With Guaido Defeated and on the Run, Caracas Sinks Into Silence

Editor’s Note: There are few places as chaotic or dangerous as Venezuela. “Life in Caracas” is a series of short stories that seeks to capture the surreal quality of living in a land in total disarray.

I remember that night vividly. It was a struggle just to get there. Dozens of cars blocked the road around a community center of a middle-class area. People arrived on foot too, chatting energetically while hundreds stood waiting for the speaker -- opposition leader Juan Guaido -- as if for a rock star.

“It’s happening! Change is coming because there is no other way to get rid of this government,” Alberto Sanchez, a local who’d retired from the state electricity company, told me that night.

Two and a half years ago, Caracas was in political overdrive: a mix of anxiety, joy and hope. Stripped of his authority as head of the national assembly by President Nicolas Maduro, Guaido formed a shadow government backed by dozens of countries.

With Guaido Defeated and on the Run, Caracas Sinks Into Silence

Venezuelans filled plazas and halls to hear about the restoration of democracy. Politics dominated dinner tables, chats with friends abroad and even supermarket lines. Expectations were high that Maduro, who’d presided over rigged elections, would be forced out.

As a journalist, I’ve always avoided talking politics outside of work because of how polarizing it is. But this time was tough. At family gatherings, everyone demanded: What’s the latest? When will the government fall? I barely had time to formulate an answer when my cell phone alerted me to yet another breaking event.

Every day was something else: Political detentions, negotiations, nationwide blackouts, talk of military coups and foreign invasions. A ritual arose of cursing Maduro in robust chorus at football games and on the street.

Today, I may as well be living in a different country. Heaviness and disillusionment fill the streets. Public squares are empty. Protests  -- by nurses and doctors, teachers and neighbors over water or cooking gas -- have almost disappeared. Neither the political turmoil growing in nearby Cuba, a longtime ally of Venezuela's government, nor the armed arrest of a key member of Guaido's party and harassment of Guaido himself moved Venezuelans from their despair. 

The pandemic hasn’t helped, especially without a sound vaccination plan. It’s like crickets -- as in silence. Political debate, once so alive, is now so dead.

As a food truck driver who’d waited 12 hours in a gas pump line told me, “I’m done with politicians.” A cousin has stopped watching the state newscasts and unsubscribed from Twitter because “all politicians lie.”

Or as a neighborhood opposition leader put it, “We’ve gone from great political effervescence to great frustration. We are tired and fragmented, withdrawn into our personal interests.”

With Guaido Defeated and on the Run, Caracas Sinks Into Silence

A few years ago, Gian Franco Misciagna, owner of a 37-year-old cafe in Bello Monte, didn’t need radio or social media. His clients blurted out the latest news as they ordered coffee.

What he hears now is real estate talk. Owners abroad had clung to their property. Now they’re letting go, even if that means losing money. The housing market plunged 65% between 2012 and 2018, according to the Venezuela Real Estate Association. Since then, prices have inched up about 10%. I think of the dark skyline near my house: rows of vacant apartments.

Melania Castro, a 58-year-old criminal lawyer, a widow with three children outside the country, was sitting in a square after being vaccinated, waiting for her sisters. “I was one of the most excited about a political change, a few years ago,” she said. “Now I believe that if it comes, I might not live to see it.”

Some days ago, Guaido held a news conference at a playground near my house because hotels and other venues, afraid of the government, no longer rent him space. Fewer than a dozen cars and no more than 50 people were there, mostly staffers and press.

“Guaido is here?” asked a 61-year-old neighbor passing by. “He’s a bandit. All politicians are.”

He kept walking. 

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