image: A gang member poses with a gun in Caracas. Some 50 homicides occur in the city each week.
A gang member poses with a gun in Caracas. Some 50 homicides occur in the city each week.Oscar B. Castillo—Fractures Collective
image: A gang member poses with a gun in Caracas. Some 50 homicides occur in the city each week.
image: Graffiti in the Marin sector of San Agustin neighborhood. San Agustin is known for being a violent area, but is also recognized for its cultural activism and music schools.
image: Residents amid debris in Catia, a barrio often ravaged by flooding. Heavy rain has destroyed many shanty towns, forcing residents to migrate. The government has launched an extensive construction program to relocate these families.
image: Sucre police officers stand at a checkpoint in front of graffiti of Hugo Chavez.
image: A meeting of hiphop artists and gang members.
image: A child draws daily scenes of violence in his community. The age of entry into crime life is dropping and there are an increasing number of cases involving boys as young as 10 or 11 years old.
image: Police officers raid a slum following two murders committed in the area earlier that day. These raids are often the cause of cross-fire accidents in which bystanders and innocent residents are wounded or killed.
image: Motorcycle stunts in Caracas. Motorcycle, like cellphones, are some of the most coveted objects in the city, and the source of a number of conflicts in the city.
image: A hip hop artist plays music at his home for members of a local gang. The hand prints on the wall served as a popular symbol for Chavez in the 2006 presidential elections, representing the 10 million votes his supporters said he would obtain.
image: The mother of 22-year-old Elio J. Acosta cries in front of journalists after identifying her son at the morgue. In recent years, the media has come under fire due to its alleged political use of information and cursory coverage of violence. The government has also received criticism for withholding official homicide numbers for 5 years and attempting to censure the private media from reporting on violence.
image: A man displays his gun in the middle of the street. The government estimates that there are more than 6 million weapons currently in the hands of civilians. Policemen and military officers are the main providers of weapons and ammunition to gangs and organized criminal groups.
image: View of Caracas from the northwestern neighborhood of Carapita. Caracas has around 4 millions inhabitants and between 4,000 and 5,000 homicides each year.
image: A stencil depicting Henrique Capriles Radonski, the presidential candidate for the opposition party. Political graffiti covers much of the city, serving as a constant reminder of the nation's political tensions.
image: "Abrebrecha" Collective members rally on May 1, together with hundreds of thousands of partisans, to show their support for President Hugo Chavez and the recently approved Organic Work Law, which they see as a step toward workers' rights and justice.
image: Police officers search a group of young men for weapons and drugs. These raids are critically regarded by the community due to many cases of police brutality, summary executions and kidnappings. In recent years, the government has launched a program to create a unified national police force, including a university specializing in security operations and civilian contact.
image: Bullets on the ground. The government estimates that there are more than 6 million weapons currently in the hands of civilians.
image: The body of a victim of violence in the Emergency Room of a public hospital.  On weekends, public hospitals in areas with high incidents of violence become quickly overcrowded and doctors are forced to make some patients wait to receive treatment depending on the severity of their injuries.
image: Relatives of "El Rodeo" prison inmates rally in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to protest for living conditions of the prisoners. Due to corruption and lacking infrastructure, the inmates are often responsible for providing for their own basic needs. Despite the efforts of the government to reorganize the penitentary system, which has been neglected for decades, the prevalence of corruption, drug trafficking and weapon smuggling inside the jails grows yearly.
image: A singer waves his gun at a concert, shooting into the air to motivate the crowd. The government estimates that there are more than 6 million weapons currently in the hands of civilians.
A gang member poses with a gun in Caracas. Some 50 homicides occur in the city each week.
Oscar B. Castillo—Fractures Collective
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The Street Gangs of Caracas

Oct 04, 2012

"There has never been a shortage of bereaved mothers in the sprawling, violent Caracas barrio known as Catia," writes correspondent Tim Padgett in last week's issue of TIME International. Caracas, he notes, usually suffers some 50 homicides a week, making it one of the world's deadliest capitals. As many as a third of them occur in Catia, where gunmen even use hillside garbage chutes to more efficiently dispose of corpses. Few of the killers are ever prosecuted.

The black-and-white photographs of Oscar B. Castillo, a Caracas-based photojournalist, accompany Padgett's bleak dispatch. Documenting the violence of the barrio put Castillo at immense risk—from both gang members and the police.

"I felt safer when I was with the gangs than when I hung around the city by myself," he told TIME. Although never far from the shadow of gratuitous violence, Castillo acknowledges that codes of respect and solidarity run deeply through the community.

"The people took care of me and protected me in risky situations," he said. "When I told one of the guys involved in gang violence about the story, he told me to talk about their bad situation...to tell the kids that inside gang life, there's no life at all."

Castillo began photographing the street gangs of Caracas almost three years ago. Since then, he's endeavored to use his photography as a way to explain to outsiders the complex layers of life in Catia.

"I would like to share a more complete and sincere vision of this moment in Venezuelan history. I am focused on this because it is my hometown, my country, my family—it is my people that are wounding and killing each other."

Oscar B. Castillo is a member of the Fractures Photo Collective. View more of his work on FracturesPhoto.com.

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