In Venezuelan barrios, fences make good neighbors

Wealthy communities across Latin America put up gates and fences to fend off criminals. In Venezuela, rising crime has led poor neighborhoods to do the same, dividing the country further.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.

I last wrote about the Brisas de Oriente barrio last year, when its residents were protesting after a string of murders. The government finally sent in the National Guard and after two months without murders they left. Crime picked up again, but so far there has been only one murder since the Guard left.

Talking to my friend who lives at Brisas de Oriente, I was intrigued when he asked for monetary help to build fences and ramps. When I dug more into it, I discovered that poor barrios in Venezuela are now using the same techniques that fancy residential areas have used for about two decades: Neighbors are getting together, fencing around their houses and putting in a common gate to block the hoodlums from breaking into their homes or mugging them. Much like in the wealthier areas of Caracas and other cities, this creates small ghettos everywhere. In the fancy areas there are guards and electric doors and fences, in the poor areas there are fences, locks, chains, and padlocks to keep crime out.

Thus, crime is turning Venezuela into a multi-layered ghetto. It began with bars in the windows and walls around homes, then came the fences around a group of houses, which my friend says is now becoming quite common in his and other barrios. Everyone is looking for protection since the government no longer provides any form of safety. After dark, whether in the barrio or the East of Caracas, there is democracy, everyone feels the problem, so you try as much to stay inside your ghetto, where you think and hope, you are safe.

The end result is terrible, a country privileged by the weather and the environment, but where citizens have to close themselves in more and more, ugly bars on windows, huge walls that block views and stop air from moving.

The government promised viable housing as a cornerstone of its administration. But more than a decade later we have ended up with a giant ghetto.

– Miguel Octavio, a Venezuelan, is not a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. You can read his blog here.

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