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.

37 Responses to “Brisas de Oriente: When Anarchy and Chaos Become Routine in Venezuela”


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erick X. Garcia , Miguel Octavio. Miguel Octavio said: Brisas de Oriente: When Anarchy and Chaos Become Routine in Venezuela http://wp.me/ppwPU-38B [...]

  2. Eric Says:

    Great post, Miguel. It’s this kind of from-the-ground-up reporting that really illustrates and makes sense of what’s happening here.

  3. Roberto N Says:

    Yes, great post Miguel, thank you.

    There are so many “Brisas de Oriente” outcomes in Venezuela today, unfortunately.

    Fertile ground for winning hearts and minds.

  4. Kepler Says:

    Great post, Miguel. If it is OK, I will make a version of it for German readers.
    Do you know what parish or at least what municipio that place is in?

  5. Kepler Says:

    Somewhere in here?
    If someone could point at the possible schools where they vote…it would be interesting to see the evolution

    http://www.cne.gob.ve/divulgacion_parlamentarias_2010/index.php?e=13&m=03&p=00&c=00&t=00&ca=00&v=02&cir=00

  6. syd Says:

    Thank you, Miguel. I agree with Eric. We need more of these true stories to lend a human face to the “revolution” and to shatter the myths carried by the government-supported PSFs from abroad.

  7. firepigette Says:

    Miguel,

    If this action had been taken by some middle class people of El Hatillo or students of the Central the government might have sent the Guardia Nacional to deal with them.

    Because Chavez has defined his legitimacy in terms of class warfare,he cannot allow himself to be seen confronting barrio people.But just by staying passive, and letting things run their course,the problems of the barrio people are still not being solved.

    This can be a growing problem for Chavez’s grip on power.

    After 12 years, it is hard to claim that the middle and upper classes are still to blame for the misfortunes of the lower classes and that Chavez has been unable to do anything about it.

  8. Bruni Says:

    You went for breakfast EVERY DAY to LOS GOLFEADOS!?! Wow!

    Great post.

  9. mick Says:

    OK, let me get this straight. Venezuela is so incapable of producing anything that it has to import houses? A country full of unemployed or underemployed and there isn’t enough cheap labor to build houses.

    This could only happen in a socialist prison state where government dictation has thrown everything out of balance.

  10. Roger Says:

    I often write that we won’t see much happen until the poor come down from the hills to protest. It seems that protesting on their own turf and using the geography to their advantage is a good tactic. We saw the same thing in Zulia by the farmers last month with some result. It is interesting to note that Caracas is in a box canyon and there are only a few ways in and out, through narrow canyons, and when just one of them gets blocked, its a disaster. Also, I have been up that road many times to get to the Radio Site at Volcan, there is a lot of Rain Forest Jungle up there that reminded me of chasing Huks in the Philippines. I must say that the Wild Orchids and other flowers were the most beautiful I have ever seen anywhere.

  11. Miguel Octavio Says:

    Bruni: It was on my way to Ivic and had great stuff, the queso de mano was outstanding, the coffee delicious. When i taught at USB I woild drive the back way which was slow but insured I would get there on time, I would eat my breakfast as I drove after picking it up at Los Glofeados. Everyone there knew me, so much so that I would pull up and they would start getting my coffee ready and a piece of cheese. Someone in my office lives in Brisas de Oriente and he regularly brings me cheese, I even know the day of delivery, its really fresh that day.

  12. loroferoz Says:

    I was almost on the point of thoughtlessly saying that here in Venezuela, any blockhead believes that they have entitlement to stop traffic for any reason whatsoever, for as long as they wish to.

    Then I read the post. And got angry anyway. Of course, at the government. Not only for not providing basic justice and security…

    Then, I remembered the people in the barrios and got really mad. This has been happening for decades. Getting from bad to worse to Scenes Taken from Hell Itself. Call me a hothead. But I can even picture my more hotheaded neighbors, in my definitely not high class area giving a little hot welcome party at the house of any malandro that tried to set up shop.

    Then, I remembered that the world is not all black and white, and that probably the government can be blamed a little more because some of these malandros are in exceedingly good terms with the police…

  13. LD Says:

    There are breaking news about Gaddafi fleeing to Venezuela!!!
    Hope this is right!! (Thugo will be not very happy, maybe, think of The Hague)

  14. Fred Says:

    OT. I just read this in …… aporrea, and was shocked that they had published it http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a118071.html

  15. Fred Says:

    Another artcle from the same web site where the writer does not seem happy with the government. At times I had difficulties following his logic, but the point is the the site published it even though it critizices the goverment http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a118077.html

  16. Gringo Says:

    Where history and personal story intersect. Miguel, your readers appreciate this. While blocking a road- a favorite political tactic in Bolivia which Evo Morales resorted to many times- may not be the right way to resolve this issue, the incompetence of the government in dealing with crime is even worse. What else can we do?, the people of Brisas de Oriente ask.

    As a steward of the people, Thugo delivers rhetoric and naught else. Thus the frustration in Brisas de Oriente.

    Has there been any formation of vigilante groups to deal with criminals and crime?

  17. jonsar Says:

    While blocking a road may not be the right way to resolve this issue, the incompetence of the government in dealing with crime is even worse. What else can we do?

    What else can you do? What a dumb ass question. Beat the punks back into the stone age and then move down to the city and start the same thing on Chevez and his thugs.

    That is what else you can do.

  18. Isabelle Says:

    I would like to know – is the opposition not well organized? Is there no clear leader that can make a real change to act? I have only heard of Leopoldo Lopez? Would love to hear more if there is any actual opposition movement going on in the country…

    Also, I’ve been thinking, would not a development in Caracas (and Vzla as a whole) be able to experience a development as the one in Bogota with Mockus and Peñalosa?

    http://www.grist.org/article/of5/

    Or is that wishful thinking? But if an opposition that points out changes like that gets support, wouldn’t it be possible?

    Thank you for your great blog.

  19. Rp Says:

    Interesting post. Please help me understand better. What is the relationship between the current government and the rise in crime? As I understand it, the argument here is that things used to be bad (“For years…”) but now (“Lately…”) they are worse. Can you be more precise about the timing? Was it possible to walk the streets at midnight in 1998? When did this neighborhood grow from the restaurant to a significant size? (These are pretty basic journalistic details, after all.) Assuming that the barrio didn’t appear entirely during the last 12 years, am I to understand that the same government (ie. pre-1998) that allowed a sprawling neighborhood of almost or actual ranchos to grow without sufficient planning nonetheless took care to police it properly? And that proper policing was the only reason there was no crime? That seems somehow unlikely to me.

    What I’m trying to get at is that the argument of this post is – as it stands – merely post hoc ergo propter hoc. I don’t dispute that violent crime has risen in Venezuela during the last twelve years. Nor do I dispute that the government has failed to come up with an adequate “policy response”. But that doesn’t mean I will easily accept that the rise in crime is entirely, or even mostly, due to this government. I need more information to reach that conclusion. Panama, for example, is also experiencing a drastic rise in crime, and the government there has been doggedly following the mainstream capitalist/liberal model for two decades.

    So what as this government done, exactly, that has led to the increase in crime? The post states that police live in the area and are even victims themselves. That seems to indicate that it is not a lack of police presence, per se, but something else. What is that something else? A lack of proper police training? A lack of necessary resources? Increased poverty? (As to this latter, the neighborhood was apparently very poor from the beginning, so that’s probably not the right answer.) And what should the government be doing about the crime? More police? Better training? More opportunities for the people? What is the proper policy response?

    I’d really like to see some thoughtful and rational answers. I’m trying to ask the questions as respectfully and “open-mindedly” as I can. But I will admit that it’s frustrating to continuously see the crime issue thrown around as solid proof that Venezuela is “a socialist prison state where government dictation has thrown everything out of balance” and that the Venezuelan people should “move down to the city and [beat] Chevez and his thugs [back into the stone age]” [sic], without any real solid analysis of what is leading to the crime. If it is police corruption – the only semi-solid cause I can pull out of the post or comments – then that’s not much different than Panama, or Brazil, or Mexico, or Honduras, or so many other Latin American countries, except perhaps as a matter of scale. But I don’t see it as proof that Venezuela is a dictatorial failed state in a league of its own, or that Bolivarian policies are a sure road to ruin. It just suggests to me that Venezuela has the same sorts of problems as so many other states that have evolved from Spanish imperial control through a long twentieth century of neglect and inequality. And like so many of those other states, the Venezuelan government is having a hard time finding an answer in a world where, indeed, malandros are starting out younger and younger (perhaps because of cultural influences?) and acquiring more and better arms (which are not made in Venezuela, but follow international narcotraffic flows).

  20. moctavio Says:

    The rise in crime is from 4,000 or so murders/homicides in 1998 when Chavez took over, to 17,000 plus this year. Why? Fighting crime has never been a priority under Chavez plus he has centralized more police forces and replaced a professional system of police with military officers with no knowledge or experience as to what to do or how to run the system.

    In the second half of the 90’s crime was actually going DOWN, have some posts on that way back.

  21. Rp Says:

    Well, you might have a look at this article:

    Crespo, Freddy. 2006. “Institutional Legitimacy and Crime in Venezuela.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 22:347-367.

    Crespo is a researcher at the Universidad de los Andes. I have no idea what his politics might be. Here’s a pertinent paragraph:

    “Venezuela is a typical example of this trend [of developing countries experiencing
    rapid increases in crime rates]. In 1960, the homicide rate was 10.88, and by 1990, it had risen slowly to 12.5. Thereafter, the increase was dramatic: to 20.7 in 1995 and 42.1 in 2003 (Ministerio de Fomento, 1958-1980; Ministerio de Justicia, 1980-1999; Ministerio del Interior y Justicia, 2000-2004). The theft rate in 1997 (336.01) was nearly six times the rate for all reported crimes in 1966 (63.1). Figures indicated that in 2003 the murder rate in Caracas was 154, whereas in one parish in the capital it was as high as 194 (Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos [PROVEA], 2004). In a national victim survey conducted in 2001, 69% of respondents felt that crime had increased in recent years, and 42% felt that they were “very likely” to be a victim of crime in the near future.”

    And the first sentence from the article abstract :

    “Crime rates in Venezuela increased considerably at the end of the 1970s, and even more so from the mid-1990s onward.”

    In the conclusion he states: “With the partial exception of robbery, changes in institutional performance were unrelated to changes in crime rates. Although the two sets of variables often showed similar trends, significant cross-correlations could not be found.”

    It seems to me that the upward trend in major crime really is an extension of a process that was occurring before 1999. The data shows that per capita spending on “justice” dropped off precipitously in the mid- to late-eighties and remained flat throughout the 1990s. They also show that the murder rate rose steadily throughout the same period. It’s true that there was a significant acceleration of the murder rate (which was already rising) from about 1999, but how could that be the fault of the Chávez administration neglecting crime fighting or changing the structure and/or leadership of the police, if he wasn’t sworn in until February of that year?!?!

    Do you mean to say that the changes made between Feb. 1999 and 2000 were so drastically significant that the police forces immediately collapsed and the murder rate shot up? How would the malandros even know, within a matter of months, that the police force had become so inept that they could now get away with murder? You’re saying that, within months, changes in centralization of some forces, combined with the imposition of military officers, resulted in neighborhood level effects that were so significant as to incur a near doubling in the rate of homicide? I just don’t think that’s plausible. It would take longer than that for the effects to become apparent and for the malandros to adapt to them. If it truly is the case, then it should be possible to pinpoint the exact structural changes that were made in 1999. Which forces were centralized and when? Which officials were replaced with military officers and when? The correlation should be quite evident and easily reportable.

    By the way, Crespo’s data also shows that reported assaults did drop off from a peak in about 1993 – which supports your point that (some) crime was actually going down in the second half of the 90s – but they continued to drop until 2003. Why would changes in police prioritization and structure invite more murders but less assaults during the same time period? (FYI, the trends are more muddled for reported robberies and thefts.)

    I’d be happy to send the PDF of the article if you’re interested in looking at the data sets.

  22. Zumbao Says:

    Wow, Miguel has moved away! I will always be grateful and in debt to him for keeping me informed these last years.
    I left Venezuela in 1978. I remember distinctly making the decision to leave, it was ’76 or 77, that I read in El Nacional that Ensal was the only government enterprise turning a profit that year. The devil’s excrement curse!
    Miguel I wish you the best. If you are ever in northern California, drop me a line. I’ll have a bottle (or more) of Syrah ready.

  23. moctavio Says:

    This graph from official statistics shows there were improvements up to right befores Chavez’ elections:

    http://blogs.salon.com/0001330/2005/07/17.html

    This is an old article things have gotten much worse. While the overall crime rate may have risen like the author says since 1960, the acceleration when Chavez took over is remarkable. Yes, crime was on the increase, but Venezuela was nowhere near being the worst country in LA.

    The more up to date statistics are here:

    http://devilsexcrement.com/2010/02/26/homicides-in-venezuela-eleven-years-of-neglect-and-incompetence/

    the overall statistics are here

    http://devilsexcrement.com/2006/08/13/a-horrifying-picture-of-venezuela-as-latin-americas-most-violent-country/

    The Chavez administration made no priority about crime. Chavez even justified it in the face of poverty. Chavez fired police administrators wherever he could, Caracas Metropolitan Police leaders are all military since 2003, all profesional police leaders replaced by his whims. There has been no continuity in the Ministry of Interior. Investment went down. Crime was not roses before Chavez but the acceleration is evident and the neglect State policy.

  24. GeorgeS Says:

    Crime was bad before Chavez, but nothing like we are living today here and it does arise from the fact that the Government paid no attention to the problem and the military took over. Chavez has addressed every major problem on his TV show Alo Presidente, except crime, he had never until two months ago mentioned a single plan on crime. We are talking twelve years and a guy who chats up 6 to 8 hours at a time, rambling about everything. Prisons are a disgrace. Barrios have no police except in municipalities that are well run, which are few and far between. Even the Government knows the fact that they have done a terrible job and it is exploding on their face as the number one problem for people. And it is because of incompetence, no investment and lack of interest. There are something like 5 million illegal guns in Venezuela and the Government has done nada about it.

  25. Rp Says:

    I’m certainly not trying to defend the Chávez administration’s response to violent crime, much less the performance of the police forces and judiciary. Crime and justice are gaping and poorly attended wounds in Venezuelan society – that should be clear to any observer. My point is that the explosion of violent crime is a phenomenon not unique to Venezuela, and that the drastic rise should not be solely attributed to the Chávez administration. The article I mentioned cites the sources of all statistics, whereas those taken from the interview with Lopez are unattributed (and in some cases, questionable). The article was published in 2006, and I’m making arguments about the period 1999-2003, so it should be sufficient, whether or not you consider it “old”. But the links you posted, Miguel, also reinforce my argument. The graph from The Devil’s Excrement shows that the sharpest rises for murders in Caracas occurred between 1998 and 1999, as well as between 1999 and 2000. Chávez wasn’t inaugurated until February of 1999, so he can’t in any way be held responsible for the first drastic increase. And, as I argued above, it’s unlikely that his administration instituted changes that are the sole cause of the rise throughout 1999, since there would have been insufficient time for the effects to spread throughout society. Also, if the transfer of Caracan police leadership to the military didn’t occur until 2003, as you say, then it certainly didn’t play a role in the trend that was already occurring, as is evident in the graphs to which you linked.

    In any case, thanks for engaging me on this point.

  26. moctavio Says:

    From 1994, to December 1998 when Chavez was elected there was a drop in crime, so I am not sure what graph you are referring to.

  27. Rp Says:

    I’m referring in part, to the graph in the link you provided here:

    http://blogs.salon.com/0001330/2005/07/17.html

    It does show a decrease in the homicide rate (not total crime – see my first comment for discussion of crime rates in various categories) from 1994 to 1998. It also shows sharp rises from 1988-89, and again from 1991 to 1994. But more importantly for my argument, this graph shows a sharp spike in homicides between 1998 and 1999, and then again between 1999 and 2000. Chávez’s election in December of 1998 is not the correct moment to use to measure change, since he could not have begun to change policy any earlier than his inauguration in February of 1999. And – to repeat for the third time – it’s hard to believe that he immediately instituted policy changes regarding (municipal) police, or that those policy changes would have had an immediate effect on homicide and violent crime rates. From the moment a president pushes for a policy change, that policy must be enacted legally, then executed administratively, then at the level of actual policing, and then the effects of the policing on the population have to be felt by the population, with violent criminals finally acting based on those effects. So there is necessarily a lag time between Chávez taking office and any real world effects that can be measured in crime statistics. The correlation you are implying is, at least partly, false. Further, you yourself cited 2003 as the moment of institution of one of the most important policy changes regarding violent crime rates, so while this may have made things worse, it certainly can’t be the actual cause of a rise that began five years prior.

    The other graph you cited:

    http://devilsexcrement.com/2010/02/26/homicides-in-venezuela-eleven-years-of-neglect-and-incompetence/

    also shows a sharp uptick in homicide rates between 1998 and 2000, so the above points would also be applicable to that graph.

  28. moctavio Says:

    yes, but there was a ten year downtrend before that. There was an uptick in 1998, but under Chavez the slope has been a constant. Obviously something was done in 84-97 to reverse the trend, to suggest that a one year uptick explains things twelve years later when this Government ahs not paid attention to crime until late last year is puzzling to me.

  29. Rp Says:

    I’m confused by your last comment. The graph at salon.com shows an overall rise in homicide rates from 1986 to 1997, not a fall. The only “downtrend” was the period from 1994 to 1998, much less than ten years. Nor does it show a constant slope under Chávez – notice the fall from 2001-2002 – though that’s beside the point. I think I’ve made myself as clear as I can via this medium. Thanks for your engagement.

  30. moctavio Says:

    Sorry, I should not answer comments while I work. I read the axis and could barely tell the numbers. There is a four year drop from 94 on, there are four points down, clearly something was being done, no?

    Then there is one point rise before Chavez and for the next thirteen years only one year down.

    To me, combined with the fact that the Government i) replaced professional cops with military from day one. ii) ignored the problem for twelve years (Chavez did not mention crime during his Alo President until last year) iii) Deaths by policemen increased dramatically, a sign that brute force was the only policy. iV) Gun control all about dissapeared from official policy, all suggests that this Government is responsible.

  31. Renee Bourne Says:

    This article is just one more of those articles looking for something bad to say about Chavez. Please stop hate!!!!

  32. Renee Bourne Says:

    I LOVE MY COUNTRY AND MOST OF THE BD THIGS THEY SAY,ARE MADE UP.

  33. moctavio Says:

    Hate or fact, from the Guardian, not precisely your right wing source:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/10/venezuela-caracas-gang-warfare-murder

  34. moctavio Says:

    Renee, dont you think we love Venezuela, we do, that’s why we want to get rid of the destruction Chavez causes.


  35. [...] last wrote about the Brisas de Oriente barrio last year, its residents were protesting after a string of murders, the Government finally sent in the [...]


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