Photos and text Bill Milligan
Caracas, March 2012. I was walking the streets of Caracas the day Chavez died. Trekking southward from Mexico through Central America, I arrived in the heart of corruption and chaos. Venezuela, once a proud and wealthy country has now earned itself the dubious title as one of the most dangerous countries in all of Latin America.
A simple routine stop at a traffic light can get you killed. Cars and SUV’s with darkened windows cautiously slow down at traffic lights hoping to evade the glances of gun-toting kids and thugs on noisy motorcycles awaiting their next victim. Add in the perennial ineptitude of the Government, the endemic global drug trade, financial ruin, soaring double-digit inflation and empty supermarket shelves, the whole situation made me anxious. Despite having a Venezuelan wife, I told myself this will be my one and only trip to Venezuela, as life’s too short to be splayed out on the sidewalk with a bullet hole in my head.
Raúl Sojo Montes was born in Caracas in 1980, attended high school at the San Ignacio de Loyola and obtained his bachelor’s degree as part of the first promotion of the Universidad Santa María. A film enthusiast, photographer and audiovisual creator, his works have been displayed widely in Caracas and Miami.
In his first undertaking as an author, Sojo Montes puts the camera aside and slips artistically into taking the word into a three dimensional trip into the depths of corruption and control within one of Caracas’s most notorious prison systems. He put together all the ingredients for a suspenseful, humorous and ironic journey into a notorious Caracas prison, where money and power ruled.
Now living in Wilmington, North Carolina, after his traumatic kidnaping at gunpoint and 9 hours of being held hostage in his Venezuelan home, Raul Sojo Montes receives the boxes of his first novel “Seguros de Justicia C.A.” This is Sojo’s first literary sojourn into Caracas’s dark and dangerous prison system. “Over ten years ago, I visited someone in La Planta prison who had been unjustly incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. But what was so intriguing and completely awed me, was his uncanny ability to negotiate better conditions with the hardcore prison boss, called prans.”
The novel ‘Seguros de Justicia C.A.’ is based on his real life experiences. “I too was an inadvertent victim of the Venezuelan justice system a couple of years ago, where a prisoner from the Yare penitentiary stole my identity leading me on a bizarre odyssey with indifferent and compassionless prosecutors and judges in Caracas.
“Everything I wrote is told honestly and without exaggerated emotion, as these occurrences are the rules, not the exception. This bothers me, as our system has become so desensitized to systemic corruption and its effects on all levels that my heart bleeds for my country in the extreme”.
“As the government controls practically all the air waves, any issues raised by the opposition go unheard, kinda like ‘pissing in the wind’. The tacit acceptance by (President) Maduro and his partners in corruption, ineptness and the global drug trade leaves a sad, frustrated and angry taste in the mouths of the struggling common man.”
A long history of bribing (Clap bags are food bags that are sold very cheap to their loyals,) and how the people before elections are scanned, has been well documented. All dates back to the Chavez regime. “For example, the government claims that they will investigate all the companies that received CADIVI dollars. Brilliant! but CADIVI is an aberration that is not normal in most countries, is the control exchange that we have been suffering for many years. I am overcome by sadness when I think of younger Venezuelans, who have only known this deleterious administration. Make a test, have someone hear the time Chavez told the audience about his diarrhea. He won’t laugh like we do, he will look down on us!”
About the balance between fiction and reality in the novel, Sojo says that in Venezuela people are exposed to corruption and violence at every level. He collected the stories, with fictitious characters but many real situations were adapted, “There is a prisoner who is in jail because his identity was stolen, and I was inspired by my own experience. What would happen to me if I would go to prison? Maybe I would be killed by now because frankly, I would not survive in such an intolerable environment.”
He documents high profile corruption and crimes cases from recent years. Some of them are painful, such as the case of Nathaly Trujillo, to whom he dedicated the book, “I never met her. She was just another victim of violence. Armed motorcycle drivers were participating in the funeral of a pran (the prison leader’s slang name,) and in the traffic chaos she got hit by a bullet. She was pregnant and the day before her murder, her baby shower had taken place.”
Sojo started to write a screenplay, but in time he found himself writing a novel, “It’s crazy, but I loved it. Of course, I benefited enormously from the experience of those who read my first manuscript or gave me advice. The hardest thing was to describe the Venezuelan judicial and penitentiary system without delving into violence. I didn’t want that to be the style of the book.”
One of the accomplishments of Seguros de Justicia is the author finds humor where it shouldn’t exist. Dark humor, sarcasm and irony are heavily sprinkled throughout the pages of Seguros de Justicia C.A.,
Sojo does an outstanding job chronicling a country on the brink of collapse, showing the reader the internal corrupted Venezuelan judiciary system. Chavez died, handing over the reins to his bus driving buddy Nicholas Maduro, who has managed to propel Venezuela on a death defying plunge over the cliff. This novel was published by the prestigious O.T. Editores of Caracas, which appears to have a winner on it’s hands.
Seguros de Justicia, C.A:
Principles – Bias: our patients are always right. – Professionalism: whatever their crime, our patients can always rely on us and on our discretion. – Experience: at Seguros de Justicia, C.A. we know all the avenues to obtain rulings in accordance to our interest. – Public relations: we have developed the best of relationships with our patients and suppliers. We rely on them and they rely on us. Values – Commitment: our responsibility is a guarantee of success. – Shrewdness: we will cut every corner we may find on our path. – Charm: our staff knows how to interact with key persons. We never underestimate the value of a good joke or perfectly timed hors-d’oeuvre. – Tolerance: at Seguros de Justicia, C.A. we pass no judgement based on actions, or ambitions.