January 25, 2021
Keymer Ávila | @Keymer_Avila
The first thing that we must clarify is that in order to talk about a specific case like that of La Vega, it is necessary to do field work within the community itself, almost of a police nature, this is not our case. Given this warning, in the first part we will try to make a macro approach to this type of phenomenon that seems to be becoming more and more recurrent in the large neighborhoods of our cities, each one with its own logic and particularities. In the second we will approach the information that has come to us from that community and the questions that are raised about the specific case.
Already in another space we consider three keys within which more territorial and local explanations can be inserted later, even conjunctural, but that will have these elements in common: the context of deep structural violence that we Venezuelans suffer, the structure of illegal opportunities that the system itself offers and the institutional violence that is functional to the previous two
In the first place, we have the structural violence that excludes the majority of the country and condemns them to precarious living conditions. Young people are not offered any kind of opportunities or options for the future in the licit world.
Within this macro level, the second aspect must be considered: the structure of illicit opportunities . The big gangs endowed with weapons of war cannot exist without the support of the legal world, this is one of the most basic points of the theories of criminal subcultures since the 60s of the last century. Certain sectors of the “licit” world have a functional relationship with the activities and existence of the gangs, this happens by granting them social, institutional, economic, and political support, among others. That is, guarantees to operate with impunity, collaboration of police and military forces, complicity of prosecutors and judges.
It is important to highlight that this has nothing to do with ideologies or political programs, it is just a matter of business, of common illicit markets. This is how the so-called criminal governance is taking shape , which is not a particular phenomenon of ours, it can also be seen in various Latin American cities in Central America, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
These alliances are not stable, sometimes these common interests can conflict, generating irregular wars between these sides. These precarious agreements can be broken due to different circumstances, that seems to be what happened in La Vega and also a few months ago in Petare .
Finally, the third edge that completes this vicious circle is institutional violence . The latter is one of the main instruments for the maintenance and reproduction of structural violence. In certain moments of crisis of legitimacy, it is functional to make criminal violence visible and instrumentalize as a way of distracting attention from other problems that are more difficult to address, in this sense, criminals, or those who comply with the stereotype that class and race prejudices they establish on what supposedly is a criminal – young, racialized and poor -, they serve as opportune scapegoats.
The existing figures and indicators show us, firstly, that the majority of deaths at the hands of security forces are not confrontations with equivalent criminal groups , but rather the consequence of excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by these organisms. Cases of clashes with criminal groups are exceptional. The problem lies when, through the exception, one seeks to justify the routine action and the trickle-down massacre that is under way against the needy sectors of society.
The balance is the death of thousands of people , the radicalization and mutation of the gangs that become more violent and with larger arsenals , together with the increasing empowerment of the police and military apparatuses that end up doing their will. Who loses out? All of us ordinary citizens ended up at their mercy.
In this general context, particular cases with their own territorial logic can then be inserted. Now we will address some questions that journalists have asked us in recent days about what happened in La Vega:
What happened in La Vega? Why are they doing this police operation?
Geographically, La Vega is a strategic place in Caracas that connects with various points and other key sectors of the city, making it desirable for any group that wants to have tactical and warlike advantages. From conversations with neighbors and officials we have collected at least two versions of what happened, the first account that the conflict began at the end of last year between the Cota 905 gang and other smaller ones from La Vega, where the first one is advancing and takes some sectors of this neighboring neighborhood. He recruits several local youths, possibly inexperienced, and equips them with long weapons, with which they begin to make rounds in the neighborhood. Far from winning over the community, they imposed curfews after 5 in the afternoon, set up checkpoints, began to commit criminal acts within the same area, to collect vaccines beyond the tolerable limits, so much so that the carriers at some point paralyzed the provision of the service, the businesses were already being affected, etc. This escalates until they mess with police officers who live in the occupied sectors and there any balance and coexistence pact between them is broken.
Then there are two moments, the first begins on January 2, with the clashes between gangs, and after the winning gang with the police, which were the last and strongest. Reaching its maximum points on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The community lasted besieged by bullets for a whole week.
The other, more delicate version tells that part of his arsenal was stolen from the head of the Cota 905 gang and the dissidents took the loot to La Vega, it was an attempt at what they call a “change of government”. . Then the betrayed boss tried to reestablish the broken order, and in that game the police incursion ended up being functional for his purposes, since they eliminated the rebels, maintaining his hegemony. However, there are numerous complaints that many of those who died at the hands of the police had nothing to do with these situations.
These are two conflicting, even contradictory, versions that coincide in the presentation of the two moments, but especially in the institutional precariousness that we suffer and that confirm that the popular sectors are triple victimized: firstly by social and economic exclusion, secondly by criminal gangs and, third, by the State itself. Currently in La Vega the state of siege that the band had has been replaced by the one imposed by the PNB, the streets are still deserted, and the armed men are the ones that continue to roam.
Is the police incursion related to the protests of previous days for public services?
Contrary to what is usually said in the country, there is a lot of protest, especially in the popular sectors, as confirmed by the monitoring of the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. These protests are mainly due to the demand for basic public services, which in the country are increasingly precarious or non-existent. Neighbors confirm that there were protests in the sector between the second and fourth weeks of December, especially due to the lack of water and gas, which were repressed and dispersed with shots by the police at the time.
Having said this, it is important to emphasize the following: although the demonstrations in the country are repressed , both types of institutional violence should not be confused, the repression that is carried out on a daily basis in the neighborhoods in the framework of citizen security operations is very more brutal, indiscriminate, massive and lethal than what is done in the context of demonstrations. They have no comparison factor nor can they be compared.
This distinction should not be overemphasized, trying to confuse both types of repression distorts a reality that does not need to be distorted.
Is there evidence of some alliances between these gangs and police and military authorities?
We do not have elements to answer this question, it is not part of our academic research work, this would be more appropriate for the police authorities, the Public Ministry or the Judiciary to answer.
As indicated at the beginning, what we can do are analyzes and reflections of a general nature that can frame this type of event. The idea of the structure of illicit opportunities, already explained, is key here .
There are basic questions: How do they get the weapons? How do they have access to weapons of war? How do they get ammunition? How do some possess grenades? Who are responsible for the manufacture, import, distribution and sale of arms and ammunition in the country? Who has that monopoly? Since when do they have it?
In short: the big gangs cannot emerge, nor have power, without a minimum support or at least tolerance from the police or military, prosecutors, judges, as well as from the political and economic power of the “legal” world. This is not what we say, this is part of one of the most classic criminological theories of the second half of the last century.
There are families that report that some of the victims were simply on the street and were workers. What is the point of killing them and presenting them as bandits?
This is linked to the third edge that we discussed in the introduction, referring to institutional violence : in some specific situations of political, economic or legitimacy crises, the issue of citizen security can be a wild card, in particular cases, without a doubt serious and dramatic can serve to cover up crises of a more structural type and difficult to address. It is a substitution of public enemies, depending on the circumstances the system evaluates which one it chooses and how it processes it. This legitimizes certain armed state apparatuses while diverting public attention from dealing with other more complicated issues. This clearly happened with the PLOs, in an election year; It also happened with the creation of the FAES during the 2017 protests. As we have explained on other occasions , these policies are not a mere response to specific criminal phenomena, they are just the excuse through which a lot of functionalities are activated. political and economic. Sometimes for the state machinery of death, the lifeless bodies of the poor are just a product that serves to show efficiency, capabilities, they are a means to send clear messages; they are also an attempt to legitimize through force and, consequently, to reaffirm their power.
In the recent incursion of the public force in La Vega there are not few reports of executions. When there are so many deaths on one side and not even injuries on the other, it is a reason to set off alarm bells, it is an indicator that the use of lethal force had a purpose other than the preservation of one’s own life, and it suggests an excessive use and disproportionate. The problem is not that they fall “innocent” or “guilty”, that distinction is irrelevant and even dangerous, the point is that in our country there is no death penalty -a penalty that is in extinction throughout the world-, and in those cases the penalty is the product of a judicial process, it is not administered discretionally by the police in the streets. When that happens, unlimited power is being granted to the armed forces, diminishing all our rights as citizens. No exceptions should be made in this , rights are for everyone or they are for no one.
Publicado originalmente en Provea.