After living my entire life in Venezuela, I have gone through a lot of things, as you must know after reading my stuff. This time I would like to write about something very important, especially for those fellows living in countries where the LEOs and similar personnel have good salaries, where the sanctions for those who don´t obey the laws are severe, and most importantly, there is an entire punitive system for the infractors.
As we have never enjoyed a true democracy, no matter what some of my Venezuelan mates would say, not like those democracies in most of the anglo-speaking sphere (as far as I know, never been to USA), consequently the morality of many members of police and other uniform institutions are, so to speak, relaxed.
A little bit of Venezuelan history
Perhaps this is occasioned by many years of civil war back in the second half of the 1850s that tanked what was left of the country after the independence wars. The population of the country decreased to ridiculous levels, while warlords were riding their horses from one place to another, free like the wind itself, killing each other, and terrifying and abusing the poor peasants. While in the USA the train rails were being built from coast to coast, with the consequent improvement in the life quality, trade, and all the progress that it brings along, these caudillos, or chieftains, devastated our homeland, while the weakened governors struggled to keep under control the vast amount of land they had to rule. This is one of the explanations of our relative underdevelopment compared to some other countries in the same period, like Argentina, for example.
This said, the government managed itself to elect one of the most acknowledged Venezuelan presidents: Cipriano Castro (not related to the infamous bearded cigar-smoking pimp). He was a really educated ruler, with his eyes on the future. His own buddy Juan Vicente Gomez, the Defense Minister, kicked him out of the chair and ruled my homeland as a huge hacienda.
Back in those years, there was A LOT of prosecution, torture, and imprisonment of everyone who was suspected to oppose his dictatorship. Ignorant, evil officers, who could not even read and write, were given pompous titles and power to put someone in jail just because. They seized farms, land, cattle, and goods as they pleased.
The government protected them, as long as they spread the terror in the population and kept it under control. I believe that in those years people started to accept the fact that it was better not to fight or resist. Fast forward, and until the infamous dictator died, people learned the hard way to obey, if they wanted to live.
I know this is history, and maybe a little bit dense, but please keep reading so you can understand our armed forces personnel’s perspective.
After his natural death in 1935, there were again several years of unstable governments, with the consequent prevailing of the “caudillo” image as a figure of power. Our libertarian warriors’ genetic pool, decimated by decades of war and dictatorship, has been therefore very slow to replenish. I truly hope that those libertarian readers that cannot explain themselves why we have not been capable to adjust the numbers with this criminal organization seizing our government now can understand much better what has been happening in my country. Again fast forward, and a new dictatorship kicks in: Pérez Jiménez. He has in his favor a lot of good stuff, and I will have to be honest acknowledging this.
Creation of large universities, modernization of the country, and jail for corrupt contractors and politicians was something that helped him earn the appreciation of many people. Those years people slept in Caracas with their doors unlocked, and the windows open. They could get out at 3 am, on foot, to take a sick child to the infirmary or get out to buy some medicines, without being robbed or harmed in some way.
Of course, there existed an entire repressive apparatus, but the law infractors were severely punished. Employment was abundant (they received lots of Spanish and Italians running away from Europe). There was no need to get into criminal activities because the economy was strong enough to provide a good living status. If people kept away from political idiocies, like trying to kill some government figure, they could live peacefully and wealthy.
My dad and mom lived those years, and they said it was the best of times in many ways, despite the dictatorship. Camping on the beach for days at a time was common, and no gangs were going to mess with the families.
Fast forward to more recent history
I apologize for extending the introduction this long, but I felt the need to provide an overview about everything the 800,000 population remaining at the beginning of the 20th century had to endure, and how the idea of the idiosyncrasy of a country where schooling was scarce until the second half of the century.
Summarizing, we have a population barely getting out of a country ruled with an iron fist like a huge hacienda, without any schooling, going through a lot of repressive governments, and a second severe dictatorship receiving A LOT of Europeans deeply traumatized by the WWII and consequences. See my point?.
Add then a collective military behavior, attitude, and philosophy mainly developed in order to RULE over the civilian population, more than protect it. In the second half of the 20th century, the things were worst: communist guerrillas were all over the country in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Military personnel was slowly used to see differently to the civilians.
Similarly, their approach to the civilian was that they were someone to force to obey and treat like potential criminals. Many stories can be told about this. This was not different in the 90s. Oddly, this changed a little once “Uncle Hugo” arrived to the chair. One of his first moves was to increase their salaries, and improve their medical services: dental insurance, maternity, and modernization of their hospitals. When that happened, the general attitude of the uniformed ones to the civilians improved somehow. For a time, it was good. Until as recently as 2009-10, or so, when too much power again was given to them, and their lower ranks were inflating out of their uniforms. That has not stopped, but has gotten worse.
How to stay alive at roadblocks
I write about this, because of this single reason: once the fecal debris bucket gets close to the air pushing device, it is more than likely that the less disciplined, the black sheep, and the rogue personnel are going to organize in some way to mess with the weakened civilian population, and manage to get some extra income from them. This is a failed state. It has been like this for YEARS.
You already know how I know about this.
The focus of some (I don´t mean all the personnel is going to band together and go wild) of the less scrupulous uniforms are going to be, without any supervision, or even under it, getting the most out of the situation. It has happened in South Africa and other countries all over the world. It is universal.
In our instance, it has been a long-lasting trend as you have already learned. Military here have the tendency to look down on civilians, and now it is much worse with everything that has been happening.
I have been stopped in roadblocks. I don´t open my mouth, but give them the car papers, ID, and license, one by one after they give back the document in their hands. Unexpressive face, not threatening but neutral: “glass eyes, dog face” is how their superiors tell them to treat civilians, so I do the same. With a short hair and standing straight up, some seem to have had the impression of being in front of some former military personnel and prefer not to mess with you too much. We Venezuelans are friendly by nature, but I have learned that this is not good, dealing with tired, thirsty and hungry military personnel in the middle of a desert road while traveling alone.
In case an unexpected long-lasting event takes place, and the rule of law gets stranded somehow, a certain amount of uniform personnel is going to go rogue no matter what country you are in. That is my perception.
I have been in enough foreign airports to detect how many of the guards could have that tendency. A bad attitude, worst than the most severe of the guards, a different kind of unpoliteness and hard looks, different than usual, for example.
An unexpressive face, a relaxed body, and a neutral attitude is the best way out. Forget about casual chat, please! I have been asked for some money for soda (very common here by the way), and this is the most common request. I prefer to hand out some cash than being subjected to an exhaustive revision of my car and lugagge. Of course, this is done after the papers are again in the glove box. Like lending some cash to a couple of friends for a coffee. Otherwise it could be a crime.
With the cash scarcity, this has not happened lately…so it is always a good idea to bring along a couple of cookie packages, and perhaps some expandable paper cups and an extra coffee thermos bottle or even better an extra bottle of soda. As I know my people, I have learned that sometimes when there is a group of 3 soldiers or more, offering some coffee or soda, and cookies (I serve myself a little bit before, so it can be seen as a polite offer to share) can relax the guys, and ease any tension, thus improving the general mood. It offers them the possibility that you are not El Chapo’s friend hiding in Venezuela who is going to shoot them at the first suspicious movement, but a chubby dad going someplace who needs to hit the road again as soon as possible to meet his family.
This is an extensive and somehow complex topic, and I promise to elaborate more about it in the next articles.
Be safe, and take care.
PS: I want to thank the donations to those readers who kindly have decided to provide our family, every penny counts in this harsh times, and gives me strength to keep writing to be able to bring them with me.
[Note from Daisy: If you’d like to donate to help Jose get his family out of Venezuela, you can do so here: paypal.me/JoseM151]