Las Mayas: A Neighborhood in Hell
The Venezuelan newspaper El Universal has reported that more than 200 police officers have been deployed to the Las Mayas slum in southern Caracas. This group of police officers has been sent to put an end to the hostilities that have been carried out by irregular armed groups in the area for the past week. The actions of these various gangs led to the complete halt of both food and public transportation to Las Mayas. Causing the residents of Las Mayas to mount a protest yesterday against the unbearable insecurity that they have been forced to live with for the past week.
The residents are hoping that with their protest the local government will take notice and do something about it. The dispatch of 200 police officers to Las Mayas seems to have been the response by the local government to the protest. Last week gang members were able to dismiss the police from the area. Thus creating a vacuum where armed gangs were able to gain control of all the areas in the slum. This allowed them to determine what and who could go in and out of their controlled territory. The gangs essentially instituted their version of martial law in all the sectors of Las Mayas where they have had complete autonomy for the past 7 days.
The Las Mayas slum is made up of seven sectors: Puerto Escondido, Matapalo, Santa Eduvigis, El Bosque, La Jungla, Ezequiel Zamora and the Low Part. According to residents in every one of these sectors there are armed gangs trying to gain control. On the main street of Las Mayas there are various small businesses. El Universal reports that these shops can usually only stay open until 6:00 pm. Even though some do take the risk and stay up until 8:00 pm. Residents told El Universal that in Las Mayas: “the gangs are the law. Businesses pay war taxes. It is like we are dealing with a guerrilla army.” Schools have also been forced to shut down in Las Mayas and residents like Calixto Martinez, a former president to the neighbors association of the Ezequiel Zamora sector, are extremely worried. She told EL Universal “the kids could miss up to a whole year of schooling” if this persists. Martinez would go on to tell the journal that residents were also worried about losing their jobs and that many had even resorted to walking long distances to reach them. Since the indispensable public and private transports that use to reach Las Mayas have stopped coming this past week.
El Universal has reported that there have been 12 murders since the beginning of the year in the higher sectors of the Las Mayas slum. Generally the slums in Caracas (and other Latin American cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) can be found on the large hills that make up part of the outskirts of the city. The higher sectors in general are considered to be the most dangerous because they are far away from both the main street and other roads that lead to the slum from the outside.
The residents of Las Mayas are living in fear, and when asked by El Universal about the most notorious leaders of the armed gangs, they will look both ways before even daring to answer or say the names of: “Diente Bulla,” “Marihuana” and “Manego” the three self-proclaimed godfathers of Las Mayas.
The residents of Las Mayas do not blame the police for the lack of security. They point the finger at the government who in their eyes have not funded or properly equipped them to carry out their job. Carlos Castro a resident of Las Mayas told El Universal that the police is terribly outgunned. He commented on the fact that a common policeman in Las Mayas will be forced to venture to the higher sectors with only a “estampita” (a religious paper made icon) and an old revolver that can hold six bullets.
Castro would go on to tell El Universal that “Diente Bulla” cannot help but laugh at the police and their attempts to regain control of the slum. Because “Diente Bulla is always surrounded by his bodyguards, carries a Glock than can hold up to 32 bullets, with an ergonomic grip and scope.” Castro also expressed his disgust when he said he had heard that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had given a fleet of police cars to Bolivia for free. Something that the people of Las Mayas would greatly appreciate since the only police patrol group that is present in Las Mayas is quite ill equipped. El Universal reported that it is made up of six policemen and a broken down Toyota. It is also interesting to note that the Glock, which is believed weapon of choice of “Diente Bulla”, has also been the side weapon of choice of the Venezuelan military for quite some time. Venezuela has been for a few years now renewing a lot of its military equipment. One could easily see how maybe some of these guns are being taken and sold by corrupt members of the military or by others that have access to them.Venezuela was in fact according to a study by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the largest Latin American importer of military equipment in 2007. Spending a total of 887 million dollars. The report also showed that Venezuela would also find itself in the top ten importers of the world that year (9th out of 10). It is, however, I think fair to point out that Venezuela has found itself being forced to re-arm itself due to a U.S arms embargo that has affected the general upkeep of a lot of their current U.S made weaponry. So that could be an explanation as to why there was an increase in military spending. Whether it was too much of an increase or not can easily be debated since the current Venezuelan government has certainly done a lot of controversial things in relation to their expenditure.
There is a lot of irony in the geographic location of Las Mayas. Because one would imagine that this slum, which is found on the fringe of the Venezuelan capital would perhaps be in fact quite far away from any sort of large police station. El Universal, however, has pointed out that Las Mayas happens to be near to both a National Guard command post and an academy of higher education of the Metropolitan Police (the police that has jurisdiction in this area). These two buildings and the law enforcement agents in them appear to be worlds apart from the ongoing fight that the people of Las Mayas are hoping will soon end. They can only be hopeful that this fresh dispatch of 200 police officers can help bring order to the situation or at least quell it.
Gang violence and gun crimes have tragically been on the rise in Venezuela for many years now. The New York Times reported that a study carried by UNESCO in 2005 showed that Venezuela had the highest rate of gun related deaths out of the 57 countries that were surveyed. It even surpassed Brazil which had been historically considered the most violent of Latin American countries. According to the UNESCO study Venezuela has 34.3 gun deaths for every 100,000 people. El Universal has recently reported that in the first three months of 2008 a total of 710 gun related deaths have occurred in Caracas.
Note: The information that i obtained from the situation in Las Mayas was based mostly on information from Gustavo Rodriguez's article in El Universal: POR SIETE DÍAS EL HAMPA DECRETÓ UN TOQUE DE QUEDA EN LAS MAYAS. The current figures of gun related deaths were obtained from another article in El Universal: NÚMERO DE CRÍMENES EN CARACAS HA AUMENTADO 14% DURANTE 2008 by Laura Davila Truelo
and Maria Isoliett Iglesias.
POR SIETE DÍAS EL HAMPA DECRETÓ UN TOQUE DE QUEDA EN LAS MAYAS. The current figures of gun related deaths were obtained from another article in El Universal: NÚMERO DE CRÍMENES EN CARACAS HA AUMENTADO 14% DURANTE 2008 by Laura Davila Truelo and Maria Isoliett Iglesias.
Tags: Venezuela , Caracas , Slums , Gangs , Glock , Police , Order , Protest
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