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.
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