Life meets pavement
Tents, bare mats, improvised shelters, tattered refrigerators, and used-up kitchen utensils cover the sidewalk of this stretch of Avenida Lecuna, in downtown Caracas.
Several government-subsidized buildings on both sides of the street are adorned with propaganda. Women, men, and kids stand by, looking at each other and at the cars driving on this busy street. They sit on the upper corner of the zinc-roofed area that used to be their home, laying their backs on the dark blue wooden walls.
“It’s destroyed inside, you can see it if they let you go in,” said a chubby woman angrily. “They won’t let that blanquita in,” said a middle aged dark skinned man sitting on an upside down garbage tub.
And he was right. According to the guards standing at the entry, only ex-residents were allowed to go in, to take a shower or to get food.
The closed-off space was supposed to become a government pharmacy subsidized by Caracas’ Metro company before 11 families occupied it in 2010 in the hope of receiving, within a couple of months, an alternative home from the government’s Misión Vivienda.
Years went by. Nothing. Then, on June 6th, the guards came.…
El Gocho, a 26 year old mototaxista with dark black hair and big sad eyes, had to leave the guesthouse (pensión) he lived. He could no longer afford it on his minimum wage. It had become way too small when his kids were born. His name was one of the millions in the interminable lists of Misión Vivienda, the government’s flagshp public housing program. But he didn’t have the same luck as some of his friends who had already been assigned, if not houses or apartments, a place in government shelters.
With nowhere else to go, El Gocho found a group of people planning to squat on a big space that belonged to the subway company. They coordinated with the Bolivarian National Guard and with the Consejo Communal Los Horcones to set up a little improvised home there while the government came up with another solution.
And they did.
Years went by. Babies were born. Men brought girlfriends. Women brought boyfriends. More families arrived.
Four years later, there were 21 families confined in the same space where 11 families had squatted earlier. President Chávez, who was present in conversations, posters, and graffitis on most of the corners, didn’t offer a solution. But he didn’t directly object to them living in the illegally occupied space, either. In general, he egged on squatting through expropriations and through his discourse against private property, against landowners and businessmen who “didn’t share land with lower class people.” The 21 families waited hopefully.
That hope ended on June 6th.
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