A Deaf and Dumb War, But Not Blind
“The government has not disarmed the underworld because if they did they would be disarming their repressive branch.”
People often ask themselves why the Venezuelan government has been unable to disarm the individuals who have been causing deaths on a daily basis–deaths without political mourners: Berta’s grandson, Pedro’s niece, Julia’s son. And the death toll keeps going up, week after week. It has already become a figure similar to that of a country at war. Where do these Venezuelans who kill other Venezuelans get their weapons?
- From his lonely watch post Albert Camus asked who among us has not experienced exile yet still managed to preserve a spark of fire in their soul. “We’re all alone,” Natalia Sedova cried in exile on hearing of her husband Leon Trotsky’s affair with Frida Kahlo. In his novel Night Watch, Stephen Koch follows the incestuous love affair of David and Harriet, wealthy siblings watching the world from their solitary exile. Koch’s writing, Camus’s theories, and Trotsky’s affair all come back to exile and lead me to reflect on the human condition. From my own vantage point, my Night Watch, I will reflect on my questions of exile, writing, and the human condition.
- Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.
When photos of hooded youths bearing assault rifles in the universities are released—or for example, when “civilians” on motorbikes open fire on one of the faculty members of the Central University—the images appear alongside quotes from the Minister of Security. The quotes are always the same: Distorted, cynical, laying the blame on “the empire,” denying the obvious: “It didn’t happen like that.” According to the government, the dead and the injured are destabilizing forces whose aim is to set fire to the country and stage a coup d’état. According to the government, violence is a media sensation: Never before has there been more freedom, nor as many happy faces in this country.
New anti-coup-d’état groups, active and mobilized groups, “cities in arms,” and groups defending the revolution constantly spring up by “popular initiative.” With constitutional status these militias embody the new geometry of power and recall the “Fascio di combattimento” and the lumpen nature of those who shaped Benito Mussolini’s shock troops. This power structure instigates violence in the neighborhoods and housing developments, results in contract killings and the disappearance of trade unionists and produces a summary form of justice that is meted out by the revolutionary groups.
“At least our young people wear hoods,” shouts the president-commander via one of his radio stations or television channels, in reference to an opposing student protest. “Our young people had the decency to cover their faces, but these daddy’s boys,” he adds, referring to those who demonstrated against him, “these little rich kids come with their bourgeois haughtiness to challenge us with their noses in the air.” He insists on the legitimacy of the once-revolutionary violence, asking his Minister of Security, “You wore hoods in the fight against the empire and the bourgeois, right?”
But many people have come to the same conclusion: The government has not disarmed the underworld because if they did they would be disarming their repressive branch. The Bolivarian revolution will not miss any opportunity to show off its weaponry. Following this, we start to understand the contract killers’ impunity, the general criminal aggression, and the intimidation and paralysis that surrounds and imprisons the general population, leading to ghettos and wire fences of terror within the city.
Venezuelans have become accustomed to the weekly death tolls. The hooded youths and the impunity levels, defended by the heights of power, represent the repressive muscle of present day Venezuela. Yet, there are still those who declare that, in Venezuela, there are conflicts fought between the right and the left, between the empire and the free nations, between the market and collectivism. In reality, it’s a deaf, practically dumb fight between fascism and the rest of society.
Translation: Kelly V. Harrison