The collectively-run La Minka bakery, formerly known as the Mansion Bakery in downtown Caracas, was the site of a stand-off with opposition supporters Tuesday night as local residents with suspected ties to right-wing parties First Justice (PJ) and Popular Will (VP) terrorized customers and staff following two days of direct threats.
The attacks started late Tuesday afternoon as a group of individuals began to verbally attack staff and customers waiting to purchase their goods. The National Bolivarian Guard (GNB) arrived on the scene to divide opposition supporters and bakery workers outside the bakery on Baralt Avenue.
Likewise, Venezuelan grassroots activists rushed to the scene after a public call to defend La Minka bakery and deescalate the conflict went viral on social media. No injuries were reported.
Venezuelan grassroots media outlet, Our Culture (Cultura Nuestra/CN) reported live during the attack on social media calling the opposition-led aggression, a “guarimba”. For many, the guarimbas evoke frightening memories of the opposition’s violent protests in 2014 that left 43 dead and hundreds more gravely injured.
José Enrique Solórzano, member of the cultural collective La Minka central to the bakery’s alternative distribution model, told CN, “We haven’t stopped, we are standing up for our bakery, resisting.”
Last week community councils, Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPs), and collectives including La Minka from the Altagracia parish of Caracas took over the Mansion Bakery after it was sanctioned with a 90 day temporary closure by the government’s Superintendency for Fair Prices (SUNDDE) for violating health codes, refusal to abide by the government’s price controls on goods and low levels of production. La Minka is now running the bakery, and supplying bread directly to the government’s CLAPs in Altagracia to ensure its sale at fair prices to surrounding communities.
“Here we are producing, and the CLAPs that supported us come and they take the bread to their respective communities to sell it,” explained Solórzano.
“We are producing more than 5600 baguettes daily… We have benefited approximately 15 CLAPS, and we have distributed to an average of 11 CLAPs on a daily basis,” he added.
But in videos circulated of Tuesday’s incident, angry opposition protesters can be heard complaining over the new dynamic, as well as making racist comments in relation to the bakery’s new operators.
“I’m not a racist, but those Blacks with their bare feet and dirty hands, I’m not eating it (the bread),” one woman yells.
In the days leading up to Tuesday night’s aggression, private media publicly campaigned against La Minka bakery citing alleged unjust firings of former workers, unsanitary working conditions and the community’s dissatisfaction with the new distribution system. Some outlets also reported that the government and occupying groups had “stolen” from the “hardworking” families who previously owned the bakery, while internet memes drawing attention to the social and racial background of the grassroots groups suggested that they were incapable of running the bakery.
Nonetheless, CN reports that several of the bakery’s workers decided to stay on for this new project, while others chose to leave. Meanwhile, the bakery’s new managers also found unsettling evidence of government-subsidised flour that had been left to spoil, and worms in uncleaned coffee machines. The groups called on social movements to help with a collective clean-up of the bakery last Saturday.
According to Carolina Cestari, the Director of the Capital District Government, the former owners of the bakery were guilty of selling bread at 400% more than its regulated price, despite receiving government subsidised flour.
“We’re not taking anything from anybody, we’re just doing justice,” she told reports present at the protest.
The bakery is named after La Minka collective, a cultural organization that recuperated an unoccupied space in Altagracia five years ago. The collective organizes a wide variety of community programs especially for children and youth, and also has another operative bakery.
Last week, the Venezuelan government took-over two bakeries for failure to comply with price controls. Bread is a basic consumer good according to the Bolivarian government and as such must be sold at government-stipulated fair prices intended to guarantee consumer access for the Venezuelan people.
Opposition supporters protest outside of La Minka bakery Tuesday.(screen shot/LaIguana)