Saturday, September 6, 2008


Fear is a controlling aspect of life everywhere, but I've never had fear drilled into me so completely as I have here. When I was 21 and biked across the U.S., every adult asked me, first off, if I had met any "wackos" out there. I eventually decided they were the wackos, letting their lives be governed by fear of wackos rather than pursuing their dreams and living their freedom. But on the other hand, reality can be as bad as the hype. Here are some of the headlines in Caracas's best-selling newspaper, the tabloid Ultimas Noticias, translated for your pleasure:

Page 30
Muggers relieved him of his life and his motorcycle: He arrived with three shots at Clinico, where he died

Shuttle worker perforated in Barcelona

They killed three youths in a house: Merida: The cadavers were discovered by the landlady of the residence where they were renters. One of the fatal victims was four-and-a-half months pregnant.

Page 37
They ambushed a youth to kill him with 4 shots. El Rodeo: The gangs "Toñito" and "Kilo of Bananas"* implicated in the crime.

A run-over indigent died

Page 38
They killed a man in La Trilla

Page 39
They finished off a man in the La Trilla sector: The victim was working as an ironworker in Betania City (yes, this one appears to have merited two stories)

Page 40
Sports. Harmony after dissonance, a gentle touch after torture, the soothing voice of Big Brother following the Two Minutes Hate.

Murder is omnipresent. Since the government doesn't publish crime stats on the Web (or does it? if you know where to find them let me know), here is an article from June that gives some sense of it:

In 1997, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico, countries with similar social characteristics, had very similar homicide rates, while Colombia and El Salvador amply exceeded them. The former had 19.6 murders per 100,000 residents; 20 per 100,000 in the second case; and 18.4 per 100,000 residents in the case of Mexico.

"Now Mexico cut its index to 14.7, Brazil remains around 20, Colombia also reduced to 37 and Venezuela, taking as a reference the official statistics, has a rate of 45 homicides per 100,000 residents," said Briceño León, who recalled that the survey published by Conarepol in 2007 gave 49, and the last release from [human rights group] Provea referred to 46. Official data from El Salvador say that the index in 2006 was 54 per 100,000 residents.

The resulting fear is omnipresent. It affects the most quotidian decisions, like which trail to hike (go to Sabas Nieves and hike a "secure" overused fire road with 2,000 of my closest friends, or go to a narrow trail through the woods and see more butterflies at the (low but present) risk of being robbed?) where to buy plumbing supplies (pay less in the ghetto or pay more and remain in the zona verde?) What pants to wear on a hot day (long pants and fit in, or shorts and stand out as a non-Venezuelan and risk who-knows what)? Bigger questions like where to live, whether to have children, what career to choose, all are driven overwhelmingly by fear for nearly all my friends.

They recruit. People tell me daily not to ride my bicycle in the city, citing the danger (even as they drive, risking carjackings and robberies by guys on motorcycles). There is a constant pressure to not do any number of (usually fun, interesting) things, because of this supposed danger. It didn't affect me so much at first, but I notice it affecting my reactions to little things. I had a weird cab ride last night, as the cabbie first was willing to chat and agreed to help me with an airport trip in a couple days, but then fell obstinately silent when I asked his name and number so we could arrange that same airport trip. I found myself assuming that he was a robber or rapist or some such thing. It didn't even occur to me til afterward that maybe he was mentally ill and paranoid or maybe he just didn't like me.

*No kidding. "Kilo'e Cambur."

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