Judith Escalona visits the General Cemetery in southern Caracas at least once a month. At the tomb of Ismaelito, she pours the dead man a drink and lights him cigarette after cigarette. Ismaelito was no relative, however. He is the king of the santos malandros — the holy thugs. The purpose of Escalona’s tribute, including the prayers she offers to Ismaelito, is protection. Almost 50 people die from criminal violence in any given week in Caracas. Escalona’s store has been burgled several times, but she is grateful that no one has been killed — and she hopes Ismaelito will keep it that way.
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