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Wilmito’s Regime

Wilmer José Brizuela became the epitome of 'pran' or leader of the Venezuelan prisons. He imposed its law over the state laws in a prison in the south of the country, in the midst of fierce fighting between clans and a badly perpetrated vengeance, episodes of a medieval saga. His legend, already known in the confines of the penitentiary system, has just gained national effect when a shooting on the island of Margarita showed that he was released with official permission, despite serving a sentence for complicity in a murder. He still has power. The following text is an abbreviated version of a profile originally prepared by the author for the anthology 'Los Malos' (The Bad Ones), published in 2015 by Universidad Diego Portales of Chile, under the editing of Argentinean chronicler Leila Guerriero.

19/03/2017 0:00:00

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“We do not humiliate any man, we rather kill him,” says Wilmer José Brizuela Vera.

- "Wilmito, and what other things do you do to those who disobey the rules you have imposed?

Before giving the answer, he stretches himself on the plastic chair. He takes a deep breath, raises his arms and his belly swells, and as he expels air, he slowly lowers his thick hands until they rest on the square table. It is Wednesday April 30, 2014, and we are in the common areas of the Mínima de Tocuyito, the prison on the outskirts of the city of Valencia, the third most important of Venezuela, capital of the state of Carabobo, where Wilmer José Brizuela Vera, el goldo, as his trusted people also call him, has been transferred to after a riot in the other prison he used to be, Vista Hermosa, in Ciudad Bolívar, southern Venezuela, which closed with two national guards killed by the prisoners he led for eight years. When he finally places his fingers on the surface of the table, he says:

- We do not shoot them in the back, but where it kills. I am not giving orders all day. People die in jail because of the imposed routine. Even if you do not want to, unfortunately you have to follow the rules.

And these are the rules.

ArmandoInfo

Wilmito carrying a machine gun while in jail. | Photo taken from his Facebook account

*** 

It is Monday, December 16, 2013, and I am going to the Ciudad Bolivar prison to visit Brizuela, the top prison leader. Outside the prison, nobody knows him as Wilmer, but as Wilmito.

I asked the taxi driver to leave me three blocks from the prison, on the corner of avenida San Francisco, in front of a store called Comercial Romar. The bicycles with wicker baskets in front of the handlebar form two symmetrical rows at the entrance. At three in the afternoon, there are no customers in the store. Nobody walks on the sidewalk in front and cars pass by with tinted windows and the air conditioning on. Ciudad Bolívar is at this time of the afternoon an aluminum plate on which a gelatinous sun is reflected. Only those who have a need or obligation walk at that hour on the lonely streets surrounding one of the most dangerous prisons in the country. Vista Hermosa, the area where it is located, does not live up to its name. In reality, it is a middle-class run-down area, consisting of broken streets and 1 to 2-story homes, with silvered roofs, high, pointed gates and chipped walls. It has been a while since many of the houses on the side of the street that leads to the prison received a coat of paint. In the 1960s, when the city expanded from the banks of the Orinoco River, this neighborhood —as the middle class sectors in Venezuela are called, as opposed to the popular class slums— became the site preferred by new families. The rapid growth of the area ended up surrounding the prison, built years before, in 1951, in that area far from the historic center.

They were, of course, other times. The Government had control over the prisons and it was inconceivable that an inmate had an AR-15 rifle, 9 mm pistols or a cut-off shotgun. Today, as it has rained for several days, the holes on the streets are overflowing with pestilent waters. Cars slow down so as not to break the front end. The sidewalks are opened up and the facades of the houses opposite the prison are full of holes. Those neighbors live in front of a place where shots are heard every day and every so often prisoners throw into the street men seized by bullets, as in August 2011, when they left Marlon Guevara's corpse at the door, after a clash over the control of the prison. The main gate of the prison, green, through which I will go through in minutes although today is not a visit day, is also full of holes. But that does not matter. The prisoners decide who enters and when they can do it. While we were arranging our first date, Wilmito said to me by telephone, "Arrive at the main gate and call me, and I will send someone to pick you up."

I did that. I stopped on the sidewalk, next to the guardhouse of the National Guard (actually, a kiosk with gabled roof with tongue and groove and almost rusted iron benches) to send a text message. "I am here". Ten minutes passed and Wilmito does not answer me. I decide to call him. "How are you dressed?" He asks almost by way of greeting. I tell him that I am wearing black cotton pants, a white polo shirt and have a notebook with white and bright blue gradients cover in the right hand. "I will send for you," he replies. The National Guard officers are distracted talking to each other and I do not know if they noticed that I am talking with one of the inmates. I still cannot believe that I will go inside the prison with my cell phone and that nobody will check me.

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Minutes later, I heard knocks on the green gate. A guard approaches, opens a tiny door and I see the head of a young man. Although at that time I do not know him, over the months I will learn that he is Juan Carlos Hernández, one of Wilmito's trusted people. The man looks to the left, then to the right, until he fixes his gaze on me.

- Are you looking for Wilmer?

“Yes,” I reply

"He comes with the boss," Juan Carlos Hernández says, addressing the guards.

One of the officers leaves the conversation he was having with his colleagues and goes to an iron table with rounded corners that completes the scenery of the sentry box. There is barely room to place your hands because everything is occupied by a file that contains, alphabetically arranged, the identity cards of the visitors. I hand him my identification and he in turn gives me a card that identifies me. I walk to the gate and, before entering, I shake hands with Juan Carlos. And this is how I arrive at a State within another State: a State that Wilmer José Brizuela Vera, Wilmito, the most feared pran of Venezuela, has dominated with an iron hand for eight years.

***

A pran is the leader of inmates. It is a term coined in prison jargon and arrived to Venezuela from Puerto Rico. Apart from these inaccuracies, it does sound like a very musical and easily remembered name for inmates and street people. Whoever mentions the word "Pran" in front of others knows that people will understand because it refers, even in the broad field of the Caribbean writ, to the person with the power.

Those who arrive at the prison led by Wilmito enter a ruleless territory, where the only command necessary to survive is not to show fear of the other and adapt to the unexpected in the best way.

The prison of Vista Hermosa is the prison with fewer deaths since 2011. And more than a few o attribute that decrease to the work of Wilmito and his idea of ??reproducing in prison the environment that the prisoner left behind. Since I enter the prison, I sense that we will walk through any slum, listening to music playing at full volume, as in any popular sector of the Caribbean. I see women crossing the courtyard with hair rollers, and the children of the prisoners grow up running among men who wave guns —The Caribbean and its happy anarchy.

***

It is four thirty in the afternoon. From the belt of Juan Carlos Hernández, who wears Bermuda shorts and a tight shirt, a gun stands out. He is a skinny but athletic man, with light skin and eyes and short haircut, and he will lead me to the Pran's room. Nobody refer to the places where the prisoners live here as cells. In this prison, the bars were eliminated many years ago, perhaps even before Wilmito became its highest authority in 2006. Overcrowding resulted in a prison without bars.

The Vista Hermosa Penitentiary was built for 650 inmates, but 1,750 live there. Hence, the prisoners must make the most of any possible space to live, and in that eagerness, conflicts and deaths ensue.

I am in a large patio with cement floor. There, a man carries a wheelbarrow full of dirt, while another waits for him next to a sand mound. As in any popular sector of Venezuela, the inmates build their own shacks. In fact, while I was on the street waiting to get inside the prison, I saw a truck parked in front of the entrance gate. Two men brought cement blocks and building materials into the prison. Later, I learned that they had been authorized by Wilmito.

At the back of that patio there is a small shed. By Wilmito's orders, prisoners who do not submit to the imposed regime are confined in there. They call them lazybones, because they live from asking others and the drug trade, and because, according to the worldview of the internal government, i.e. Wilmito, they do not want to make progress. At the door of the shed, a man stares at the sky, as if he was astonished, and unexpectedly, every now and then, he throws his hands in the air.

We leave the patio and cross a corridor that will take us to Wilmito's room, located in the offices that were once intended for the authorities appointed by the State. We pass the carpentry shop. After passing a small internal garden, we reach the edge of some stairs that lead to the upper floor. An armed man is sitting at the foot of the first step on a plastic stool. There are no guardrails to hold and the cement of the seats is incomplete, as if an animal had nibbled at it. On the first floor, there is a small hall with a flat screen TV and an unstitched black sofa. Juan Carlos asks me to sit down. He continues walking to the left. Two people are sitting there using their cell phones.

At the end of the hallway is Wilmito's room. I sense it because the door is closed and, on the false wooden surface of the door, I see the initials of his first and last name, WB, drawn on two sheets of colored cardboard. From the sofa where I am sitting, I can see the main courtyard of the prison, where there is a crowd that comes and goes. The columns of smoke, coming from the grills where food is cooked, rise to the first floor. There are stalls selling food, sweets, and tables where doses of drugs are available for sale to those who can afford it. Suddenly, the engine of a motorcycle is heard. I get up from the sofa to look out the windows that look out onto the patio and, in effect, it is a motorcycle, driven by a man who gets lost on the path that goes to the baseball field.

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The prison of Ciudad Bolívar stands on an immense plot of land. The administrative area is separated from the pavilions where prisoners live, which can be seen from the window I am looking out. The sun begins to set and the prison acquires an ocher tone, reinforced by the peach color of the paint on the walls. On the main facade of the prisoners' pavilions are two painted faces; on the right, Nelson Mandela, and on the left, Wilmito. The two images are enclosed in an oval that at a distance looks like the windows of an airplane. Next to Mandela's face there is a phrase: "One cannot judge a nation by how it treats its most illustrious citizens, but by the treatment it metes out to its most marginalized - its prisoners." And next to Wilmito's: "Do not let four walls steal your smile." While I write down those phrases in my notebook, someone comes to me from the side. Wilmito stands in front of me and extends his hand.

- Will you stay tonight? If that's the case, we'll immediately fix a room for you.

***

Wilmer José Brizuela Vera was born in Ciudad Bolívar, on March 20, 1982. Do not get carried away by the impression caused by the photos that he frequently posts on his Facebook profile. Sometimes he is fatter, sometimes less, so it is not easy to recognize him at the first glance. In December 2013, when I saw him for the first time, he weighed 93 kilos (205 lb), and he is not a tall man, he is 1.75 m (5.7 ft). He walks with the legs half open, one foot pointing to one side, the other to the other. Sometimes, when he uses flip-flops, he shuffles his feet, but he is an agile man and prides himself on being a great lover. "My only vice are women," he says.

"My only vice are women," he says.

Father of nine children conceived with seven women, Wilmito is, paradoxically, the only descendant of Vidalina, the first grandchild of Maria and the first nephew of a great matriarchy. His father, Carlos Delgado, was, at the time he was conceived, a worker in the bauxite industry. In the 70s, promoted by the then President Carlos Andrés Pérez, the State of Bolívar developed a national industry to work with iron and aluminum. Carlos Delgado was one of the men benefited with the jobs generated in the area, and in those years, he had a casual relationship with Vidalina. Remarkably, she only gave birth to one child. In poor Venezuelan families, women usually have many more.

Father of nine children conceived with seven women, Wilmito is, paradoxically, the only descendant of Vidalina, the first grandchild of Maria and the first nephew of a great matriarchy. His father, Carlos Delgado, was, at the time he was conceived, a worker in the bauxite industry. In the 70s, promoted by the then President Carlos Andrés Pérez, the State of Bolívar developed a national industry to work with iron and aluminum. Carlos Delgado was one of the men benefited with the jobs generated in the area, and in those years, he had a casual relationship with Vidalina. Remarkably, she only gave birth to one child. In poor Venezuelan families, women usually have many more.

“Mom says that she was always content to have me,” says Wilmito.

Wilmito's is rather a small bedroom. On the back wall, there is a library with three shelves that fills the entire space with many books. On another shelf are his personal effects -colognes, deodorants- and, on the last shelf, the shoes. I count more than ten pairs. Behind the chair occupied by Wilmito are an AR-15 assault rifle and a 9-millimeter pistol. On the head of the bed, a full size, hangs a poster of a tiger with golden frame. Below the photograph I read: "The Lord goes before me. He will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. Do not fear or be intimidated." Wilmito's baritone voice says:

- Tell me, little brother, what do you want?

*** 

I knew Vidalina, Wilmito's mother, one morning in January 2014, at a softball stadium. The Vista Hermosa jail team - called The Hit Man - was enrolled in a game that faces four teams, and Vidalina arrived to cheer Wilmito up, the first-team player. We are in the Medina Angarita neighborhood of Ciudad Bolívar. The houses, painted in shades of pink, ocher or pale blue, have one story, and the power line crosses over the cover plate roofs.

Vidalina, a robust brunette in her fifties, who shows even and very white teeth when she smiles, still lives in the slum Hipódromo Viejo in Ciudad Bolívar, a strip of land between the narrowest margin of the Orinoco River and the Laguna del Medio. She worked as a waitress for many years at Hotel Bolivar, the most important in the city in the decade of the seventies, and when absent, Wilmito’s grandmother María took care of him. The boy grew up in a matriarchy, surrounded by affection, away from drugs and without missing the father figure. He received his last name from a stable partner that Vidalina had while she was pregnant. He accepted the scolding of the neighbors without complaining and without contradicting orders. He played with marbles - here they call them metras - and a spinning top. He attended the Rotario school in the mornings and spent the afternoons playing ball in the dirt streets, under the shade of mango trees.

"They never called me to complain about him," says Vidalina, sitting in the bleacher on two rectangular boards of cracked wood, in the middle of the bustle of the players, who now drink beers.

Wilmito is in the other bleacher with Luis Zamora, a.k.a. Boliqueso (Cheeseball), his second right-hand man and in charge of administering punishments in the prison. The team of prisoners has lost the game against the Brisas del Orinoco team formed by neighbors of that sector, and he did not have a good afternoon.

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To the inmates, these games are, in any way, a party. Watched by the National Guard, positioned at the entrances and exits of the stands and surrounding each point of the stadium, to the inmates, the baseball game is the excuse to meet their families and children in the stands. Vidalina knows that very well. It is also the way she has to support this kind of government program that her son repeats to the journalists who have visited him, and that could be summarized in four commandments: Do not walk shirtless in the halls; respect family members visiting the prison; do not steal from your peers; and practice some sport. Perhaps for that reason, the prisoners take these championships as if they were a professional tournament.

***

While still a child, Wilmito began to practice boxing, despite his mother’s objection. The person responsible for this passion was his grandfather Cándido Vera, a former boxer and professional wrestler, with whom he watched boxing programs broadcast on television - the historical fights of Ray Sugar Leonard with Marvin Hagler or Tommy Hearns - in the 1980s. One day, while watching one of those fights, Wilmito told him he wanted to learn boxing.

"You're fucking kidding," Grandpa replied.

"No," Wilmer answered.

His grandfather got up from the chair and put himself in combat position: Legs bent, elbows glued to ribs, steps forward and backward, one, two, one, two. From then on, and in a more or less improvised and rustic way, the grandfather trained the grandson in the principles of boxing. Five months later, Wilmito asked to enroll in an academy. He was 13 years old. Ciudad Bolívar had then two world champions, the brothers Ernesto and Crisanto España, who attributed the power of their fists to the mangoes they ate and a legendary school, the Boris Planchart gym, ran by coach Ángel Salaverría. Cándido Vera took him there one afternoon. Salaverría and Vera greeted each other without special deference. When Vera told him the reason for the visit, Salaverría faced Wilmito, and they held a brief dialogue:

-Do you want to learn?

-Yes.

- Do you want to be someone?

-Yes.

The coach remained silent, looking into his eyes. Then, he told him a phrase that today, almost twenty years later, Wilmito is able to repeat by heart: "You need to have a warrior's heart, an eagle's eye and some steel fists."

In boxing, Wilmito had talent and desire, but lacked physical preparation. Ángel Salaverría, who died two years ago, polished those first lessons of grandfather, Cándido Vera. Wilmer arrived from school at one o'clock in the afternoon, picked up a bag with a change of clothes and a bottle of water, and went by bus to the gym, where he spent four hours training until, defeated by fatigue, he returned home to eat and sleep. He was then enrolled in Ernesto Sifontes school. He was in high school and was a skinny kid, barely 48 kilos (106 lb). At age 14, when his coach decided he was ready to debut in the Flyweight class. He did not stand out because of the strength of his punch, but Salaverría was struck by the tranquility of his disciple. Flattened, almost expressionless, Wilmito did not seem to get upset when they hit him. Over time, he learned to anticipate the opponent's movements to avoid them. Many years later, boxing would serve to maintain calm in the midst of very complex situations. How to face the theft of a bank without getting upset when the plan does not work as planned, without being able to anticipate the reactions of the other, who is as terrified as you?

In that first fight, he faced Luis Palma, whom he defeated by decision of the judges. Coach Salaverría took that scuffle as the beginning of the career of a champion whose patience had to be chiseled. Wilmito saw in those years the videos of Marvin Hagler, a legendary middleweight champion who never stopped hitting. What would happen if he, who was then a little thing, a winged sparrow without wings, the only and poor son of a waitress, became a new world boxing champion, like Hagler? He only lost three out of 280 fights: against Gilmer Pino, José Rincón and Patrick López, gold medalist in the 2003 Pan-American Games held in the Dominican Republic. Until today, Wilmito remembers them with name and surname, and not because he has not yet assimilated the defeat, but because Patrick López got to where he would have liked to go, The Olympic Games. Wilmer just lacked that step to crown a successful evolution. He won the gold medal in the 1997 National Youth Games and in 1999 and 2000, participated in the international tournament Batalla de Carabobo, the most important event of amateur pugilism in Venezuela. 

That ability to dodge the blows and punish the opponent to the middle zone with his left hand—a technique that Salaverría taught him using as a target a sand filled doll—was also warned by the coaches of the national team, José Sayago and Ángel Fermín. It was perhaps the most splendid moment of his life. In 2000, at the age of 18, he was called to the pre-selection that would participate in the new Olympic cycle. In 2004, the Olympics would be held in Athens, and Wilmito began to think that he could hang a gold medal on his chest. He had developed the courage to exchange blows from beginning to end. Over time, he had gained power in his punch. His coach forced him to hit sacks of sawdust weighing over 100 kilos (220 lb). A round lasts three minutes, but on the ring three minutes are an eternity. Joyce Carol Oates said in her essay “Del boxeo” (Boxing), that those who practice this sport must learn to inhibit their own survival instinct and bend the human impulse to avoid pain. Wilmito says that, over the years, boxing taught him to lose his fear. And that was something he would need.

***

While evoking his gone glories, his assistants arrive with dinner: two sandwiches filled with grilled chicken, drizzled with pink sauce, prepared, I suppose, in one of the food stalls of the prison. When we are ready to eat, they knock on the door of the room. It is Boliqueso who comes embraced by two women dressed to go dancing. One of them, dressed in a low-cut blouse, faded jeans and sandals, has yellow streaked hair. The dye has not been able to take over the black roots. Her toenails are perfectly painted in many colors. The other, more discreet, remains silent and seems sad. Boliqueso carries in his hand a bottle of anise liqueur and his chest is swollen. Wilmito, who claims not to be a fan of alcoholic beverages, jokes with the group that is getting ready to continue the party. After Wilmito's jokes, in an almost coded language, the fake blonde bends like she has gagging, laughs with energy and seems about to fall. They have conversations that a stranger cannot understand without context. The three have entered the room to look for plastic cups. Wilmito gets up from his chair and takes three phosphorescent colored glasses from the furniture placed in front of his bed. On the shelf crowning him is a 42-inch flat screen TV and several compact discs from a band called Voces de Libertad. When seeing the CDs, Wilmito has an idea, that he executed once Boliqueso and the girls leave the room, embraced as when they came in. We will entertain our dinner with the music of the group of which, needless to say, he was one of the members.

His sandwich is still intact on the table. Wilmito turns on the DVD and prepares the television for us to watch the show while we have dinner. Voces de la Libertad is an orchestra of prisoners that plays versions of great classics of salsa. On the album cover, I count the names of eighteen people, including technical staff, choristers, singers and musicians. The first piece we hear is Aguanilé, the old song that Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón recorded in a memorable plaque called El Juicio, of 1972, more recently sung by Marc Anthony. The musicians present themselves on a stage that has nothing to envy those seen in the concerts of the established bands.

-That is a party we gave here on the day of Our Lady of Las Mercedes, patron of prisoners.

The stage, he says, was placed at the back of the penitentiary, in the playground, a diamond-shaped ground where they usually play baseball.

***

In October of 2002, when he was 20 years old, Wilmito went to a matinee function at the Atenas nightclub, very fashionable in Ciudad Bolívar, with a friend who was carrying a pistol. Wilmito, dressed in the jacket of the national team of Venezuela, a piece with the colors of the national flag, was talking with some friends when the police arrived at the premises to do a search. He was already a man known for his sporting merits and, taking advantage of that circumstance, his friend handed him the gun he was carrying, to avoid problems. That night, none was spared from the search.

-I think the policeman saw me when I received the “iron”. Everything went very fast. They took my gun, handcuffed me and arrested me. Suddenly things changed for me.

Wilmito says that until that moment he had never committed a crime. But that is not true, as I verified after my visit by checking his criminal record. Since May 13, 2001, he was requested by the sub-delegation of Ciudad Bolívar for robbery. A week later, May 20, he stole again and also did it on October 19, 2001. According to police records, he had committed three offenses before being captured in the nightclub, but he preferred to ignore that detail.

From the disco, he was taken to the jail in Vista Hermosa, where he spent six months. During the first four days, he never left the room. He had managed to get the protection of one of the leaders of the pavilion where he was staying, Luis Oswaldo Martínez. They did not let him see the coliseums, knife fights between prisoners confronted by some dispute, and that are ordered by the pran so that the disputes are resolved. He stopped feeding himself like an athlete (white meat, vegetables, and natural juices) to eat flours and at the wrong time.

When leaving prison with a precautionary measure, the National Sports Institute (IND) submitted its case to the consideration of a disciplinary court in Caracas, which decided to expel him from the national pre-selection of boxing. Wilmito returned disappointed to his home, not wanting to continue training, despite the support given by his mentor, Ángel Salaverría. He had been left out of the Olympic cycle.

Vidalina, his mother, was unemployed, in the middle of a fierce economic contraction due to the Venezuelan oil industry's strike in early 2003. Wilmito began to frequent the friends of the slum who did not have a life but a record. Vidalina asked him not to join the delinquents of the slum. But he had a certainty: he believed that men can never get away from his criminal record, and he, although small, already had one.

The first time he participated in a robbery, it was of a gold and diamond trader at the Ciudad Bolívar airport, a modest terminal that only receives one commercial flight per day from Caracas. Apart from that, planes usually land there with people who transport metals -gold, diamonds- from the mines in the south and west of the State. It was a simple operation, in which he only watched the backs of the peers who assaulted the trader. That debut was followed by several similar operations until, accused of a crime he never acknowledged - the kidnapping of Juliano Elías Abboud, a well-known Arab merchant in the area, on September 26, 2004 – he returned to Vista Hermosa for the second time. It was 2005, and Wilmito was willing to become a leader.

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***

As president of the criminal judicial circuit, Mariela Casado ratified in 2007 the first decision of the local courts, published in October 2006, against Wilmito: ten years in prison for kidnapping Abboud. It was not the first time they saw each other, nor would it be the last. They had met in the jail of Vista Hermosa when she was new in her position and he was just starting to emerge as a leader. She visited the prison to meet the demands of the prisoners and he was the one who transmitted the petitions. With what little they spoke, Casado elaborated the profile of a shrewd, amoral and sinister man, with much ease to express himself than the rest of his peers. Several of the prisoners who went to the courts confirmed her presumptions when, in the recess of the hearings, they confided to her that to survive inside the penitentiary it was necessary to obey him and pay without delay the weekly tax.

***

It is already night, but the deafening music continues. Now it is almost eight and Wilmito reiterates the invitation:

- If you want, you can stay for the night, I'll fix a room and tomorrow we'll continue.

But I do not accept to stay, because I am afraid.

Before leaving, I ask him to go around other areas of the prison, and Wilmito accepts. We left the room and met Juan Carlos Hernández, the man who had received me at the entrance, sitting on the sofa in the hall. When he sees us appear, he makes the gesture of getting up, as if a superior military man had appeared before him. He still has the gun in his belt. Wilmito asks him to sit with a barely perceptible gesture. We continue walking down the same corridor to the back door. When we open it, we enter a dark room illuminated by the light that bounces off a 42-inch flat screen television, which reflects a closed circuit transmission. Throughout the prison, there are 48 cameras that allow the Pran and his second men in charge to monitor all areas: the ground floor of the pavilions, the sidewalk filled with kiosks that sell food and sweets, the green gate of the main entrance, the area aimed to homosexuals and evangelicals, and the area of the Guerrilla, where prisoners who do not want to accept the imposed rules stay. It is a barn where several inmates live in crowded conditions. Wilmito takes the mouse from the computer that controls the system and selects any image to see in detail what is happening.

Wilmito spends a lot of time showing me the prison through the screen, and then I ask him to leave the visit for another time. Wilmito accompanies me downstairs to the exit door of the prison. On the way, I ask who puts the money to buy the cameras and televisions. There is no conclusive answer and it will vary in the months that follow. Sometimes he says that they are donations from friends; others, that they were purchased with the money that each prisoner gives to the Pran every Sunday of every month to maintain the facilities.

***

I returned to Vista Hermosa in mid afternoon on Thursday, January 9, 2014. A cool breeze blows and it is not as hot as in December. Juan Carlos Hernández picks me up again at the door, but we do not walk to Wilmito's room. We go through the prison in daylight. While we walk down the corridor of one of the pavilions, Hernández stops and knocks on the door of one of the rooms. We enter a room illuminated by neon lights. A woman is sitting on a double bed, with a girl paralyzed in her arms. Wilmito is at her side. When he sees me, and before extending his hand, he bends to kiss the girl's forehead, which, I will later know, is four years old. Then he uses the index finger and the middle as a pincer to touch her nose and cuddle her by stroking her hair. The air conditioner keeps the room at an almost polar temperature.

When we left, I ask him who she was and he said:

-She was my wife, but I'm not with her anymore. She lives here with my daughter.

Wilmito does not know exactly what happens with the girl, why she is paralyzed. He left that woman, whom he does not even mention by name, for another one, and replaced the other with another one and so on.

We continue walking down the corridor that leads to the central patio. There are two children playing there. One of them -small, burly, dark and with almost straight hair- wears a Barcelona shirt and must be about six years old. He looks a lot like Wilmito and, in fact, is one of his children. Before continuing, he takes a few seconds to play with him. Father and son are placed in combat position, with the left leg more advanced, semi-lowered, and with the fists at chin height. Afterwards, they join their right fists, as if they were playing superheroes. Juan Carlos Hernández and I continue on our way and Wilmito goes to his room.

 

On this day of January, the tour of the prison ends on the court, which is very well preserved. Two teams of prisoners play football. Some have t-shirts from clubs like Arsenal or Real Madrid; others, wear t-shirts from local clubs: Deportivo Táchira and Caracas Fútbol Club.

Wilmito is one of the players. He accompanies the play with elephant parsimony and do not lock the ball in the middle of the field. Standing near the band, always wait unmarked the last pass to kick the goal. On two occasions, the goalkeeper blocks the ball, but in the third, Wilmito receives at the top of the area, dribbles an opponent who slides to get the ball, and hits the angle. There is no excessive applause after the goal. Wilmito returns walking to the middle of the court that defends his team, and occupies his position of winger. I do notice the effort of the rivals not to kick him.

Boliqueso is sitting next to me, oblivious to what happens in the game, because he entertains himself with his last-generation smartphone. Wilmito's bodyguards are positioned at the corners of the court and behind us with long weapons. The first thing that Boliqueso tells me is that he is responsible for the prisoners to learn to live together. That phrase sounds strange in the mouth of a man who barely opens his lips, with short phrases and wide silences. Suddenly, all his authority is evident when two of his right-hand men appear before us escorting a man who transgressed one of the Pran's commandments. The previous night, a prisoner left a cell phone forgotten in the stands of the court. Through the cameras, someone saw that this nervous man, who is now standing in front of us, was hiding it in his clothes.

The man begins to gesticulate with pompous movements when accused of theft.

-No, causa, do you think I'm going to keep an eye on that phone?

In prison jargon, "causa" means close friend or ally. Boliqueso barely looks at him and looks at his own phone. The man continues gesticulating, with a nickel-plated pistol in his hand. One, two, three times he raises and lowers his arms in a visible gesture of displeasure, while trying to explain that he has not taken the device. When he repeats the gesture for the fourth time, I am afraid that a shot will escape, and I close my eyes. Suddenly, Boliqueso's voice says:

-Get the gun from him and let him go back to the roof.

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The man surrenders the weapon and leaves, kicking the air. During my first visit, I had seen several men on the platform of the pavilions, but I supposed that up there, as the afternoon was falling, they were distracted by looking towards the horizon, or were looking for the cool breeze that, at the level of the asphalt, is barely felt. But no. those inmates who transgress the rules imposed by the Pran are left on the roof for days. And they cannot go down until they are authorized to do so.

Wilmito finishes playing and walks towards us. One of the bodyguards offers him a chair. He almost throws himself on it in the effort to regain the normal rhythm of the pulsations. He looks pretty tired. A few minutes later, he invites me to go to his room.

"That scene that you witnessed, the boy who stole the cell phone, is one of the ways we have to impose discipline," he says, once we settle into the room.

- But here in Vista Hermosa worse things have happened?

-As which? Wilmito asks, leaning back in a plastic chair.

The sweaty shirt rests on the back of the seat.

"He did not die, but we did kill the one who took the video that circulated on the Internet."

-In other Venezuelan prisons, for example, the fingers of inmates who steal are cut off with a machete. Does that happen here?

-No. But we can give him a shot in the hand so they do not do it again.

- And how do you punish those who commit more serious offenses?

-It depends on the offense committed.

-Rapists, for example, I think they do not spare their lives.

-That's true.

-On YouTube I could watch a video called 'La reina del arroz con pollo'. Those images were recorded in this prison?

- That guy raped an eight-year-old girl. He must suffer what she suffered.

- They raped him and then killed him?

- He did not die, but we did kill the one who took the video that circulated on the Internet.

***

Wilmito is now sitting on the edge of a huge piece of land that in jail is used to play baseball. It is Tuesday, March 18, 2014. It is three o'clock in the afternoon and under the dusty dog day, a tall, bearded intern jogs at a marathon pace.

Sincamisa and several of the bodyguards accompany us. One of them asks him to tell how he became the boss of all. I remember then what he had told me in his room during one of my first visits. In 2005 William, a prisoner with whom he had committed some robberies, had to go free and decided to give him control of the group. It was almost like the coronation of a disciple: "You can do better than us," affirmed the two subordinates of William, to whom corresponded by hierarchy to lead the group.

In that midyear, all areas of the penitentiary had their leaders. The fights over the absolute control of the jail were frequent and there were more and more deaths. The disputes were settled in a medieval activity called Coliseum, where two inmates, by orders of the Pran, face each other with knives in the middle of a circle formed by their peers. All those things, says Wilmito, the idea of ??controlling the prison, establishing its rules and implement mass practice of sports generated the sympathy of the inmates.

He killed the first one with a shot between the eyes and then he killed three more.

He planned to take the area of ??Reos—another of the parts into which the prison is divided, which had its leader— with 60 of the inmates, on October 16, 2005. They draw together a sketch and identified where they would go to kill the members of the prison rival group. They made shields with tin drums and closet doors, which would serve to advance while protecting the leader. The invention, which they called Pope Mobile, worked perfectly because it managed to cushion the impact of a grenade, and Wilmito and his peers received only some splinters. Stunned and confused, the members of the rival group were left at the mercy of Wilmito, who emerged from behind the shields with his pneumatic machine gun and pistol. He killed the first one with a shot between the eyes and then he killed three more. Wilmito's group only had one loss. Prisoners who survived immediately acknowledged his authority.

Weeks later they prepared to attack those in the Observation area. Wilmito felt particular contempt for them. On the morning of November 15, 2005, a man from the band who was in charge there "sang a light". In prison jargon, that means no one can move from where they are. Those are moments of great tension, because weapons can be moving from one hiding place to another, and then discretion is needed. But an inmate of that sector, who was imprisoned for having stolen a pig, disobeyed and he was killed. At two in the afternoon of that day, Wilmito, disgusted, said to the parquero, the man who knows where weapons are kept:

-Get everything ready because we're going to take that shit.

They complied. After the Observation area, Wilmito and his band took the Workshop area. Then the Rancho and the Annex fell. In 2006, he had control over the entire prison and had established the rules: respect the inmate's visit above all things (whoever did not do so would have to pay with his life); never reveal to the National Guard the place where the ammunition and weapons are hidden; and never try to deprive him of his unofficial authority.

He took the machine gun, and left the room again with a peer who was guarding him.

That commandment is almost never respected and he knows it. In 2009, they tried to assassinate him. A young man stepped forward while Wilmito walked through the administrative areas, and began to shoot him. Almost at the same time, bullets began to sound in other areas. Wilmito was wounded in the shoulder, but he was able to climb the stairs until he reached his room. He took the machine gun, and left the room again with a peer who was guarding him. Knowing that everything was very confusing, that this could be a nest of traitors, with the pneumatic machine gun and a purse in which he carried two thousand bullets and five grenades, he touched the shoulder of his custodian and, after crossing himself, told him:

-Whatever God wants.

By then, Boliqueso and Sincamisa had ordered to cut the light. Thus, Wilmito and his peers, shot to shot, quelled the rebellion. The conspirators were seven and four died executed.

I realize that Wilmito has been remembering all his operations in the midst of an audience that, except for me, seems almost indifferent to his deeds. No one interrupts him, everyone agrees. There are his bodyguards, Juan Carlos, and Sincamisa, but everyone listens to the story as if they were a little tired of the same story heard over and over again. The sun begins to hide behind the prison wall, and they say they are going to accompany me to the exit. I, unintentionally, stay a little behind lacing the shoelaces while Wilmito and his bodyguards walk forward. When I am getting up to join the group, I feel the loud roar of a motorcycle near the ear. I see a man next to me, on a motorcycle. I just pick up my notebook when I hear:

-I can take you to the door so you do not walk this way. It’s 20 bolivars.

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***

On December 28, 2009, at lunchtime, Wilmito collapsed between bites. He had just got upset with an inmate who "had eaten a light." That expression means in the prison jargon a violation of the rules imposed by the prisoners and is worthy of a punishment proportional to that "crime". Wilmito was transferred to the Santa Ana polyclinic in Ciudad Bolívar, and would wake up twelve days later, lying in a bed and wondering what had happened to him. His blood pressure had risen with enough power to generate a cerebral edema that, over the days, gave way to injections of diuretics and steroids.

Advised by his attorneys, Wilmito identified in that mishap the opportunity to request the court to serve the rest of the sentence in his home. The letter that reasoned the petition added a medical report that certified his health condition -high blood pressure and alterations in the values ??of triglycerides and cholesterol- and submitted the letter with the necessary formalities so that the hearing was even held in his sickbed. Everyone assumed that the favorable decision was a fact but it was not like that. Warned by the doctors of the clinic, Judge Mariela Casado knew that Wilmito could return to prison without major inconveniences. As the acting magistrate, she requested explanations from the judge of first instance who was handling the case due to lack of decision. A month had passed since the fainting and Wilmito was the same as always, doing and undoing. He had the keys to his room, went in and out of the clinic, and his relatives had stayed in the adjoining room to accompany him. Was it possible that a prisoner now used the clinic as a hotel? asked Mariela Casado.

With these evidences, and perhaps with the silent pressure of Mariela Casado, the judge in the case decided that Wilmito's days as a patient were over. He had to go back to jail.

***

Based on what came after, Wilmito did not receive the news in a good way and plotted revenge in two acts. The first began on Saturday, January 30, 2010, when he took out a window from the frame of his room in the clinic, broke the bars and went the streets with the apparent complicity of the police checkpoint guarding him, according to the story in the case files.

In the clinic, the doctors knew another version. It was impossible for a man of that size to escape through a window. Wilmito had gone out to watch on television the last game of the final series of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League between Leones del Caracas and Navegantes del Magallanes, a sporting event that paralyzes the country. It is about the two teams with more followers and Wilmito, a follower of Caracas, who won the title that night, was among those absorbed fans. In the joy of the celebration, the Pran fell asleep and did not return to his room.

When the police noticed his absence, an almost frantic search began. On February 2, they emptied a house where they assumed he was hidden. They did not find him. They did find three men and seized, according to the press, 700 7.62 caliber ammunitions for a light automatic rifle. The siege narrowed until Wilmito surrendered himself on February 4 in Caracas, at an office of the Scientific Police. He had traveled 600 kilometers from Ciudad Bolívar because he believed that only in the Venezuelan capital they could repair the injustice that, according to him, Judge Casado had committed against him by preventing a favorable decision. He had raised his case with Lina Ron, a government activist with strong ties to President Chávez, who she took the case to the then director of the Scientific Police, Wilmer Flores Trossel.

Wilmito did not return to Vista Hermosa. A few days later he was transferred to Mínima de Tocuyito, - the prison where he is now - and added to his file the attempted escape from the clinic. He did not only have a new trial guaranteed, but an increase in the sentence. Far from his family and the power he had amassed, Wilmito began to gain weight and maybe suffer like never before in a prison. Meanwhile, his family reported to the local media his health condition and the bad will of Judge Casado, as the highest legal authority, by not wanting to recognize it. Two months later, he returned to Ciudad Bolívar to be tried for the attempted escape. Judge Roberto Delgado confirmed after the first hearing in April 2010, that he should return to the Tocuyito prison. A bailiff who was present told me his reaction when he heard the ruling. Wilmito became enraged and cursed everyone in the room. "She is the one to blame. Mariela Casado is to blame for this," he shouted. Since then, he began to plan how to take revenge on her.

***

Mariela Casado wanted to return to Valencia, where she was originally from. She had spent a lot of time facing a hostile environment that did not allow her to work comfortably. She had confessed to her relatives that she did not feel like a free woman. Half of her freedom, she said, had been lost when she became a lawyer, and she was slowly losing the other half in her stony practice.

Wilmito's curses added another reason to her desire to leave the city. It was not the first threat she received, it is true, but she had already lost the strength that led her to endure the pressures for five years. She then recalled how from 2005 to 2010, she had decided to refrain from knowing any cause related to him to avoid the torture of dealing with Vidalina, the mother of the Pran, and Maria, the grandmother, who were always at the courts to demand anything, from alternative measures to the confinement to serve the sentence or the return of Wilmito to his city of origin.

Mariela Casado took it upon herself to leave these threats in a complaint filed with the Prosecutor's Office of the state of Bolívar. Today, her relatives think that thanks to that eagerness to document everything, the way was cleared to solve the crime that drove her away from the country. On June 6, 2007, based on the record, she had revealed that in several messages sent to her collaborators' cell phones, she was threatened with death. Two of them said, "Wilmel (sic), we have to fuck Mariela Casado, the judge of Ciudad Bolívar. I already planned the robbery (...) Shot her. And another said, "The pals went to jail to visit Wilmito and he planned everything. Be alert, tell Cara de Ratón (mouse face)."

"Doctor, I do not threaten, I act"

However, she thought that it did not seem that Brizuela could be the author of that message. In fact, in 2007, she had fired several clerks and bailiffs from the courts and any of them had even more reasons to threaten her. And shortly after receiving these threats, Wilmito personally called her to clarify his proceedings. Mariela Casado told a close friend, who in turn agreed to reveal this to me provided his or her identity remained anonymous, which the Pran said at that time. "Doctor, I do not threaten, I act."

She did not have to doubt his word. When on March 23, 2007 the local press published the murder of four men who had few hours inside the prison, Wilmito called her to confirm the rumors in the street. "They are saying that I killed those boys. I want you to know that I did kill them in retaliation for the death of a cousin, whom they murdered." He had warned the judge before his victims arrived in jail. "They will not come out alive from here." And he honored his word. The press assured that one of the victims was tortured and mutilated. Wilmito's men placed his eyes and head inside some glass containers.

Wilmito does not threaten. Wilmito acts.

***

The prisoners began to kill themselves for the control of the Vista Hermosa prison after Wilmito's absence. In February 2010, Ausberto Medrano, a.k.a. Niño Criminal (Criminal Child), who was part of his clan, assumed control. During his leadership, Frank Viamonte died after a conflict between inmates, and Ronny Rodríguez and Wilber Hernández, died half an hour after entering the prison. Niño Criminal escaped on October 19, 2010, and was shot down by police in a confrontation one month later. Pata'e loro (Parrot Leg) took control then, with whom the string of deaths followed. Eleven days after his coronation, on October 30, they shot Miguel José Bolívar Solís, Roger Ernesto Requena García, José Wilfredo Bejarano Vargas and two other unidentified inmates, in the midst of a riot for control of Vista Hermosa. And months later, the government of Marlon Alirio Guevara - who had replaced Pata'e loro, who had been transferred to another prison - culminated in a tragic manner, riddled with over 20 bullet wounds.

***

Mariela Casado felt that a man followed her every time she returned home from the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela, an institution created by Commander Chávez to expand the educational offer. It was the month of April 2010 and the ruling judge complied with some reluctance with one of the latest commitments in Ciudad Bolívar.

"I could be wrong as you have been wrong, Mariela; however, I am fair and you must go."

She had reasons to feel that everyone was watching her. Although, paradoxically, she did not fear an attack against her, she took some precautions. She did not always use the same car, for example. Wilmito's direct accusations were not the only ones. She recalled that between April and December 2009, she had received almost elegiac text messages on her cell phone, which anticipated her current situation. On April 14, someone wrote this to her: "Days will come when justice really prevails. For the moment, there is still time to reconsider. Take care of yourself." And a day later came the following: "My steps will be bathed with the blood of the wicked. There is a God who vindicates the just and is doing justice on earth." Three days later, she read more explicit threats: "I write and erase. I search and I do not find elements to save you. I have already used everything that helped me to prevent your departure." And then: " I could be wrong as you have been wrong, Mariela; however, I am fair and you must go."

In early June, her body began to somatize all her anguish, with atrocious stitches in her belly. With no time to lose, his sister Maria Gabriela set a doctor’s appointment in Valencia for June 18. Mariela Casado hesitated for a moment. To be away from the city she had to obtain the permission of his superiors in Caracas. Someone also had to pick up her children and bring them from school. His sister says then:

-Go ahead. I will pick up the boys at school.

***

On June 14, 2010, Manuel Gutiérrez, a sports coach of Edelca, the electric company of the State of Bolívar, goes to the home of his youngest son Christian, driving a white SUV Grand Cherokee Jeep. It is eight thirty at night. Manuel lives in Puerto Ordaz, the second most important city of state of Bolívar, and the pole of development of the Venezuelan iron and aluminum industry. He carries 150 tennis balls, three rackets, other sports equipment and a guitar in the trunk.

Christian comes out with his sister Yenibel as soon as he heard the horn of the SUV and they are distracted talking on the sidewalk. A cry from Yenibel interrupts the conversation. Two armed men, who had come down from a Fiat Siena, point to the group, separate them and ask Manuel for the keys of the SUV.

Marlon Medina, dark, colored hair, is one of the robbers who now drives the car that goes back to Ciudad Bolívar. He feels happy because he will soon have in his pocket 5,000 bolivars that El Pucho, the boss of the operation, had offered him, for looking for the SUV that the boss needs. The boss is also called el goldo Wilmer (fatso Wilmer) or Wilmito. The boss is determined to kill Judge Mariela Casado in four more days and has ordered a car for the mission.

***

At eleven thirty in the morning of Thursday, June 18, El Pucho, whose real name is Luis Ramón Acosta, is called by a.k.a. El Ciego (The Blindman) in the parking lot of Calypso Bingo. El Ciego is the great coordinator of the operation that is about to start, and keeps in contact with Wilmito by telephone, according to the voluminous accusation that prosecutors wrote to impute the crime that they would soon commit.

Upon arriving, El Pucho greets two other people whom he only knows by his nicknames: La Niña and El Menor (The Girl and The Minor).

"We're going to kill a lady," El Ciego says.

El Ciego asks El Pucho to drive the Cherokee SUV and bring these two people as companions. Meanwhile, he gets into another car that will act as a guide to drive them to the place where La Niña, whose real name is Edgar Silva Rondón, will get off the car and comply with the order.

At twelve-thirty in the afternoon, teacher María Gabriela Casado starts her black Toyota Yaris, which her sister sometimes uses to move to the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela, and drives to the school Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, located at the intersection of Jesús Soto and Táchira avenues. It is a strategic site because it is located in front of the airport and it is one of the express ways that leads to the exit of Ciudad Bolívar. The midday traffic is heavy because at that time, everyone is looking for their children. At 12:45 she goes out with her nephews and stops at a fast food restaurant to buy lunch. She would not take long there. Shortly after one o'clock they arrive at the house. The boys get out of the car and run to ring the bell so that the grandfather, Héctor Casado, opens the door for them. When one spends a lot of time exposed to the humid heat of Ciudad Bolívar, it makes you to want to run and be in front of an air conditioning duct.

In the car, the red box full of fried chips, with a letter M painted in yellow on one of the faces, is forgotten. Before entering the house, María Gabriela Casado attends a neighbor, called Pedro Pérez, who comes to give her good news. A wastewater leak that is affecting both his home and the residence of the Casado family will be repaired soon. Almost at the same time that this conversation takes place, El Ciego called La Niña.

-This is the woman.

***

Wilmito does not threaten, Wilmito delivers.

Two days after my second visit to the Vista Hermosa prison, on Thursday, January 9, 2014, Wilmito attends the penultimate hearing of the long trial followed by the murder of Professor María Gabriela Casado. I remember talking on the phone to coordinate the transfer to Valencia on a bus, where the trial was filed. Some would bring roast meat. Others, the drink. The final sentence comes three weeks later: 14 years and ten months as chief accomplice in aggravated robbery of the car, assassination and association to commit a crime. El Pucho had 16 years and ten days.

When he hears questions far from the script of the character he is building, the Pran stretches and takes his time

Before leaving for that visit, I asked Wilmito about doctor Casado. We are in his room with the air conditioning turned on at maximum speed. When he hears questions far from the script of the character he is building, the Pran stretches and takes his time. It is a necessary pause to elaborate responses adjusted to the image of leader that he wants to project. On this occasion, however, it he seems slightly annoyed. Without raising his voice, as if he suddenly feels the need to demonstrate without poses who he is, he answers me with the first idea that comes to mind.

-If I had wanted to kill Mariela Casado, I would have done it. I make no mistakes. I knew where she was washing her clothes, when she was traveling to Caracas. Many times they called me when they had her in front to ask me what they should do with her. And I never acted against her. I decided to admit my responsibility for the relevance of the case and because I had lost the fight against the most powerful judge in the state of Bolívar.

After the murder of her sister, Mariela Casado left Venezuela with an unknown destination and with the urgent objective of forgetting that she once worked as a lawyer and judge. His relatives are forbidden to reveal where she is because she is now afraid of an attack against her.

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