– Nineteen eighty four is an instruction manual.
Talking my way outta things has always been one of my traits.
I usually write in Spanish in my blog because I want my ideas to be familiar with venezuelans and spanish-speaking people around the world that share my views so they know what I’ve to say, but today I’m writing in english because I want the world to know what’s going on in my country.
If you american readers get angry off at police brutality and lack of due process, then this piece will trigger you. Real bad.
Today afternoon, I went shopping for fruits and groceries with my wife In Caracas.
We stopped at a supermarket at and saw a huge crowd of almost one hundred people yelling and cursing to a group of National Guards that were watching over the food distribution in one of those food queues that thanks to price controls, are familiar to venezuelans.
What I saw is what you don’t get to see when you put CNN in your TV if you’re living abroad because journalists get jailed, beat up and thrown away from the country.
I decided to commit a terrible crime against Statssicherheit (National Security), collective morality and the integrity of the state. I pulled out my iPhone and began recording a video.
The scene was like one of those old newsreels from the Soviet Union:
People standing in queue for hours. The guards were yelling at women with crying children on one arm, while showing old and torn folders with their municipality issued proof of residence, birth certificate and several other bureaucratic documents that the orwellian Price Control Superintendency tells citizens to bring to their supermarket in order to buy groceries.
I saw seniors with their Identity Cards in their hands and a torn page with their proof of residence angrily yelling at the guards, unhealthily thin men and women cursing at the guards, and several other people, pissed off at the fact that they have to humiliate themselves for a bag of rice.
As tempers grew, and the crowd cornered the armed men in control of the queue, one of them orders the clerks to close the supermarket. He shoved an older woman so hard with the stock of his carbine that the woman fell on the hard pavement.
The shouts, the curses, the insults, the anguish of hungry people permeated the environment and felt like that sour flavour that builds up in the back of your throat when it’s too hot and you’re too thirsty.
-How the fuck are you gonna close this supermarket with so many people are waiting in line?!- Shouted one man.
-My wife has been doing this queue since midnight- Another man yelled and pointed his finger at the guard
-My husband has already paid his groceries and you closed the supermarket and he can’t get out!, open that fucking gate!- Yelled a woman.
A thundering voice came from an overweight guard as he cocked his Beretta carbine.
-Get the fuck back, you people think that you can get away with being old. Well I’m here to lay down the law.
People started to yell and push. My wife told me to get moving.
And then it happened.
A guard grabs my shoulder and says: “You’re recording this, I’m putting you in jail”.
Five guards surrounded me and backed me up against a wall.
“You’re recording this, if I catch you with a video, I’ll put these iron hooks on you”. The iron hooks or ganchos in spanish are the name they give to handcuffs.
“I didn’t give you any permission to record or take pictures of my face”- Cried one guard.
“Take away the phone, put him on handcuffs and send him to a command post”- said another one.
I looked around. And I kept my cool.
I know national guards and the authorities of this regime use intimidation as a weapon. But I know better.
-What’s the matter? You nervous?- asked one of the guards.
-Listen- I replied calmly- There’s no wrongdoing here, I was just using my phone. And what I’m nervous about isn’t the fact that I might be facing a district attorney for whatever charges you guys come up with. I’m worried about what’s going to happen if this people get out of control because they’re hungry and they’re realising that you’re putting me in jail arbitrarily.
Inside, my heart was racing. But my pulse was cool.
“Show me the phone”
“I’ll show you the phone if we do it somewhere else, in a calm way, if you don’t see anything, you let me go away”
“I’ll be the one that decides that”.
“Even if I did record you, which I didn’t, why would you be afraid, were you up to any wrongdoing?”
The man that was detaining me was both judge, police officer and executioner. So much for rule of law or due process, am I right?
-“If I find a video of me there, I’ll fuck you up.”
-I assume your commanding officers have told you about due process, the rule of law and the Rome Statute, officer- I calmly told the guard.
I knew I was going to be in a lot of trouble if they indeed searched for the video. Despite one guard saying that I had to give him the phone, I kept it in my hand and I was shaking my arms and hands to distract them from my undercover manoeuvring for the deletion of the video.
The idea of spending an indefinite amount of time in the tropical equivalent of the Stasi prison cell curved my spine with nervousness.
But I kept it cool.
-Listen, you’re guarding a bodega, if you’re detaining me for illegally recording you, are you really gonna abandon your post, do the paperwork and present me to a Public Ministry office for a personal charge? Your commanding officer isn’t only going to be pissed at you, but you’re also going to be responsible for reprimanding me and the angry mob you have here is going to spiral out of control.
-“Tell it to the judge”. And I was pushed away from the street into an adjacent alley. My wife followed.
In my mind I thought about my wife, mom, dad, and daughter. So I took a shot.
As we walked into the alley, I told the guard about me.
-Look man, I’m a doctor, I work at a hospital where all of you guys are brought when you’re hit by a bullet when fighting crime. If my colleagues find out about this, think about how they’re gonna treat you or some fellow military you might know, or even your family. I’m as a public servant as you are.- This sort of “threat” has a deep psychological impact on the armed grunts that “guard” supermarkets. -Believe it or not.
The guard next to me was facing forward, and dealing with a woman with her daughter that in great solidarity, followed me and my wife. She was yelling at the man, telling him that I committed no crime, that he’s gonna have to put her behind bars as well.
The guard turned around, cocked his gun, his colleagues followed suit.
-“Wanna know something, you cunt?, not only am I going to jail this asshole for recording a video at a food queue, but I’ll call the precinct and have them send a female officer to arrest you and have her give you the real after-school-knuckle-sandwich special”.
Another National Guard threatened her with taking her daughter away from her into the Child Protection Service for violation of the Child and Adolescent Protection Act as she was being an “irresponsible” parent.
It was in this brief moment that I managed to actually delete the video.
In the alley the guard made me show him the photo gallery of my iPhone.
“We’re gonna take this phone to the command post and have a digital forensics analysis and we’ll know if you did it, you’re fucked” said a guard.
Look, in order for you to do that, you need to press proper charges, that’s a lot of paperwork for a bodega guarding grunt like you. I showed you that there’s no video here, so why don’t you let me go? – I replied calmly.
In light of the fact that the guy literally went through videos of my daughter twirling and dancing to Disney’s “Let it go”, a video of me cooking a barbecue, and another one of me and my friends happily dancing at a wedding, the national guard looked angrily at me and said: “You deleted it”.
-You can’t prove that. It’d take you too much hassle, a forensics analysis won’t come at the request of a national guard patrolling a bodega in the verge of a riot, but an order from a special prosecutor at the National Intelligence Service, the Scientific Police Corps or the National Directorate of Military Counterintelligence or something similar. Are you really going to go through all that paperwork just for that?
The guy let out a sigh. And facing a possible riot at the supermarket, he let me go.
“And I don’t want to see you doing a queue around here again”. As though he owned the fucking place.
I didn’t thank him.
I know what I did was completely reckless, I could have been like, really fucked, but I think that my slyness, and talking my way out of the entanglement, as well as the ever potential riot situation at a supermarket saved my stupid ass from such a dangerous adventure.
I apologised to my wife for my idiocy and we had a long talk.
I grabbed my wife’s hand, gave her a kiss and we went home to walk our black lab, Coco.
All I wanted was to get a bundle of bananas and go home.