A new word has crept into the daily vocabulary: "guarimba" - the rampart or barricade blocking off a street and sidewalks in practically all middle class neighborhoods. What would have seemed incredible a few weeks ago has now become the norm in Caracas.
Sta Rosa de Lima is a conservative, middle class community in Caracas: it has its own small supermarket, shopping center and the famous Sta Rosa de Lima girl's academy lies at its entrance. Many of the residents are the ageing - mid 60's to 70's - original purchasers of the apartments 40 years ago that raised their families there; now many of the children there are the grandchildren of the original neighbors. These are not the sort of people that you would describe as "revolutionaries" in ordinary times, yet that is what they have become.
Yesterday, (Monday March 1, 2004) over 80 of these neighbors took over main entrance road into the neighborhood, just in front of the Colegio Sta Rosa de Lima. Mothers brought down their bags of garbage; sons and fathers dragged tree stumps, scrap metal and anything else with weight into the street. By 4PM a major roadblock had been created through the communal efforts of these people; a Chrysler Town and Country van, complete with child seat in the back and soccer mom as driver served as a dump truck hauling newspapers, an old bathtub, metal scraps and other useable refuse to reinforce the barricade. Everyone lends an arm to carry something useful in blocking the street.
A housewife requests funds to buy "supplies", everyone around her chips in; in 5 minutes she has over USD 15 from over a dozen people and more are placing bills in her hand. Soon she comes back from the supermarket with sugar and soap. In front of the girl's school, over a dozen housewives and grandmothers, as well as assorted children, husbands and this author, receive instructions in how to mix soap, oil, gasoline and sugar into a Molotov cocktail. "You have to be sure to tie the knot of the wick tight," says the bomb making instructor as he carefully shows the technique, "or else the wick will come loose when you throw it at the armored vehicles. They enthusiastically cheer the two or three people that are busy filling three beer and soda crates with these ingredients and soon over two dozen home made bombs protect the guarimba from a possible invasion.
A DISIP (state security police) helicopter flies overhead and hovers over the group. The reflection of the lens of a long distance camera is clearly visible in the passenger compartment behind the pilot. As one, everyone raises their arms to give the helicopter the traditional one fingered gesture of salute. A grey haired lady next to me ambidextrously flashes this salute accompanying it all the while with the friendly greeting "Hijo'e'puta". Soon the helicopter is gone and a general cheer of victory erupts from the crowd, which has now gathered to over 100. A bellows of white smoke erupts around 500 yds down the Prados del Este freeway, visible from our vantage point. A neighbor, owner of a butcher shop in Catia to which he only went briefly today, clicks his Motorola walkie talkie, barks out a question and from the other end comes the answer that the other guarimba had merely lit a few bags of dry leaves. I ask him whether he can talk to the other roadblock in the other direction and he replies, "Yes, we talk all the time, they'll let us know when the National Guard comes." Not NATO quality, maybe, but organization just the same.
Soon it is dark, someone walks around the group forming shifts, "Who has been here all day? Go home please...you need to rest. The others, please stay... we need four hour shifts...how come there are so many older people here? Where are the young ones?" A father replies, "The younger people went to Caurimare" (where an active firefight was going on against an Army tanqueta), "... they found this too boring."