Towers A and B, Doral Centro, La Candelaria. It’s late night on July 27th. We’re in the heart of the city, a few blocks from the Ministry of Interior and Justice. The people I talked to for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.
First, a middle aged neighbor, married, with kids. From his window, he can see the dark street and the main door to the building. At least 22 black vehicles are parked and some 200 state security officers walk from one side to another.
For hours, he can hear detonaciones nearby. We call them detonaciones because who knows what they really are – gunshots? rubber pellets? tear gas canisters?
On Twitter, he reads that a Bolivarian National Police (PNB) officer was wounded in the neck with a gunshot coming from a nearby building. He knows the drill – “now they’ll go home by home looking for the culprit,” he says to his wife.
But it’s late; almost 11 p.m. He turns off the lights, says good-night to his wife and children and goes to sleep.
Three hooded officers, armed, without identification from any State security agency, walk into his house.
He’s still awake when he hears a noise outside his apartment. Voices mingled, shouted orders, laughter. Through the peephole, he sees a little huddle in black.
Everyone in the house is up now. He had never seen his children so edgy. He thinks of the stories he’s heard about raids nearby. He knows what comes next.
His wife tries to calm him down.
“Open the door!” orders a voice from the other side.
No way. The police are not coming in here, he thinks. He sees a yellow gas trickling in from the front door. His wife runs into the bathroom, grabs a towel, makes it wet and jams it under the door.
The children cry, they are knocking on the door. He realizes it’s hopeless. “If I don’t open it, they’ll just kick it in,” he thinks to himself. He tells them there are children in the house and that he’s opening. They come in.
Three hooded officers, armed, without identification from any State security agency, walk into his house. They look through each room, rifle through drawers. They don’t make a mess. And they leave without a word.
We call them detonaciones because who knows what they really are –gunshots? rubber pellets? tear gas canisters?
A few floors up, a shower was on. While she’s showering, she hears a few knocks nearby. She doesn’t know where they’re coming from and she doesn’t care. The knocks become stronger. They come from her door.
She steps out of the shower, dries herself, throws on some clothes and goes into the living room. Her husband is holding the door open. From the other side of the reja, a man in black aims a weapon at him. He’s panicking.
The neighbor downstairs, an older man, tried to go to bed early that day. He hears the doorbell. Then a knock on the door. He gets up, reaches for the keys and opens. A hooded man greets him from behind the reja. He orders him to open, says they’re looking for someone. The old man stares in disbelief.
“I live here by myself,” he says. “My children are out of the country. Have a good night”.The officers leave.
The neighbor across from me was still awake. He hears the knocks and opens the door. Three people go in, including a woman. She shakes the man, who looks around with concern and doesn’t understand what’s happening.
He gets up, reaches for the keys and opens. A hooded man greets him from behind the reja. He orders him to open, says they’re looking for someone.
“Look, mija,” he says, “God bless you. But please don’t vote for the Constituent Assembly.” He makes her smile, humanizes that hooded face; he even manages to wink at her.
Floors below, the knocking grows stronger and more persistent.
“I have a kid here, show some respect,” shouts a woman from inside.
She opens and two masked officers go in. They check room by room. One of them, frightened, orders his companion to withdraw. They are not very religious, but that day, in that room, there was a candle lit to their guardian angel.
There’s no hint of judicial process on any of this: no warrants, no prosecutors, no rights. Often no words are spoken at all. In El Paraíso, stories of officers robbing apartments as they raid them are common. Some raids, apparently, include assaults.
As the masked men leave, the neighbors are left to tally up the damage: broken security cameras, stolen equipment, grids and some doors kicked in. The real toll is psychological, though: now they know there’s no safety even at home.