Snapshots of Caracas, April 2019
Vicente Lecuna, Univeridad Central de Venezuela/ PLAS Fellow
The water pipe on my street broke in October 2018 and was repaired in February 2019. During these four months, water gushed under the pavement and then broke through, leaking for about 4 feet before joining the sewers, which were right next to it. At night, we could hear the deafening noise of this short but turbulent river. At long last, one day a group of people came to repair the pipe. We never found out who they were, but they did a great job. A few days later, another spring appeared, behind my street. There have never been water shortages on my street. We had been very lucky, but not any longer. As I write this, most people in Caracas don’t have running water, so they either go to the nearest river or hire a water truck containing 2,600 gallons for $150.
A friend of mine who was at the hospital tells me she saw how the police secretly retrieved, in plastic bags, the corpses of seven newborn babies. The parents were behind the police, crying inconsolably. Preemies were in these plastic bags. They had been in the incubators that stopped working during a blackout. I have trouble believing this. Or I should say that I don’t want to believe it.
When it’s mango season, thousands of families cross the city to harvest the fruit from the trees. They also look in the trash and eat whatever they can find. In Venezuela, the monthly minimum wage is $6. Gas, water, electricity, phone, and cable TV are quite inexpensive. Fish, beef, chicken, pasta, pet food, rice, sugar, cheese, soap, medicine, and car parts are extremely expensive. For example, two pounds of cheese cost $6. The Government distributes boxes of food at a reduced price. Without those boxes, many people would starve to death. Thousands from the Venezuelan diaspora and others join out of solidarity, sending remittances to their friends and families. They also send boxes. Without these, many people would die.
Since 1997, I have been working at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. Six years ago, it would take me an hour and a half to drive home from work, leaving at 7:00 pm. Today, the same drive only takes me 15 minutes. My father fractured his femur a couple of months ago. My brother and I took him to the nearest hospital, 5 milles away, at 11:00 pm, and did not see a single car.
“There is a wild turtle in front of the building!” said a neighbor in the chat room. “It’s Alice’s, she ran away” quickly responded another neighbor, “please get the turtle before anyone eats her” she added. Today, there are few animal species in Caracas. We no longer see stray cats or dogs nor hear them at night. Apart from the sound of helicopters, our nights are silent, since the water pipe was repaired. Other species, however, have multiplied: parrots, macaws and hawks. “I got the loose turtle, thanks, neighbors! ,” Alicia responded a few hours later.
VICENTE LECUNA (Ph.D. University of Pittsburgh) is Associate Professor at the Literature Department at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and the Executive President of the Board of Prodiseño at the School of Visual Communication. He is the author of La ciudad Letrada en el planeta electrónico (1999) and co-author of Laberintos del poder(2006), and Lenguajes de la crítica. His work focuses on a wide range of topics from populism and violence to urban design and contemporary narrative in Latin America. He is a founding member of the Anormales del arte y la Literatura, a research group with researchers from the Universidad de los Andes, the Universidad Simón Bolívar, and the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He has been visiting professor at the Universidad de Los Andes and Rice University. In 2015 he was appointed Cisneros Visiting Scholar at the David Rockefeller Centre for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, and in 2018 he was Cogut Visiting Professor at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown University. Since 2015 Lecuna has been studying the spatial logics of urban politics, specifically in the architecture of Caracas in the 1970's, focusing on the cultural, literary, and media representations of Parque Central.