Archive for February 19th, 2011

Brisas de Oriente: When Anarchy and Chaos Become Routine in Venezuela

February 19, 2011

Yesterday, there was an eight hour protest near Los Teques, right outside Caracas. Neighbors of the Brisas de Oriente barrio, a barrio that sits on the ridge of a hill, right next to the Panamerican Highway, near Km. 21, right before Los Teques, blocked the road for eight hours. This wasn’ t even huge news, they are part of the routine anarchic and chaotic life these days in Venezuela, while an indifferent and indolent Government claims everything is fine. These people were mad, that the police and the National Guard did not even dare to stop them from blocking the traffic for such a long time. I estimate this affected some 100,000 people, who simply could not move on the highway during that time or chose to stay home, rather than try to find a way to get down to Caracas to work or go to school.

To most Venezuelans the name Brisas de Oriente means very little, but many people that live in or near Caracas have actually been at the entrance of that barrio: the barrio grew out of a food stop on the highway. First came the food stop, then a news stand, then someone built a very simple house, almost but not quite a rancho, behind it and before you knew it, Brisas de Oriente was born. By now, Brisas de Oriente is a long road along the ridge and down, from which other roads, a minority of them unpaved, branch out in between the dense concentration of rudimentary houses, the further you go out, the closer they are to a “rancho” or shack, while the closer to the road you are, the closer to the now famous food store that goes by the name of Los Golfeados de Los Teques, the more developed the houses are.

The people that live in Brisas de Oriente are poor, but they most likely have one or two people that work at home, kids that go to school and even the university. A well constructed house in the barrio costs around five to ten thousand US dollars. Rentals are about 50 dollars a month.

For years, residents of Brisas de Oriente have known that you have to arrive before 10 PM and leave after 6 AM to go to work. In between the “malandros” (hoodlums) take control of the barrio and either rob you outright or charge a fee just to be allowed to go by the spot where they are hanging out. So, you better have an alternate place to sleep if you don’t want to get mugged when you get home late or have to leave early.

Lately, however, crime has taken a turn for the worse. From no murders five years ago, the number of homicides has picked up at a fast pace. The crooks have gotten younger, they are now mostly underage and armed with loaded guns, while their style has changed. This week two residents of Brisas de Oriente were murdered in two separate incidents. A total of sixteen have been killed so far this year. This is what led to the protests.

When the protests began, the police did little, some of them even live there and are victims themselves, all part of an anarchy that just grows by the day. And so do the protests and to the media it becomes almost normal and simply boring. Ask the Minister of the Interior and he will likely spew out some made up statistics about how he has reduced crime in the last six months, despite the fact that each year the number of murders beats the record from the prior. And Government media does not show the protest and the non-Government media minimizes it too for fear of retribution from the Government.

And there is no policy response from the Government, they would not know where to start. And chaos and anarchy just grow, much like crime around the country. Probably at the same rate.

You may wonder how I know about Brisas de Oriente. For almost 20 years I lived not two kilometers away from it, had breakfast at Los Golfeados daily and got to know and even work with a number of its residents. The barrio was heavily pro-Chavez until 2006 and by now, according to my friends, it has become mostly opposition, except they could care little about politics now. They only worry about survival.

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