If I had to pick the darkest part of the world: this was it.
I found myself in Caracas, Venezuela. According to Business Insider (one of the few publications that have really done a handful of Caracas articles): Caracas was ranked as 2017’s most violent city in the world. This isn’t a huge surprise. It’s been in the top 10 every year since 2008. Released by the Venezuelan government, the 2016 homicide rate was at 70.1 per 100,000 people.
There are a ton of reasons why this city has come to this. These were just a few examples:
- Colombia has brought its drug war into Venezuela. In turn, Venezuela has closed the border to Colombia and sent out thousands of refugee Colombians.
- Overall, the government withholds official statistics, and even the stats they do release about the violence estimate is based on past trends and not a true read of the country in its current state.
- Several Gang controlled neighborhoods
- Inflation and scarcity of normal consumer goods. This causes higher prices, larger crowds, longer wait times which make more citizens targets for crime.
- The public doesn’t trust the judicial system.
- Many youths are killed, and the ones that do survive migrate somewhere else to work.
- The Venezuelan government fell back on “iron fist” law enforcement policies.
- Criminal groups kill police officers for their weapons.
- A huge administrative dysfunctionality. There are 5 different mayors, a super mayor, and a super-super mayor. All of them with different political interests and each having control over their own police forces.
This was a huge adjustment that I decided to add to my graphic novel. Instead of focusing purely on Caracas, I used this city as my base. I wanted to create an urban-decay environment that collaged several cities dealing with political and economic unrest. It began with Caracas but continued with St. Louis, Brazil, Detroit, and New Orleans.
In my story, protesting was why Cyrus left. Like many youths, he wanted to leave the city because its nearly unbearable and he feels there’s nothing he can do to fix it. Selena can’t bear to leave until things are resolved. Cyrus accepts the reality, but Selena hopes for the best despite odds.
In 2011, Habibi was published by Craig Thompson. It has won several awards and was recognized around the world. There’s even a compelling interview with Thompson. He created an urban decay-based world that’s heavily influenced by Morocco, Vietnam, and the Middle East. He used uncomfortable but relevant topics to craft a powerful story. His characters were shaped by the environment. I wanted to imitate this approach into my own.
Habibi was bold, brash, and unafraid.
Where does that leave us?
I didn’t mean to get so invested in Caracas, yet as I started learning just a little-I wanted to know more. This world was alien to me, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Especially with all of America’s own political unrest, how easy could it be that we too end up like Venezuela?
No, it’s not comfortable to think about.
But does this mean that these people whose lives are like this shouldn’t be thought about either? This is becoming more and more a part of our culture than ever before. It isn’t just the United States. It isn’t just Venezuela. It’s a bit of everywhere.