Holy Thugs of Venezuela (Documentary Short)


Uploaded by vice on Aug 20, 2012

Transcript:
[ENGINE TURNS OVER]
RYAN DUFFY: So we're here in Bolivar Square in the middle
of central Caracas.
As you might be able to tell from the cathedral behind me,
Venezuela is, like most Latin American countries,
predominantly Catholic.
Now the interesting bit here is there's a good bit of kind
of Santeria and spiritism in the mix as well.
And we've recently found a particular group of Saints
that fascinates us.
They're called the Santos Malandros, translated roughly
as the Holy Thugs.
Now, it's either kind of perfect or really troubling
that in Caracas, widely regarded as the world's most
violent city, the Venezuelan people are worshipping at the
feet of tiny statues of now dead armed criminals.

Over 14,000 people were killed in Venezuela last year.
And Caracas has the highest murder rate per
capita in the world.
Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution may have reduced
poverty in this oil-rich country, but he's yet to bring
any sense of safety or security to the streets.
It's in the middle of all this violence that the cult of the
Holy Thugs was born.
The Holy Thugs are part of a very unique mix of Catholicism
and spiritism.
So we first visited with sociologist Tulio Hernandez to
try and get our heads around it.
TULIO HERNANDEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: He explained that the main goddess of Venezuela
spiritism is Maria Lionza, who is represented, of course, as
a naked lady riding what looks to be an anteater.
Maria Lionza, essentially the queen of all spirits.
Below her there's a whole bunch of other saints grouped
into courts.
There's the court of doctors, of Indians, of Africans, of
Vikings, and even of revolutionaries.
TULIO HERNANDEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: Every court has a leader.
And the leader of the Court de Malandro or the Court of the
Thugs is Ismael Sanchez.
So it's mid-afternoon and we just got to the cemetery here
in Caracas.
And right over here is where Ishmael Sanchez is buried,
along with the other members of the Holy Thugs.
And this is where everyone comes to kind
of pay their respects.

FEMALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: At the cemetery, we met Omar, the unofficial
caretaker of Ismael's shrine, and his buddies, Johann and
Vamonde, who both seem to be spiritism
priests of some sort.
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: We talked a lot about Ismael.
There's, you know, another few saints in similar fashion who
are part of this group.
Can you tell us about some of the others?
Like, who is that right there?
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: About how many people are coming through a
day to pay respects, or to celebrate, or
whatever they're doing?
And how long are they staying?
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: At some point, we saw a funeral
procession drive by.
And we were told that it was a kid murdered in the nearby
slums that weekend.
Soon after, we heard a few rounds of automatic weapon
fire and decided it was time to leave.
[GUNSHOTS]
TULIO HERNANDEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: So leaving the cemetery just now, we drove by
this shop and noticed they have a bunch of the Holy Thugs
displayed in front.
So we're going to pop in, and go check them out, and see if
we can meet the folks who run the place.

We met the shop owner, a spiritist named Clara, who
said she could only talk to us with Ismael's permission.
So she went back to her alter to ask.
It's a boy Ismael.
It's the leader the pack and the rest of the pack as well.
This is Antonio.
He's got a pretty serious scar.
It's kind of right in there above his eye.
That's a knife fight that Antonio got in.
Fresh out of the Thunderbird.
It's the one Holy Thug who came from Jersey, Johnny.
Domicito, that's a serious dude.
He also has the Nike hat.

He's perhaps a little more devious than the rest.
He's somewhat concealing his weapon.
Clara eventually invited us back, where she actually
offered to channel Ismael himself for us.
CLARA: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: Yeah.
I mean, I'm very interested by it, certainly.
CLARA: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: You can see that just by looking at me?
CLARA: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: We said goodbye to Clara, picked up some statues,
and got on our way.
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

RYAN DUFFY: For many Venezuelans, living in poverty
and amidst all of this violence, believing in the
pure and perfect Catholic saints is a bit more of a
stretch than believing in the more familiar and flawed
figureheads like Ismael.
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

TULIO HERNANDEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

[MUSIC PLAYING]