The 23 de Enero district of Caracas is named after the January 23, 1958 coup that brought down then-dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, so it’s fitting that the ramshackle hillside neighborhood has always mixed politics with aggression. Hugo Chávez launched his failed 1992 coup from the 4F barracks here, and when he died this March 5, his remains were brought to the barracks, where red-eyed supporters now come to visit his tomb in a converted “Museum of the Bolivarian Revolution”.
The neighborhood seemed an ideal location to document the cult of Chávez for Roads & Kingdoms ahead of Venezuela’s April 14 election between acting president (and hand-picked Chavez heir) Nicolás Maduro and underdog opposition leader Henrique Capriles. But if neighborhoods like 23 de Enero see themselves as ardent defenders of Chavez’s revolution—they are desperately poor and Chavez’s government has given them both bread and pride—they also have to live with another real legacy of Chavismo: violence. It’s not just the street crime and murder, it’s also the politicized militias that have formed around the vague goal of “defending the revolution”. These fervent Chavistas range from unarmed community workers to paramilitary gangs. In this pivotal moment for Venezuela, the hint of violence is never far from the surface.