Americas
9:09 pm
Mon June 17, 2013

Venezuelan Joggers Find Safety In Numbers

Originally published on Fri June 14, 2013 4:05 pm

It's dusk on a recent day in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, and for many, that's a signal to get inside. Crime and violence have become so widespread here, many people simply shut themselves in.

"Your house becomes your own prison," says Arturo Hidalgo. After about 8 or 9 at night, he says, "you better be home because otherwise you can get in trouble."

Hidalgo would know: He's been robbed before. The result, he says, is a deep-seated fear. For an avid runner, that's a problem.

But Hidalgo is fighting back, with 300 like-minded joggers. The group is called Runners Venezuela, and Hidalgo and some friends came up with the idea.

"We run together. We take care of each other," Hidalgo says. "We go back and forth. We look for the last one. We don't leave until the last one is accounted for."

Extreme Security Measures

Caracas is one of the world's most dangerous cities, forcing people to take extraordinary measures to avoid trouble.

Many take to the streets with a decoy phone — a cheap $20 model — to avoid losing an expensive smartphone in a robbery. Some drive low-key cars because they fear kidnappers target those in fancier vehicles.

One woman spoke of how she leaves the bank waving her receipt so any robber would know she'd just made a deposit.

Chamel Akl, head of the security firm Akl Elite Corp., says he's spotting a new trend: people hiring bodyguards for an event or by the night.

"People go sometimes for restaurant dinner, but they know that after 10 o'clock, they have to go home," Akl says. "They call us. They want an armored car or a close protection vehicle outside or a bodyguard that goes with them, from the restaurant to the house. So it's incredible."

Gilberto Aldana is a psychologist whose patients include crime victims. He knows the issue intimately: He's been robbed four times.

People look to adapt to the circumstances, Aldana says. But they still suffer the consequences.

The impact on health is significant because there's anxiety about whether to go out or not, and how to avoid becoming a victim, Aldana says.

He says no one can live like that. But, of course, they do.

No Longer The Lonely Long-Distance Runner

Take Andrea Pereira. 23. She is a recent college graduate, and she's also a runner.

Cooled by a nighttime breeze, she gathered one recent night with nearly 300 others at the main plaza in the Palos Grandes neighborhood.

Some run slightly more than a mile; others, up to six.

A few hundred yards uphill, some people begin to get tired. But they are happy: They're all together, a nice big group, and this means safety. This is what they're in it for. Pereira says she loves every minute of it.

"I started running when I was 17. I was really young, and I started running in the street. Every day I went out in the street and go running and running," she says. "I was free."

But as crime became rampant, she began to take all kinds of precautions. No jewelry when she went out. Regular phone updates to her worried mother. And then she discovered Runners Venezuela.

Her mother could hardly believe her.

"She was like, 'A big group running at night, here in Caracas? You have to be kidding me?' " Pereira recalls. "I was, like, 'Yes Mom, you have to see.' " So now, she heads out with Hidalgo's group for a long-distance run that is anything but lonely.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In Venezuela, crime and violence forced many people indoors. But others adapt, including one group of athletes in the capital that's found safety in numbers. NPR's Juan Forero reports.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: It's dusk in Caracas and for many, that's a signal to get inside.

ARTURO HIDALGO: Your house, it becomes your own prison. You have a curfew after, I don't know, 8, 9 o'clock at night. You better be home because otherwise, you could get in trouble.

FORERO: Arturo Hidalgo would know. He's been robbed before and says the result is a deep-seated fear. And for an avid runner, that's a problem. But Hidalgo is fighting back with numbers.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

FORERO: With 300 like-minded joggers, in fact. It's called Runners Venezuela. Hidalgo and a group of friends came up with the idea.

HIDALGO: We run together. We take care of each other. We go back and forth. We look for the last one. We don't leave till the last one is accounted for.

FORERO: Caracas is one of the world's most dangerous cities, forcing people to take extraordinary measures to avoid trouble. Many take to the streets with decoy phones - a cheap, $20 dollar model - to avoid losing an expensive smartphone in a robbery. Some drive low-key cars because they fear kidnappers target those in fancier vehicles.

One woman spoke of how she leaves the bank waving her receipt, so any robber would know she'd just made a deposit. Chamel Akl runs a security firm, Akl Elite Corp. He's spotting a new trend: People hiring bodyguards - for an event or by the night.

CHAMEL AKL: People go sometimes for a restaurant dinner, but they know that after 10 o'clock, they have to go home. They call us. They want an armored car or a close protection vehicle outside, or a bodyguard that goes with them, from the restaurant to the house. So it's incredible.

FORERO: Gilberto Aldana is a psychologist whose patients include crime victims. He knows the issue intimately - he's been robbed four times.

GILBERTO ALDANA: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: People look to adapt to the circumstances, Aldana says, but they still suffer the consequences.

ALDANA: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: The impact on our health is significant, because there's anxiety, Aldana says. There's always concern about whether to go out or not, and how to avoid becoming a victim. He says no one can live like that. But, of course, they do - like Andrea Pereira. She's 23, a recent college graduate, and she's also a runner.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Cooled by a nighttime breeze, she gathers with nearly 300 others at the main plaza in the Palos Grandes neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

FORERO: Some run just over a mile, others up to 6. I join them.

This is like, the first leg of the run. It's only a few hundred yards from where we started, but it was all uphill, and so now we're here with these people. They're starting to get a little tired, but they're happy. They're all together - a nice, big group - and this means safety. So this is what they're in it for. Andrea Pereira says she loves every minute of it.

ANDREA PEREIRA: I started running when I was 17. I was really young, and I started running in the street. Every day, I went out in the street and go running and running. I was free.

FORERO: But as crime became rampant, she began to take all kinds of precautions. No jewelry when she went out, regular phone updates to her worried mother, and no more running alone, until she discovered Runners Venezuela.

PEREIRA: I said, Mom, I'm going with a big group. She was, a big group running at night, here in Caracas? You have to be kidding me. I was like, yes, Mom. You have to see.

FORERO: So now she heads out with Hidalgo's group for a long-distance run that is anything but lonely. Juan Forero, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.