Leave Right Now or Arm Yourself to the Teeth: Life in Caracas

A twist of the radio dial reveals a grim reality.

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

As a child growing up in Venezuela, I loved listening to the radio. I found the voices, and the tales they spun, hypnotizing.

Now, it’s torture. Especially the ads. At times, it seems as if they’re all instructing me to flee the country. Immediately. In one of them, a woman offers to find a home for me to buy in Florida. In another, I’m told that, for a small fee, U.S. visas for the whole family can be mine. Then there’s the one with the lawyers promising to help me land a job abroad. Oh wait, here’s a guy who isn’t trying to ship me overseas: He’s telling me I should turn my Toyota Corolla into an armored vehicle.

Fabiola Zerpa drives through her neighborhood in Caracas.
Photographer: Fabiola Ferrero/Bloomberg

When it’s not the ads, it’s President Nicolas Maduro taking over the airwaves for a Castro-esque, rambling speech that can drag on for hours. Or it’s the “Homeland News Program,” which blares state propaganda across all airwaves twice a day.

There’s little left now of the rich radio scene of yesteryear. Over the last decade, scores of programs—and entire stations—have been driven off the air by censorship, harassment and the purchase of media outlets by groups close to the socialist government. Those that didn’t come under attack were done in by the economic collapse. My favorite shows featuring comedy and political parody disappeared. Ditto for the one on film and theater. The jazz station I loved was nationalized.

What’s emerged in their place is all so alien to me. The endless shows praising Maduro’s latest edicts, the 1970s music paying tribute to socialism and, of course, those damn ads.

Blended together into a single message, they’re telling me that life is either to be lived elsewhere or it’s to be lived in fear. The voice of the armored-car guy keeps popping into my head. “Since medieval times, armor and shields have played an important role in history’s difficult moments,” he tells me. “How much is your security worth?”

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