CARACAS, Venezuela–I never knew how slowly occasion moves as you are preparing to die.
It’s almost as if your world turns into one of those slow motion videos where every frame suspensions and starts up again, focusing on random details across a screen that erupts in complexion and lacks all clang.
I was indicated that out on Saturday in a unclean back alley in San Antonio del Tachira, a small town merely by the Venezuelan border with Colombia. My journey there had started 14 hours earlier, as I property at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas and set off on what would be a life altering road trip into noman’s region.
This was to be my second stint in Venezuela. I had previously expended three weeks here handling the growing unrest following Nicolas Maduro’s highly rivalry poll prevail and the political cataclysm that followed, and now I was returning to cover the opposition’s attempt to bringing thousands of tons of humanitarian aid into the country.
It was set to be a stalemate. Self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, who has wide-eyed international backing, had manufactured the humanitarian aid the flashpoint of a counter-revolution, a draw out battle between himself and the dictator who was now participating his second period, and political social media was ablaze with conjectures on what would happen on February 23 as the standoff was nearing its orgasm.
The 14 -hour drive is no joke, as my operator and security guy so bluntly tells me. It takes you through isolated areas that are known to be home to kidnappers, street pirates and desperate gangs trolling the Venezuelan countryside looking for anything they can eat or embezzle.
I had been informed about take such streets but given that the Maduro regime had started closing all borders and mobilizing near Tachira I knew this would be my alone alternative if I wanted to witness what I felt could be used the beginning of the end of this dictatorship.
So I moved, and for 13 hours, the drive was surprisingly uneventful. Then, everything changed.
At firstly, I experience one colectivo driving past us and fastening sees with me out of the passenger area window. I know something is wrong because you never ever view exactly one colectivo . The late chairwoman Hugo Chavez made the “collectives” to protect his regiman and they have long since grow gangs operating with impunity and terrorizing the public under Maduro. Before I manage to even say the word to my driver there are more of the colectivos , now encircling our vehicle on all sides.
I recollect the next time as a blur, as we got out and my eyes were drawn to the semi-automatic handguns that were hanging across the torsos of the dozen or so men who were standing in a circle all around us. One of them saunter up to me, close, and asks “< em> periodista ” and I nod, because I know the connotation of the Spanish term for correspondent and what being one can lead to in these parts.
Once I conform, the man starts screaming to the others, telling them know what I am, and the feeling proceeds from bad to worse in one of my uneven heartbeats. They gather around me and scream
” Why are you there ?”
” You are devastating home countries .”
” You are infiltrating Venezuela .”
” What you are doing is illegal .”
I know I should listen closely to every statement but all I can focus on is the artilleries , now clutched in each man’s mitt, and the dark eyes of the three men in front of me follow my panicked gape.
” We will take your contraband .”
My sees hit from the weaponry to the man and the hand in which he is deeming my camera, using the weight to punctuate his texts. I see how members of the collectives rummage through my belongings and grab everything and anything of any cost from an electric toothbrush and a brand new bra to my laptop, two cameras and a wad of cash I had taken out to pay the men guarding me.
It all disappears into a nearby auto and formerly all my belongings are travelled, the collectives can fully focus on their other prevails.
” On the floor! Face down !” one of the men screams at us and we comply, our faces scraping the asphalt as the collectives kick and scream at us. I feel something metallic against my cervix and realize what it is in a single, slow estimate, as if I was trying to hold off the realization for as long as humanly possible that I now had a gun to my leader. Now the time for mystical thinking and avoidance was well and truly over. The colectivos seem calmer, debating whether to let us go or take one of us as collateral. They seem to have settled on the latter when I listen screams coming from inside our car.
I look up from the sidewalk just enough to see one of the armed guerillas impounding a piece of paper, rippling it at the group before he assaults the operator, kicking him in the belly and head.” Where’s the artillery, where’s the grease-gun ?” he screams and I recognize they have found a artillery let, hidden in plain sight on the windshield. There is no gun.
My driver intentionally didn’t wreak it as we were traversing state boundaries and now the Maduro regime’s very own armed guerilla was alleging us of concealing a weapon from them. I knew it was bad. I knew we had a shot at getting let go and simply missed it. I knew this was the time to prepare myself for what might come next.
This time they shed us on the field without any of the quasi political theatrics.
There is no speech about Chavez and Maduro or posturing for impression. This time they throw us on the field in relative stillnes and put the guns back on our intelligences while secreting the safety. I hear the slow click of a firearm being cocked and what sounds like the ring on a man’s thumb closing next to the trigger. I realize that my last minutes in life could end on a back road in Tachira, with a lip tasting of blood and gravel and a mind racing with questions about who of my loved ones “wouldve been” the first to find out I had been killed, and how.
The driver is alleging with the collectives, sidestepping them to spare our lives, but I say nothing and I do not shed a single rip. Not because I am tough or heartless, but because I am frozen in place, tongue locked to the roof of my mouth and my hands cramping with an explosion of adrenaline.
The two crazier collectives are trying to press the boss of the group to shoot us, but from what I discover and understand there’s disagreement between them and an proof breaks out while I wait to have my fate decided on by heavily armed gentlemen in balaclavas. Then it happens. The boss wails,” You have five seconds before “youre dying” ,” and my motorist drags me up by the limb and pullings me toward the car as the collectives start counting.
They start shooting into the breeze and I am trying to get into the backseat with legs that have almost liquefied from fright. We speed away, saying nothing, discovering gunshots from behind ricochet against the road.
A few minutes later, we realize that we’re not out of the woods, but have instead driven straight into the jungle, as their own families of four pennant us down while we hasten down a gravel road. Colectivos they say as we extend and my operator throws the smash, backing up into the family’s farmhouse driveway. There are collective gangs downhill, they tell us, and I realize that we are stuck between two options for death with little but naked sky and disclosed roads between them. I want to cry but I can’t.
I can’t because this is far from over.
We hide the truck inside the shed pinpointed just outside “the farmers ” and in there we visualize four other people who also were caught in the crossfire. When I step out from the car I make a sound, like an animal whose paw was stepped on, a cry from the magnitude of me that lasts for no more than a few seconds. I listen the gunshots from downhill and uphill and the shoots repetition between the mountains, creating an interminable flow of voice that totters the tiny formation we are standing in. My organization starts swaying and I know it is adrenaline leaving my form but I still feel ashamed to lose my cool while we are all still fighting to make it.
We stand there, huddled together, for almost two hours, stimulating assured that neither autoes nor people are visible from the street. It’s an strange lull in the chaos, despite the gunfire on all sides. There are gap cut in the wall of the shed and I look out across the barrio below where inhale is rising from the scene of the showdown and I think to myself that this is a movie, a scene most perfectly directed, where colorful mansions are layered along the hillside and morbidly painted with dust and blood.
But it’s not a movie. It’s the here and now and my move tells me that we have to make a move before the sunbathe prepares over Tachira. Once it does, we will have no recourse and be sitting ducks for the murderous squads starting house to house in search of periodistas .
We form a caravan, led by two brave beings on motorcycles, and we manufacture our move. There is absolute silence in the car as we climb down the hill and strangers are facilitating direct us, telling us where to go and where there are colectivos. Three minutes into the go, I envision the site of the clang.
A woman has been shot through the buttock and is hanging from the back seat of a region rover. Two humen are standing, staring out into nowhere, bleeding from the manager and limbs. I don’t want to watch it but it’s everywhere around me, the savagery and bloodshed the colectivos have caused as they rounded up the resist. I say nothing, but inside I am praying wordlessly and find images of those I affection scattered through my subconsciou like a kaleidoscope.
We drive in silence for 30 hours until we reach the town of San Cristobal. There, we find a inn and as soon as we participate, I realize that we have just departed a warzone. All the clients of the hotel seem to have lived through the same nightmare and we salute one another with nods, careful not to speak and break down in front of each other.
I meet someone I distinguish from my period here in Venezuela, a member of the united nations general assembly whom I interviewed a couple of weeks ago. We fasten seeings and despite having been near strangers before , we are currently hug, bound together by this experience.
I don’t remember how long I sat in that lobby, only staring at the person or persons legislating by. It could have been an hour, a date or a lifetime, but once I came to I went to the bar and met the others, boozing and debriefing the working day. We have had similar knowledge, some hit by tear gas and others, like me, by violence and near death. What we all have in common is that we led peacefully to the border and were met with methods of war. We recognized the face of the Maduro regime and felt the hands that do its bidding.
We left for Caracas the next day, after spend two hours searching for gasoline on the black market. The secondary automobile we had, filled with additional fuel and provisions, was stolen by the colectivos together with all my belongings. The trip-up back, all 12 hours of it, is invested holding back weepings that burn at the back of my throat. I want to get at Caracas so I won’t have to sit with the storages of what really happened. I want to forget about the cold sword, the warm asphalt and the chilling realization that in the mitts of these regime henchmen, my life is worth a little less that good-for-nothing.
Days have delivered and I am not traumatized but I am also not the same as I was before this happened. Having lived, I am appreciative for the experience, as laughable as that resounds. I now understand what Venezuelans are living through. Not for one day, as was the case for me, but for years and decades, suffering under violence and terror that embezzles is not merely lives but also robs a people of the is my conviction that the country they love can ever be any different.
When I think of the working day a year from now, I hope that I will not focus my guess on the colectivos. Instead, I will recollect their own families that stopped us on that mountain, gambling their own lives to save ours, and the strangers that steered us to security despite owing us good-for-nothing. This story belongs to them , not to me, and the pain I felt that day is nothing compared to the rigor that they continue to live through.
Days have overtaken and I may be different, but Venezuela remains the same. Nicolas Maduro has asserted his strength and, through savagery, terror and extrajudicial the arrest and detention of resist and journalists, demonstrated to the world how far he is prepared to go to stay on top. Bad has turned to worse and Venezuelans are waiting, breathlessly, for whatever comes next. For me, a few dates have delivered. For Venezuela, duration stands still.