With their red shirts they appeared in my neighborhood one day to inventory the old American refrigerators and the Soviet air conditioners. They came vested with full powers and one early morning they also descended on the service stations in an operation to stop the illegal sale of fuel. They were young people who hadn’t been able to enroll in the university and a plan—gestated at the highest levels—converted them into a troop available for any task, on the promise of a place in higher education. Allocated a set of clothes, they started to move across the country in newly purchased Chinese buses, flamboyant and imposing. Their authority to appear at any labor center and ask for accounts, do an audit and even replace personnel, earned them the alarming nickname, “children of the Comandante.”
Some of them abandoned the ten-year commitment they’d signed on for and for them leaving was difficult and the black mark on their file certain. The same ones changed light bulbs on the streets of Caracas as controlled the sales people in the convertible peso stores. They were the new eyes of power among us and yet they belonged to the generation most affected by the Special Period, the dual monetary system and the fading of the myth. So it was common to see them exchange self-confidence for obedience and slogans for words of boredom. Their brilliance was as brief as the denim trousers they were allocated at the start of their work.
Today, one hardly hears them mentioned. Although there has been no announcement that the social workers have been demobilized, at the very least it seems that their work lacks substance. There are now no electric pots to distribute, no public opinion surveys to conduct, and it seems that the enormous physical infrastructure of shelters, snacks and buses that supported their work can no longer be guaranteed. I rarely run into any in the street, but those I do see no longer have that arrogant air, nor display their previous pose of belonging to an elite group.