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Story Publication logo October 14, 2022

As Gang, Police Violence Rages, a Neighborhood Tries To Connect


A woman and a baby from behind.

What Remains focuses on the residents of La Vega in the aftermath of a massacre and the uncertainty...


Nayreth holds her newborn daughter, Salomé, in her home in La Vega. Since her brother’s murder, she has found purpose being mentored by local community leader Gabriela, helping host workshops and community events focused on issues of violence and female empowerment. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2022.

CARACAS, Venezuela—“The bullet holes are right outside my door—a reminder of where they murdered him, right outside his home,” says Aryelis, whose son was shot to death by police here in 2017.

Mothers, sisters and wives are telling the stories of the men who have lost their lives in Special Action Forces operations in the hillside neighborhood of La Vega. The police unit, known as the FAES for its acronym in Spanish, has for years terrorized the working-class barrios of the Venezuelan capital. It’s accused of criminalizing young men for where they live.

La Vega’s turn came in early 2021.

The community calls it the “La Vega massacre.” Caracas’ leading gang — The Washington Post is withholding its name to protect the safety of those photographed for this story—had been infiltrating the neighborhood. For months, residents were at the mercy of both the gang and the police, enduring raids, mass detentions and regular gunfire.

On Jan. 7, 2021, the FAES raided the barrio. Twenty-three people were killed, according to independent observers. The government contests this number.

Despite the losses, residents have fought to find moments of joy. La Vega is a cultural hub in Caracas, maintaining Afro-Venezuelan traditions in drumming and other arts. Even during gunfire and raids, residents continued these traditions, albeit behind closed doors.

This long-term project, “What Remains,” follows the lives of those who are particularly affected by this violence: Women, who are left to navigate devastating grief as they provide for their family, seek justice and try to heal. In La Vega, women are the driving force of the community, organizing recreational activities, food distribution programs and providing other support.

In getting to know women in La Vega, I hoped to show their resilience and their effort to heal. I asked what is left, what is salvaged, what life looks like after tragedy. In a region where violence is normalized, these images reflect the power of community.

Aryelis prays at her local church in the hillside of La Vega. Her Evangelical faith has been key to her healing since her son’s murder by the police forces in 2017. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2022.

Rosa's brother was killed in her home by Special Action Forces. “I have no tears left,” she said. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2022.

A cheerleading team performs at a La Vega community event, celebrating the anniversary of the Mi Convive NGO, which is focused on bringing visibility to state-authorized violence, providing food programs for families and hosting recreational activities to end cyclical violence and poverty. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2022.

Details of Lisbeth’s dress and nails as she poses for pictures at her quinceañera in December 2021. She thought her celebration might not be possible because of the pandemic and violence. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2021.

A homemade disco ball hangs from the ceiling at Nayreth’s baby shower, held in the La Vega neighborhood. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2022.

Lisbeth, 15, dances at her quinceañera in Las Casitas, La Vega. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2021.

A young boy jumps over abandoned construction materials left by the government in Las Casitas, La Vega. The state tore up the basketball court to renovate the space and, four years later, it remains unfinished. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2022.

This work was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center and will be continued with the support of the Getty Images Inclusion Grant.



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