A cop gets taught a lesson by a Surgical Resident

This is another story for those of you who like to read about Venezuela’s day to day struggle in medical regards..

Myriam (not her real name) is a third year surgical resident struggling to get her diploma in the final run of her grad school voyage in an overcrowded, understaffed, and understocked hospital in Caracas, working under the hellish conditions of the public health system in Venezuela can really take out the worst in you, as I have told in previous accounts, but Myriam, being the kind soul she’s always been keeps her cool until her cool boils to the point of total armageddon, but that’s another story.

One day, after she finished the rounds, she was approached by a thankful patient whom she had treated for an ulcer in her calf, resulting from the chaotic mixture of diabetes, poor circulation, and not being able to find the appropriate medication. The woman, in her forties thankfully gave Myriam as a token of her appreciation her CLAP bag, CLAPs are Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción, government mafias that distribute food amongst the hungry masses in this expaís.
The bag contained two Harina Pan corn flower packs, a pack of pasta, two bags of rice, four rolls of toilet paper, a tube of toothpaste and a pack of black beans.
Myriam told the woman that she was giving her too much, but the woman insisted and our resident carried home a prized possession.

On her way back home, a couple of blocks away from her apartment building complex, there was a huge ruckus, a truck was distributing CLAP bags, scores of people surrounded the truck and thuggish national police officers and national guards, wielding their guns, cocked them and ordered the crowd back to face a wall. A group of police officers surrounded Myriam and asked her where did she came up with that bag, and demanded she presented her ID, a receipt and the corresponding Libreta de Entrega, a sort of euphemism from its cuban predecessor Libreta de Racionamiento. A card that gets a stamp by a people’s commissar every time someone gets food from a CLAP.

Myriam told the police officers that her bag was a gift, one of the female officers violently grabbed her by the arm and shoved her behind the squad car, Myriam yelled and cried for help, the officer took out her retractable metal baton and smacked her in the knee, making her fall to the ground and impounded  her CLAP bag.

That’s right dear reader. The national police robbed a surgical resident a bag of corn flour

Except from the bruises, and the indignation, Myriam went home with a big bruise to her knee to rest and tell her family about her ordeal.
A couple of ibuprofens, and several ice packs later, her knee still hurt, but she managed to heal the pain. But not the humiliation.

Myriam is the type of person that doesn’t forget a face.
A couple of days later, in a busy Friday night shift, Myriam gets a heads up from a security officer:
-Cops got shot in an ambush, two on their way here, one male, one female. 

The male got a gunshot wound to the abdomen. So he required an exploratory laparotomy, a surgical procedure in which they open the abdomen and search the small intestines for tears or any vascular damage. That’s a couple of hours, Myriam thought, but the second cop, the woman, who got shot in the thigh with an exit wound near the groin, looked all too familiar.

– Coño, es ella!.  she said as she pointed her finger towards the woman lying in the gurney and said to her fellow residents that she recognised the female police officer that beat her up and robbed her a bag of food.

The female officer was crying for help, and Myram approached the officer.
-Remember me?
-How the fuck could I remember you? Fix me up, don’t let me die.

Myriam examined the woman, and realised that her wounds were just superficial, but quite painful.
-Where does it hurt?
-Every-fucking-where.
-My knee still hurts sometimes, you know? Did you take that flour home? And as Myriam said these words calmly, the jaw of the police officer dropped, and she looked as though she had seen the Grim Reaper straight in the eye.
-Did you take the food you impounded me for yourself?
-Yes, I was just following orders, my Commanding Officer said I could keep it.
-Oh really…
As this happened, Myriam’s finger poked the hole the bullet had produced, sending jolts of pain to the officer’s thigh and the ensuing cries followed.
You see, I have to check for the trajectory of the bullet, since your thighs are fat, this might be just a flesh wound, after all, I believe you’re eating my food.- Myriam said as she leered at the officer.

By this point, I think that you, dear reader know what happened after. The cop, being taught a painful lesson, apologised to Myriam and a few days after being discharged, a courier showed up at Myriam’s post with a bag containing food.

Myriam took care of the officer and the officer was taught a lesson.
Although Myriam did cross some ethic boundary at causing her pain, the fact of getting a freebie food bag, losing it and recovering never happens. And that’s the reason why I share this with you, dear reader.

Many people in my country get robbed by thugs, and by police officers, the same ones that the National Assembly wants to give a social security bill with ridiculous and impossible to pay benefits, the same ones that kill students, kidnap demonstrators and police food lines.

They’re also the same ones that live this tropical Holodomor as much as the rest of us do in this expaís.

Make Avenida Baralt Great Again!

Today, for a myriad of reasons I ended way uptown after a busy day of work.
With little cash to ride a taxi, I decided to take a stroll down from Guanábano bridge to Capitolio to catch the bus route taking me home.
What I saw while taking that walk downtown was terrifying.

One of the most important and recognised avenues of the Venezuelan capital that runs across the city is the perfect reflection of the torn down state of things in my country.

I began at the Guanábano bridge, looking at the cobbled flooring that stretches all the way down the avenue. What was once a beautiful checkered, now lies in ruins, pretty much like everything else in Venezuela.

The white and black cobbles were now grey and missing, irregular and the ones that got loose were replaced with poor cementing.

Inflation and economic crisis every-fucking-where.

I stopped to buy a couple of matchboxes for the price of two for one hundred, a grim reminder of inflation: the highest legal tender bill in venezuela gets you two matchboxes.

As I kept on walking, I passed empty bars with loud music blaring, the typical tasca, a place where the working class can make a quick stop to get an arepa were only inhabited by bored employees reading the government propaganda diaries Últimas Noticias and Ciudad Caracas. It didn’t amaze me that for an early friday night, places like that, where there were once people crammed chugging down bottles of juices, beer, malta and eating areas, the stools were empty.

A couple of meters down the road I stumbled upon a great amount of people selling all sorts of doodads:

  • Lightbulbs
  • 2002 movies on DVD (Black Hawk Down, Ice Age and Blade II were on sale)
  • Matchboxes, razors, chinese rubbing menthol and toothbrushes, etc.

But what really caught my eye were the merchants that displayed upon broken and dirty cardboard boxes rotting pieces of yucca, avocado and tiny, non ripe onions that seemed they were pulled either too early from the orchard or grown in one of those urban agriculture projects that the government boasts about despite expropriating thousands of hectares of farms from landowners and them turning into socialist wastelands.

I tried to take pictures of this but at the time it went through my mind that trying to pull out an iPhone in a place like avenida Baralt is for lack of a better word, reckless.
And given the fact that taking pictures of the crisis for this blog almost landed me in jail, I refrained from doing it so, so I pulled out a piece of paper from my bag and started to take notes of what I saw.

Bachaqueros: Angry & Racist

The amount of people that do lines in this country for food has been widely reported by countless people. Just google “colas en Venezuela”.
The good people at BBC World Have Your Say have interviewed me several times on issues like food shortage and medicine crisis.
The nice folks at Caracas Chronicles have a lot of stories on that mode of reselling regulated products at a ridiculous higher price called bachaqueo.

As I walked down Baralt Avenue the bachaqueros were everywhere:

Little girls holding out tampons and sanitary towels and selling them in the sidewalk, a couple of meters away from the food shop by the unit. Not the package, but the single unit.
When I stopped to ask, in my endless curiosity how much were the little girls selling a tampon, a man with a PSUV shirt yelled at me.

 “Go home, you bakery-cockroach-blanquito, you can buy that stuff in el este, this is for the revolutionary people”.

You know, I am used to being called a racist for pointing out the statistical obviousnesses and relations between race and crime, and I have pointed out in the past that race discrimination in Venezuela is against the ever shrinking ethnic minority of white people, but being told to go a part of town to buy a tampon based upon the color of my skin because that’s where my kith and kin are supposed to live, well that’s a new landmark for me.

As I strolled down and walked under that glorified chavista holy place Puente Llaguno, the overpass from where armed men killed dozens of innocent and peaceful protesters on april 11th, 2002, my ears were  the sound of speakers blaring propaganda, and the endless, relentless, worn out, torn posters and graffiti of Hugo Chavez’s eyes and the glories of the revolution reminded me that Big Brother is watching, that nineteen-eighty four became an instruction manual when it was written as a warning.

Plaza Caracas

 

avenida_baralt_50s

Standin’ on the front stoop hangin’ out the window
Watchin’ all the cars go by, roarin’ as the breezes blow
Crazy lady, livin’ in a bag
Eatin’ outta garbage pails, used to be a fag hag – Grandmaster Flash “The Message”

As I approached Plaza Caracas, one of General Marcos Perez Jimenez’s greatest public works: A group of buildings that house the offices of the gargantuan monstrosity of Venezuelan bureaucracy.

I noticed that the beautiful red granite flooring of Plaza Caracas was sticky and the stench of old fish penetrated the air like a toxic cloud.
I learned from a lady selling bootleg Chinese cigarettes on the sidewalks that a government fish market was deployed in the morning on the square. After the market closed, the employees emptied all the ice used to refrigerate the fish on the sewer, the sewer was backed up with garbage and the overfilled water flooded the square.
Add a little evaporation and the nauseating fumes of rotten fish kick you in the nostrils like a National Guard’s boot.

Further down the road was an entire family tearing apart a big garbage bag they just pulled out of a dumpster and eating amongst the filth and stench, a terrible sight now all too common thanks to Chavismo’s tropical Holodomor.

Right across Plaza Caracas is the recently remodelled Plaza Miranda, Jorge Rodriguez´s latest publicity stunt to say that he’s actually done something for the city.

It was in that place that I boarded the bus that drove me a couple of blocks to my house. And in the journey I wondered about a lot of things: what to make of the ideas I wrote down and turn them into this post.

I came to the conclusion that if we fix our country, Baralt Avenue could have the greatness and coolness of a big avenue of any other big city metropolis, all we need is the political will to do so, the hard working labor and big fat stacks of cash that entrepreneurs wishing to make a killing can provide, we mix those and we could make Baralt Avenue great again! – pun intended: In your face, Trump haters!.

Haemophilia: The bloody crisis of medicine scarcity.

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This is Caracas Municipal Blood Bank. Everything I learned as a medical student about blood diseases I learned it here. But nowadays this blood bank lies in ruins.

Meet Jorge.
Jorge has haemophilia, a disease of the blood.
This is his struggle in order to stay alive in the land of Bolivarian socialism.

Haemophilia is a disease of the blood, people with this condition have a really high risk of bleeding to death because they lack a clotting factor so they can’t form a proper blood clot to stop bleeding.

Tsars, princes and queens amongst the European royalty in the late nineteenth and early twentieth died from the incapacity of their blood to form a clot.

Back in the day, before molecular and genetic medical treatments were available, many ghouls, spiritual healers, and quacks claimed to have treatments for haemophilia.

People with this disease get hurt very easily:

  • If they smack their heads with the cupboard, they die from a blood collection inside their skull called subdural hematoma.
  • If they cut themselves butchering some meat, they can bleed to death.
  • If you have haemophilia and you ride one of those cars that didn’t have a modern seat belt and happened to be in a minor car crash, chances are you internally bleed to death. Because bones and joints get terribly hurt with haemophilia.

But nowadays, haemophilia is a treatable chronic disease. Patients inject themselves with the clotting factor their bodies can’t produce and go about their business.
At least in the developed world.
If you follow your doctor’s recommendations, stay out of dangerous lifestyles (that means not indulging in any extreme sports, nor live in Venezuela, for that matter) you can have a pretty good life.

Now I want you to meet this guy, we’ll call him Jorge

Jorge was diagnosed with haemophilia when he was a very young boy.
Since a very young age he constantly got nasty bruises and cuts from things that his parents considered menial.
For example, when you’re learning to ride a bike, you’re bound to fall sometimes.
But for Jorge, when he fell from his bike the first time, despite the fact that he had elbow and knee guards and his helmet. He developed nasty black and blue patches all over the side he fell on.

His mom took him to the paediatrician, he ordered a couple of tests, and after finding that some of his basic labs were altered, the doctor ordered more special, expensive tests.
On march 1998, Jorge’s blood was sent to the Municipal Blood Bank of Caracas, the most advanced public blood bank in the city and was diagnosed with haemophilia.
He was seven years old at the time. – A late diagnosis by Public Health standards.
His whole lifestyle changed.
His parents took extra care to give him the medication he needed, took extra precautions with him: that meant no sports, and no average schoolyard play- despite many tantrums Jorge learned.

Growing up, Jorge and his family had to do the occasional run to the emergency room because every kid trips and falls once in a while- But Jorge grew up to be an average teenager.

Always aware of his blood disease, Jorge took extra precautions.

It’s 2016 and while he was driving his dad’s old Ford Fiesta through the busy highways of Caracas.
In order not to hit a reckless mototaxista, his car crashed the highway barrier.
The seatbelt saved Jorge from going through the windshield.
Jorge had minor cuts from the shattered glass and he knew what was next, a probably lengthy hospital stay.
In pain, he called his parents and almost an hour and a half later, in the middle of a giant gridlock, the National Police Traffic Echelon, a tow truck, and the civil defence paramedics went to help him.
He was transferred to the University Hospital of Caracas emergency room and doctors started to look after his wounds. When he told them that he was haemophiliac, the problems arose.

If you thought Obamacare had red tape, try getting sick here.

You see, in Venezuela, if you’re hospitalised and need clotting factors, doctor’s don’t just fill out the paperwork and the hospital’s pharmacy gets them the medicine. Bureaucracy is so deep that a special request needs to go to the Hospital Director and the Director has to personally see the patient bleeding in order to authorise the dispensation of the blood clotting factor with a form addressed to the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security and then patients have to pray for the medicine to be available.

What happens if the hospital director is, let’s say… filming chavista propaganda?
Most likely, the patient will die.

Six people with haemophilia have died this year.

Luckily for Jorge, the hospital administrator was in her office. And authorised the treatment.
But it wasn’t available the first three days.

Eventually Jorge recovered.

But that’s not the reality for may haemophiliacs in my country.
According to the  Venezuelan Association against Haemophilia, an NGO devoted to fighting the disease and raising awareness there are 4616 registered haemophiliacs and with different diseases of the blood.

In Venezuela recombinant activated factor VII and factor IX are not available since march this year. And the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security isn’t distributing haemophilia medicines to regions.
So if patients get sick, they have to travel to the biggest cities in the country or retort to travelling hundreds of miles to Caracas.
Reality is terrible, the scarcity of blood clotting factors and medication to treat these rare diseases have the Municipal Blood Bank of Caracas on a technical shutdown.
It’s as though we have got on board Doc Brown’s DeLorean and traveled back in time to the 1950’s when we had nothing to treat these people with.

I write these sort of articles to let people know inside and outside my country that despite what Foreign Office Chief Delcy-the little orphan-Rodriguez and the People’s Ombudsman Tarek William –steroids- Saab say, there is indeed a humanitarian crisis in my country that’s taking people’s lives.

 

¿Quo Vadis, Hospital Vargas?

Hospital Vargas

On August 16th, 1888 president Juan Pablo Rojas Paúl signed the act that disposed of national funding for the creation of the José María Vargas Hospital in Caracas.
What was once the beacon of medical studies in Venezuela and the south american continent, nowadays lies in ruins.

The José María Vargas Hospital in Caracas, home to Venezuela’s first medical school, signed into law by Simón Bolívar in 1827 is was an institution amongst the finest medical studies in Latin America.
With its french-inspired nineteenth century architecture, el Vargas has been the home to most of the greatest medical minds in Venezuela.
But after decades of the most corrupt, decadent, money squandering and careless administrations, both from the ancien régime and the chavista revolución, the hospital lies in ruins.

Whenever you put your hand on something there’s dust, and there’s dirt.

Everything is decrepit and broken down, communal showers for patients are filthy, with human hair blocking the sinks, full of dirty water. The unsanitary details of conformism, are everywhere you look.
There’s propaganda everywhere pumping out ideology about the glory of socialism and the coming struggle of the masses.
Patients are treated as degraded beasts of burden, attending physicians just complain, and residents are frustrated about the fact that they’re losing the best years of their lives practicing medicine under scarcity, and they oftentimes wonder if the way they practice medicine actually benefits their patients or rather does them harm.
-Yes,
residents at el Vargas wonder whether or not it’s actually a good idea to get a diploma if you’re honouring the Hippocratic Oath.

A few days ago, right in front of the main gate of the Hospital, doctors, nurses and patients alike were surprised with the dantesque show that was displayed for the community: A meat and produce market.

Poultry and beef were being sold and displayed in vitrines without any refrigeration, covered in those big flies that make that horrible buzzing sound.
Rotting cabbages, tiny onions, withered lettuces and runny tomatoes were displayed in the socialista market that was allowed with the complicity of the chavista hospital board.
Not only does this market has the political intent to showcase some sort of food sovereignty to the ever hungered masses that queue endlessly across the country, but it also shows a deep sign of disrespect for the health of the Venezuelan people.

Sanitary permits, which are required to be displayed pursuant to the draconian regulations signed into law by chavista bureaucrats were nowhere to be seen. Proving the fact that these regulations are just another way to harass the private sector with fines.
The same flies that haunted the market, were seen in many places across the hospital, from the lobby, to the kitchen and cafeteria, to the hospital wards.

Residents are blighted by a variation on Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil, for they are also the victims of a very inhuman and cruel healthcare system

A colleague told me about a young patient that had to go into surgery for a gunshot wound to the abdomen, and needed a colostomy. We’ll call him Juan.
The surgeons did a wonderful job performing that colostomy from a technical point-of-view but medicine scarcity in Venezuela rounds at about 90%, according to the Venezuelan Medical Federation (something which steroid-pumped-fitness-aficionado People’s Ombudsman refuses to accept). So Juan’s family needs to procure the pain killer medication, which they couldn’t find right after the surgery.
Juan had to face 18 hours of post-operation status under excruciating pain.
A day later, after doing some social engineering with twitter and other social networks, the pain meds were procured and this man’s pain was allayed.
A couple of days later, doctors start giving Juan liquids and his family buys him a soup, (because the food service in the hospital is under technical shutdown).
Poor Juan developed an acute diarrheic infection: enterocolitis, with more than 60 bowel movements, since he couldn’t stand up, and his family wasn’t let in the hospital because they were out buying him food, his bed was covered in his own feces and the stench, together with hot tropical climate of a Caracas afternoon with no A/C made it a horror.
Nobody helped Juan, not the other patients or family that shared the hospital ward with him (“que asco” they said), nor the nurses(“They don’t pay me enough to do that”), nor the doctors (“Not my job”).
So Juan had to wait covered in his own shit for his mother to come and clean him up while he was in excruciating pain.
Neither Juan, nor his family, nor anyone complained to the doctors.

Residents in such a hellish workplace with a case overload, underpaid, understaffed,  little resources, motivation and a medical system that cares very little both for them and their patients have a lot in their plate.
The attending was angered at them because they did very little to ease this man’s pain, so during medical rounds he reminded them of their Hippocratic Oath. They sighed, and moved onto the next patient.

This sort of numbness to human suffering reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s Banality of Evil book on the Eichmann case, in which she argued that Adolf Eichman wasn’t a fanatic or a sociopath, but an extremely average man who relied on clichéd defences rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology.
In that sense, residents and attending physicians are not monsters. The system turns them into individuals that value conformity and narrow self-interest over the value of others.
Residents deny the moral responsibility of not doing anything because they don’t feel any responsibility to do so because they were robbed by the system to do so in the first place, they just want their diploma to leave the hospital and run a private practice. This extraordinary emotional shallowness impoverishes not only their sense of ethics but also their vocabulary and actions in general.

If you cringe at the fact of how they force-feed prisoners in Gitmo, having a man without pain medication after a big abdominal surgery is the sort of institutional aggression, torture and human rights violation that can only be possible in the minds of the most sick, twisted, warped, and deformed people.

This is what real socialism does to your doctors.

NOTE: I did a similar piece for Caracas Chronicles before the Head Editor had ideological differences with me. So I wrote this one here. And I have another one coming. 

Maduro’s ‘diet’: A tropical Holodomor

I wonder who invented the term “la dieta de Maduro”. For those unfamiliar with the expression, it’s a pun, or sort of a joke, when you see someone in Venezuela who has lost a considerable amount of weight, looking gaunt, or unhealthily thin, a fellow compatriot asks whether or not you’re working out in your figure or are you in Maduro’s diet.

I used to be quite the fat fuck.I weighed over 200 pounds during medical school.

But a diagnosis of hypertension at age 26, as well as the medical test having me score very poorly on the outcome of my health pushed me into taking care of my figure and I decided to get in shape. With the help of my fiancée I decided to be a better version of myself.

It’s costly in this county’s, considering we have the worlds highest inflation, food scarcity, and the pains of living that’s very well documented in medical literature, bloggers, and the writings of the press that chronicles how hellish is to live in this country.

Venezuelans have this thing for making a joke outta everything, even I the worst situation. It’s part of our demonym.

Back in 2010 I was almost kidnapped in Caracas, at about 9PM, exiting a movie theatre in the Hatillo Municipality I was ambushed by two cars, they boxed me in, and armed men stepped out the cars wielding firearms.
I managed to do a manoeuvre that fits right in the Hollywood action films genre, escaped and barely made it out alive.
The kidnappers fired several rounds, one of them got me right in the right arm and my limb was torn to pieces.
After getting to the ER and having orthopaedic surgery, while I was on heavy painkillers and doped out of my mind, when everybody went to the hospital to visit me, they asked many, many times, how did it happen.

And I told them the story and I jokingly said: “Well, at least the movie was good”, or “If you think I’m fucked up, you shoulda seen how the other guy ended up” (Indeed, I ran over one of the bastards, knocked a door out of the kidnapper’s cars and avoided a headshot, but that’s a story for another time).

Venezuelans have a nasty habit of making a joke outta every single goddamn situation, as a Venezuelan I even get pissed off at that fact. Not because having a sense of humor is bad, but because we push it way too far.

It’s become a bit of vice, and we laugh our asses of it.
Comedians have made a lot of money out it.
Laureano Marquez, Bobby Comedia, Emilio Lovera, even that mediocre hack Led Varela and the Miss Universe diction teacher “Professor” José Rafael Briceño make jokes out of the fact that Venezuela ranks in top of countries that have hand-grenade injuries.

The venezuelan diaspora knows this fact a little bit too well, most people in my country flee from it because of crime rate.
Comedienne Joanna (((Hausmann))) even did a YouTube video for Latino website Flama (sort of a rip-off on Buzzfeed) to joke about the horrid kidnappings fact that haunts this beautiful nation.

But the sick part of the joke is the fact that thanks to the absolute mediocre administration of chavismo, Venezuelans are not meeting their dietary requirements.
El Impulso wrote a note on how eight out ten venezuelans are having a single meal a day!

And trust me, that meal is not that nutritious at all. Protein in Venezuela is expensive. FUCKING expensive. Well. Fucking expensive for a third world country standards.
Considering the fact that inflation rates has even brought the attention for Vice magazine’s drug-addicted junkies to write a piece on how cool it is to do some tourism on a low budget. But for the average working-class venezuelan, that has to wake up to work his ass off for pretty much less than a dollar a day, buying food is awful.

And that shit takes its toll on the nutritional status of the venezuelan.
People are getting skinnier, and are looking gaunt, and unhealthily thin every single passing day, and yet we joke about it, because why shouldn’t we? Hell, if we kid about the fact that our country has kidnappings, teen pregnancies and murders, why shouldn’t we kid about the fact that we can’t eat?

Never mind the fact that Maduro’s diet, that tropical Holodomor famine that has the population fighting each other tooth and nail over a bag of rice, looting trucks on roads, and joking on how we skinny is destroying the neurones of millions of venezuelan kids, stripping them of the potential of learning, no.

Never you mind that.

Never you mind the fact that the People’s Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, former Anzoátegui state governor, MP, and chavismo’s mouthpiece calls  “immoral, irresponsible and improper” in response to Venezuela’s National Assembly actions which call the current food and medicine situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

All those facts don’t matter at all.
It doesn’t matter that people die in my country because they can’t find food or medicine, or because they’re being slaughtered by armed thugs, or the political prisoners, or the lack of free press.

This tropical Holodomor is just another small headline in the “international news” section of every western media outlet in the world. And one of the reasons why it remains that way is because of the fact that save for a very large group of the diaspora makes stand up comedy about it, and our opposition leaders fear to call things by their name. They fear to call the venezuelan government a dictatorship.
They fall in the trap of political correctness in the same way that in the west, their leaders fear to say the words “radical islam”.

Ayn (((Rand))) once wrote that you can avoid reality but you can’t avoid its consequences- well the same damn thing goes for my country and the fact that we are all losing weight and intellect in this place because we can’t find food to eat.

It ain’t the fact that I lack I sense of humor.
Part of our tragedy is making a joke out of everything.
The Russians had vodka, ballet, and suicidal writers.
The Cubans had cigars, rum, and music.
What do we have?
Patria, beer, and humor?

 

I almost got arrested by the National Guard for recording a video with my iPhone

– 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.