By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – It has become an almost daily fact of life in Venezuela: bus drivers going on strike and blocking highways to protest against a seemingly endless string of colleagues killed by villains.
Working at night, alone and with cash, they’re easy prey and out there in the front line in the war with lawlessness. On Thursday, it was the turn of Puerto La Cruz in Anzoátegi state. Like their colleagues all over the country, they’d had enough.
The latest victim hasn’t been named yet. But a colleague, Iván Suárez, said violent attacks on buses were running at a rate of “at least 12 or 15” a week – and he was talking only of the route which he worked.
In one incident earlier this year, he said, a police officer had been killed. Even so, nobody seemed to be doing anything to protect bus drivers and their passengers.
“In truth, the authorities, even when they’ve met with us, don’t give us answers,” he said. That left them feeling like the cheese in a toasted sandwich, he added.
In large swathes of the country and above all in urban areas, the citizenry grew inured quite some time ago to hurrying home before the real life vampires came out -- looking over their shoulders if they couldn’t, and, if they’re lucky, watching each others’ backs.
It would seem there isn’t even any rest in peace beyond mortal life. In Los Teques, capital of Miranda state, an unknown bunch of ghouls has damaged and vandalized at least a dozen tombs in two municipal cemeteries.
Some of the graves have even been opened. Here there are echoes of Burke and Hare, the two 19th Century grave robbers in Edinburgh, Scotland. At least, they were out to make money, selling skeletons to medical students. And they got caught.
At Los Teques, there’s grim talk of black magic rituals and the sacrifice of chickens and animals. Literally, it would seem, nothing is sacred.
Part of the problem is that there aren’t any guards at either of the cemeteries. Neither is there any care and attention. Both cemeteries are in a state of extreme dilapidation, and people seem to have grown accustomed to that as well. Talk about here today, gone tomorrow.
It can be much the same for those still in the land of the living, and in some cases, starting even before they’re born. In La Dolorita (Little Pain), an all too well-named rough district of Petare in east Caracas, Marielena Montilla, 24, was stabbed in the arm, chest and neck, and ended up hospital, where she died. She was seven months pregnant, and the baby died, too.
Some time back, she’s said to have been in some sort of relationship with a man in his 40s, with whom she then had differences and moved in with her father. Then she moved into a pension in the center of Caracas, and got a job working for a nearby street stall. This one was really trying.
In a city where most violent deaths involve guns, Montilla was part of a recent rash of stabbings.
Reinaldo Pacheco Abello, 26, a salesman, was slaughtered by a guy with a knife outside the Santa Teresa church in the old city center around dawn on Sunday.
Ervis Méndez, 23, had come from Valencia, Carabobo state, for a job interview. Within less than a day of arriving in the capital, his life was over. He’d met some friends and gone to a party and was stabbed to death in Los Castaños in El Cementerio around the same time as Pacheco Abello.
Just one day later, Víctor Rojas, who also worked with stallholders when he wasn’t washing cars for a living, was slashed to death in Catia, a notorious stretch in west Caracas.
All in this in the space of barely 24 hours, and nobody has yet been able to work out the why of any of it.
Coincidence or not, the use of knives rather than guns in all these cases prompted thoughts about it perhaps being a consequence of the government’s long-promised crackdown on illegal firearms.
But it doesn’t seem to be that way. “Look,” said an official at the Interior and Justice Ministry, very much off the record. “If that were the case, they’d never stop talking about it. The minister would be on the box all the time, night and day. But instead, as you know, he doesn’t talk very much about crime in terms of hard facts.”