Things are so bad in the socialist paradise of Venezuela that children have formed machete-wielding gangs to fight for “quality” garbage for food.
Eduard Freisler reports for the Miami Herald, March 27, 2018, that in crumbling, shortage-plagued Venezuela, children and young adults have formed gangs using knives, sticks and machetes to fight for “quality” garbage good enough to eat.
One such gang in the capital of Caracas is the Chacao, a gang of 15 ranging in age from 10 to 23 named after the neighborhood they’ve claimed as their territory.
16-year-old Liliana is Chacao’s mother figure and goes by the nickname Caramelo. She takes charge of each day for the group, deciding how much food her “family” will consume and how much they will stash away for another day. She settles conflicts that flare up and gives a hug, a kiss or a pat on the back as needed.
Another gang member is a 10-year-old girl named Danianyeliz, who left home because there was not enough food to go around. She joined the gang about a month ago and calls Caramelo her mummy.
A year ago, the gang was “stationed” around a supermarket at a mall called Centro Comercial Ciudad Tamanaco that generates tons of garbage. But a feared rival gang also wanted the garbage. Caramelo’s gang was attacked and chased out of the zone. So they took their weapons — knives, slingshots, broken glass and machetes — and seized the nearby neighborhood, Chacao where the many restaurants offer a better chance to find food in the garbage.
Sometimes the Chacao gang ventures into the more affluent neighborhoods of Caracas, such as Las Mercedes with high-end restaurants that attract rich Venezuelans, to look through what they call “quality” garbage bags that often contain leftovers and even untouched food.
There are at least 10 gangs in the capital, social workers and police estimate. Experts estimate that in Caracas alone, there are hundreds, if not thousands of street children and young adults.
Beatriz Tirado, who leads the non-governmental charity “Angeles de Calle” (Street Angels), says, “There were always children on the street in Venezuela, but now we are seeing a new phenomenon — kids who get more food on the street than at their homes.” Tirado said she sees the results of the gang clashes: “Every week we have first aid ready to treat cuts and bruises they might have suffered over the week in their fights.”
Social worker Roberto Patino explains, “Our kids are finding ways to survive because neither in their homes nor in their communities is there enough food.” Patino has established 29 public diners all over Venezuela to feed hungry children. From Monday to Friday, the diners provide food for 1,000 kids every week. But Patino said he isn’t coming close to feeding all the children who need the help, given the overwhelming number he sees on the streets. Many have turned to trash bags as a source of nutrition.
It’s not hunger alone that’s sending children onto the streets. Domestic violence is also often cited. “I left because I got beaten badly,” Caramelo says about her mother, a drug addict.
The gangs claim that in addition to skirmishes with other gangs, they are constantly harassed by police, often at the request of business owners. “My clients are afraid of these gangs and don’t come when they see them hanging around,” said the owner of a pizza restaurant on Francisco Miranda street in Chacao. He said he calls the local police patrol to chase the gang away from his business, a measure that only works for the short term.
Patricio, the oldest member of Chacao, claims the police sometimes abuse them: “They burn our shoes and sometimes break our fingers with a baton.” But a high-ranking police officer, who works in the Baruta district that includes affluent neighborhoods like Las Mercedes, said most officers just feel bad for the hungry children they see on the streets: “There are some bad cops, but many others are just stunned by the tragedy of these children.” However, he added, some children are criminals who steal, assault people and use drugs like crack, sometimes smoked in makeshift pipes made from the parts of discarded plastic dolls.
“When you smoke you don’t feel hungry,” explains Patricio.
Meanwhile, actor Sean Penn who was best buds with the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, is still no where to be seen in Venezuela.
Instead, Penn was sighted on Friday night, March 2, 2018, having dinner with fellow actors Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper at Giorgio Baldi Restaurant in Pacific Palisades, California, where a lobster dish, Aragosta Saltata, costs $90.00 per serving.
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