Photos and words by Luke Cody
Caracas is a place of wild contrasts.
It is a densely populated city, home to the largest barrio in Latin America; Petare, juxtaposed against the lush backdrop of El Ávila; a 9000 ft mountain range to the North. On the day I arrived for the first protest I attended, we valet parked in a five-star hotel before joining a march alongside street kids without shoes, wearing bandanas masking their faces. That night I had a couple of people say, “Welcome to the jungle.”
The recent wave of protests began in April after President Maduro moved ahead with plans for constitutional reforms, which many believe are an attempt to gain absolute power. Since then over 80 people have been killed and more than 3000 protesters detained. The government is trying to subdue protesters by force—prolonging the violence.
The economy is on its knees with high inflation, diminishing food supplies and medicinal shortages. There has been a breakdown of national services and corruption is rampant. Violent crime and murder rates are the highest in the world and people are becoming increasingly desperate. There is no deterrent against crime and because those who are supposed to uphold the law are abusing their power, the country is rapidly descending into chaos.
There are signs of a civilised western city like any other I’ve visited or lived in, which can lull you into a false sense of security. The façade for me came crashing down though when I saw the National Guard chase protesters into a shopping centre after firing tear gas and buckshot to break up a demonstration. Running past Ralph Lauren, Zara, the ‘As seen on TV’ stores seem familiar, but I can’t reconcile the echoed cries and people passing out from tear gas inhalation.
The trauma sustained from being exposed to this level of violence and repression can have lasting psychological and emotional effects. A friend mentioned she will no longer attend marches after witnessing fellow protesters being driven over by an armoured police vehicle in May. Understandably many people are choosing to leave Venezuela. Others don’t have a choice.
Everybody tells me I must visit Los Roques while I’m here; a stretch of beach with white sand and crystal-clear water. I say that I’ll visit when things calm down. With President Maduro’s constitutional changes to take effect at the end of July and the demonstrations set to intensify, I don’t think I’ll be making that trip anytime soon.