Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

A photographer finds resilience in the youth of Venezuela amid crisis and chaos

May 16, 2018 at 8:12 AM

A student sits in front of Venezuelan police on the Avenida del Libertador to protest the situation of the country in January 2017. (James Forde/)
A young couple dances at a party in el barrio Petare, one of the most dangerous barrios in Latin America, in February 2018. (James Forde/)

James Forde is a photojournalist based in Ireland. He lived and worked in Central and South America for four years.

The sun goes down, the lights go off but the reggaeton keeps pumping. It is just another night in el barrio Petare. All the beers are gone but every once in a while, you hear the clink and clank when someone kicks the empty box of small brown bottles. The men are huddled around, smoking Belmont cigarettes and drinking rum in a circle while free-styling about beautiful girls, cellphones and the state of the country.

Outside, the sound of loud gunfire can be heard. Pop. Pop. Pop. Down below in el sector de Jose Feliz, local criminals, or malandros, are in the midst of a gun battle with Venezuelan security forces. The machine gun fire can be seen shooting across the sky like falling stars, only a thousand times faster. It goes on for about an hour. I wonder what started it and how many are dead.

I arrived in Caracas in February 2016 after spending a couple of years roaming Latin America and learning Spanish. I had done a decent amount of research beforehand, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to witness over the next two years. I had lived in Mexico and El Salvador previously, so I was no stranger to dangerous environments, but life in Venezuela is a far greater beast. Fear and paranoia in the urban areas are so palpable you can almost touch and taste both in the air.

It took me several months to truly find my feet and make my own contacts as opposed to paying for a fixer. Slowly, I began to feel more comfortable within the chaos. I found myself inside a prison run by gangs, out on street protests inhaling tear gas, watching people scavenge for food daily in the trash and inside failing hospitals where people are literally dying on the floor, and yet the Venezuelan government still denies a crisis exists.

It is very difficult to say what the future holds for the country, and for now I turn my focus back home to Ireland after being away for almost a decade. Venezuela has a long and painful struggle ahead, and no doubt many more people will perish in vain, but there is a resilience in the young generation there I had never witnessed, and I have faith they will triumph eventually.

A priest hands out food to children in need at the Archangel church in the district of el Cementerio in the south of Caracas in March 2018. Food shortages are one of the biggest problems Venezuela faces. (James Forde/)
A student puts on protective clothing at his friend’s house before going out to protest in Caracas. (James Forde/)
A group of youths dance to reggaeton music at a house party in el barrio Petare. Petare is known to be one of the most dangerous barrios in Latin America. (James Forde/)
A young man who was recently released from prison shows his tattoos and scars while staying at a halfway house run by a group of ex-prisoners turned evangelical pastors. He spent 10 years in different prisons around Venezuela but has recently become religious and has left a life of crime behind. (James Forde/)
The shoes of a gunshot victim and his bloodstains can be seen on the floor at the emergency room at Hospital Domingo Luciani. (James Forde/)
A stabbing victim waits on a bench, as no beds were available at the emergency room at Hospital Domingo Luciani in Caracas. (James Forde/)
A young man was beaten by a crowd after being accused of trying to steal a phone. In recent years, lynch mobs have become more and more common because of the desperation of the crisis and the lack of security. (James Forde/)
A coffin sticks up from a grave at El Cementerio General del Sur in Caracas. This area is infamous for grave robbing, as there are groups that use the bones for voodoo and witchcraft. (James Forde/)
A view of the city of Caracas can be seen from the vista point in the affluent district of Valle Arriba. (James Forde/)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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Chloe Coleman is a photo editor at The Washington Post working in Outlook and Foreign news focusing on The Americas, Europe and Russia. She is regular contributor to the In Sight blog. She joined the Post in 2014.

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