It was a Sunday afternoon in 2018. Samuel was eight and he recalls the exact minute in which the bus arrived to the stop. 12:32. His grandma grabbed him by the hand, and as they were getting off they could hear a firing, a very familiar sound to the ears of the kid.
Samuel lives at the urban slums of Cota 905, one of the most dangerous places from the most violent city in Latin America: Caracas. That Sunday he witnessed a fight between two drunk men. One was pointing a knife at the other, while cursing him, as if he was almighty. His opponent had a gun, illegally according to Venezuelan law.
They tried to passed by, speeding the pace and acting naturally. Grandma gave Samuel a tangerine and as he took it with the right arm another shot was fired. The bullet nearly impacted him, but instead it brushed his moving arm. Two years have passed but the scar remains, and so does the episode.
That year 4 children were assassinated each day in Venezuela, according to a report published by the Community Learning Center CECODAP, a NGO that defends the right to a safe childhood. Almost 1500 minors died in the hands of violence. Some because of lost bullets, others while being robbed, many in gang clashes. But detectives registered 280 of those deaths as “resistance to authority”. We, journalists and human rights defenders, call it by its name: extrajudicial executions.
For many Venezuelan extrajudicial executions can be considered as gang clashes. Because of the increasing criminality rates, Nicolas Maduro’s regime created the “Special Actions Forces” FAES in 2016, an extermination corps to battle the criminal gangs. By that year many children from poor slums of Venezuela such as Cota 905 dreamed of becoming a “malandro” (a criminal), instead of a police officer. While the State officers barely could make a living, kids saw how malandros had all money, women and power and every time gangsters made something wrong, they still got unscathed.
But then in 2018 FAES got to execute 5.287 people, including those 280 minors. And children saw that too.
In 2018 Aaron, whom was eight by then, woke up at 2:30 am to the shouter of opposition protesters and tear gas. When he looked out the window he saw a dead body and young rioters crying while the police were leaving. In 2019 nine-years-old Diego could not enter to his home at Lídice because a someone killed a man in front of his humble house, detectives arrived the following day. In march 2020 another kid called Diego heard a gang fire shooting outside his house and he feared when FAES killed 14 people of the group.
Now that children from poor slums of Caracas have seen homicides so closely we don’t know who do they look up to anymore. For what I’ve perceived, they just want to feel safe. I know I aspire a country in which poverty doesn’t force anyone to immerse in criminality and in which violence ceases to be the State Policy.