Paradise lost - PhMuseum

Paradise lost

Adriana Loureiro Fernandez

2012 - 2017

Venezuela

A teenage boy sat in a corner of a slum in western Caracas, Venezuela. He wasn’t old enough to drink, or muscular enough to fight. Skinny, with long legs and a pistol in his waist he laughed as he spoke.

- “Why do you carry a gun?”

- “It’s for protection. We sell drugs,” he replied

Guns and drugs had reached him before any other possibility.

He pulled the gun from his waist. Old, used, with the serial erased, the gun was held together only by force of colored rubber bands: pink, yellow, green, metallic gray, matte black.

- “Aren’t you scared?”

- “If anyone here tells you they’re not, they’re lying,” he said laughing

In Venezuela, escalating violence had penetrated every aspect of life. Nothing was left untouched, specially for poor young people. For them, growing up in Venezuela meant growing up in survival mode, enraged, powerless.

The country is now one of the deadliest in the world: with half the population of France, it is estimated that nearly 27,000 people were killed in Venezuela last year, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local NGO.

That means that for every hour that goes by, three people get killed.

Paradise Lost started in 2012, documenting the rise of violence in Venezuela. The project is composed by a dozen individual stories that portray violence in a broad spectrum. From everyday encounters, to state brutality, violence and rage has disrupted every dynamic. It has become a collective state of mind.

So, when do you stop being a victim and become a perpetrator?

These stories overlap in time, seamlessly. They clash into one another in a small fraction of time, in a tiny piece of land. Together, they amount to an untenable situation, with a relentless death-toll.

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  • A man stands in front of a barricade, protecting the entrance of the Los Andes University in the city of San Cristóbal, close to the Colombian border.

  • During the dry season of July, 2015, mountain Avila, in Caracas, Venezuela, caught fire for weeks. The widespread fires and drought put the city on edge. In the meantime, the smoke filtered the sunlight and made mesmerizing sunsets.

    On 2015, the year this image was taken, Venezuela had nearly 29.000 homicides, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local NGO. Within a year, 28.500 people were killed, making it the second most violent country in the western hemisphere. The issue of violence and its expressions have diffused into everyday life.

  • As the sun set and shifts changed on the afternoon of February 27, 2015, a group of protesters gathered in the back entrance of Los Andes University. Word had spread out that police forces had the order to take down the student trenches that day. Protesters prepared for a long night.

    Kluiverth Roa, 15, was the first victim of the Resolution 8610, a newly imposed law that allowed law enforcement to use fire arms in protest control. Mr Roa was shot in the face by a Javier Osías Mora during a protest in the city of San Cristobal, Venezuela. His death ensued weeks of protests in the country, including the take of Los Andes University by hundreds of students that demanded justice and the abolition of Resolution 8610. Officer Mora would later be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

  • On the night of February 27, 2015, a protestor stands in the middle of a cloud of tear gas. On the other side of the wall, law enforcement tried to retake control of Los Andes University. The conflict lasted over four hours that night.

  • The National Police Guard prepare to break in a building where they think demonstrators are hiding on April 19, 2014. Clashes had started early in the morning and extended into the late night. Police units ran out of ammunition on several occasions and could not execute the raid because a large group of demonstrators came against them shortly after.

  • On October 12, 2015, two graffiti writers light a paint canister on fire in the Caracas Metro system.

    The landscape of street culture changed in a way that now graffiti writers' intent is destructive and damaging to the governmental institutions.

  • El Torero Bar, in Catia, Caracas, displays thousands of historical objects, such as "The Shanks from El Reten de Catia", an infamous prison in the capital that was demolished in the late 90s, shortly before Chavez came to power. It was considered one of the most violent places in the city while it was operational.

  • On June 14, 2016, a young boy files the skeleton of a casket, while another one takes a break, laying in one of the caskets. The small factory has around ten workers and produce around a dozen caskets per day. Colón is a country-side town in Venezuela, very near the Colombian border. Their economy is based around death: they are the biggest casket producers in Venezuela's western region. The whole town has developed its small economy around the business of death. The death rates in Venezuela are so high that the demand for caskets often exceeds the offer.

  • The 23 de Enero neighborhood is a historical stronghold for the governing party. It is where most civil armed groups live and gather. It is also home for a great percentage of law enforcement officers and a low-income neighborhood. On many occasions, law enforcement has acted in collaboration with civil armed groups in riot control operations, leading some political analysts to think that they have an active role in both organizations.

  • A man poses in front of a barricade, protecting the entrance of the Los Andes University in the city of San Cristóbal, close to the Colombian border.

  • On New Year's Eve of 2014 two graffiti writers get ready to descend into Caracas subway system. Several of them had been actively involved in that year's massive demonstrations, which left dozens dead, and tens of thousands injured or jailed.

  • On September 12, 2014, a protestor throws a molotov at the National Guard. This would be the very last demonstration in the capital city for the following two years.

  • On New Year's Eve of 2014, a graffiti writer held a bat as he prepared to descend to Caracas' subway system. The writers usually bring some type of weapon with them as self-defense.

  • A National Guard exits a mall after raiding it in search for demonstrators on September 12, 2014. Over a dozen young people were taken into custody on that single day. Most of them spent over three months in a political prison.

  • A young boy shows his loaded pistol on November 24, 2015. He shares the weapon with a couple of other dealers in his neighborhood, located near the center of Caracas. "It's easier to find guns than it is to find bread," the man said laughing.

  • A young man counts his stash of drugs: over a dozen bags of cocaine and marihuana. He makes a living selling drugs in a slum in the west side of Caracas but it is barely enough to pay the increasing cost of life.

  • The Osorio family's clothes and belongings hours after the National Police raided their house. The house was raided and dismantled on the morning of July 25, 2016. This raid left over 200 families without a house and no one was officially charged in the following days.

    The Osorio family is one of those hundreds. The mass evictions started at 3 a.m., when several law enforcement agencies raided the small favela, located in the outskirts of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. According to Nicolas Maduro, the raids targeted paramilitaries and gangs, yet no one was publicly charged as a result of this raid.

  • A ten-year-old boy stands on the remains of his house. It was raided and dismantled on the morning of July 25, 2016. This raid left over 200 families without a house and no one was officially charged in the following days.

  • On February 2012 violence was not what it is today. The streets of Caracas were dangerous, as they have been for decades, but violence hid in many ways. In El Torero bar, in Catia, a man sat and drank beers. He had been drinking for several hours. Even though he didn't want to identify himself, he talked about his scars. He was a prisoner at El Reten de Catia, an infamous prison in the capital that was demolished in the late 90s. In there, he said, people would have knive-fights on daily basis, which was how he got his scars.

    "Back then we use to front with knives, with skills," he said, "Now any kid has a gun and he's the man."

  • Her street name is Selena, a transvestite prostitute who works on the streets of Caracas. With the increasing violence rates, prostitutes have become particularly vulnerable, resorting to household weapons such as the kitchen knife Selena keeps in her bag.


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