs brutalized by the impact of prolongued poverty and its sequels .
They remain human beings and as such deserve the protection of their core humanity by whatever means are available to society . The reference to their citizenship is more equivocal because citinzenship is more linked to their dimension as political beings , not to their basic human condition .
What we too often forget is that citizenship has its demands and standards and not only benefits and privileges , in fact the word citizen comes from the old latin word ‘cives’ which in turn is related to the latin word for being summoned ( in spanish : citacion ) which referred to the duty of everyone classified as a citizen to gather in the camp of mars in rome with all his weaponry to enlist as a soldier in the event of war .
If we look at this concept from a modern perspective then being a citizen is not only about benefiting from certain govt favours but also about contributing your share to the welfare of society as a whole , by being a responsible parent , by paying your taxes , by holding a job , by not engaging in any criminal activity !!
Citizenship entails not only rights but duties and if these duties are not met then your status as a citizen in all fairness might not be the same as that of someone who does comply with them .
Their status as citizens entitles them to several things. One is voting for what they think is the best option for the future. Treating them as citizens in the political context means treating them as the people you have to convince that you are that best option. It also means treating disagreement not as treason but as a right – thats the part where the government fails (well, one of many). Means respecting that no matter what, they have the same political rights than you.
All the other stuff you say, well, thats something the whole of Venezuela struggles, no matter at which class you are, dont you think? Cause I keep reading of people that are so eager to denounce the government while cashing away on whatever guiso they can find, in true “pendejo el último” fashion.
Rachelle: superb, well-written, and even daring reporting–thank you.
Nice article. Kudos on giving a voice to those who all too often end up as mere objects, not subjects, of the Venezuelan socio-political debate.
A small gripe: I get the feeling that the all-too-eager use of (untranslated) Venezuelan argot might render the text somehow opaque for non-spanish speakers.
Remember the gringa chavista? She’s baaaack, still dreaming of Chávez and the promised hand-out. http://www.lapatilla.com/site/2014/07/06/gringa-chavista-que-vive-en-invasion-de-petare-espera-ayuda-del-gobierno-videos/
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