Female Strength: How Venezuelan Community Women Face the Blockade

Marco Teruggi
Sede del Sistema de Iniciativa Económica Socialista Comunal de Caracas, Venezuela“It looks like a nativity scene when night falls, you see how all the lights are turned on,” says a community member from the roof of an unfinished house in the neighborhood of La Libertad, south of Caracas. This is where the hills of the humble meet the green mountains, the end of the city, the border. As usual, the geographical division is one of class and politics: the heights are of the humblest sectors and the majority are Chavistas, the lower zones of the lower middle classes and generally opponents.

In the lower part is the commercial epicenter, the nerve center is the network of Ruiz Pineda. There you get what you need, but the problem, as in the whole country, is the prices. There are warehouses, supermarkets, shops, and a corridor of one small gallery where, for the past month, the headquarters of the Communal Socialist Economic Initiative System has been installed.

Inside the premises are stacked bulks of corn flour, coffee, sugar, salt, blue soaps, shelves with butter and custard. There is little left, almost everything has been distributed and they are waiting for the next shipment. The previous one was 14 tons, this one will be bigger and will have two more products: bath soaps and wheat flour.

“One of the plans is to demonstrate that the people who are organized, mobilized, conscious, can fight the war, contribute to preserving the revolution, and build through concrete actions,” says Yaritza Navarro, a community member, surrounded by several women.

The system started three months ago. The situation was urgent, since it became evident that one of the problems in prices was the monopoly dimension of several products, the chain of intermediaries and the speculation of many traders. The question was always how to transform analysis into action.

The starting point was the conviction of moving forward, the organization itself, and the certainty of doing so with or without state support. How do you start when you don’t have capital in a scenario like the current Venezuelan economy?

The diagnosis was as follows: there are rural communes, food producers, and urban communes, willing to buy these products. It is necessary to build a communal economic system that would allow us to go directly from the first to the second, in charge of the final distribution. Eliminate intermediaries and traders.

The beginning

They started out with 1,000 kilos of coffee fiados. The most difficult thing was to convince the commune, located in the state of Lara, towards the west of the country, to send that amount without previous payment and taking charge of the transport. This was determined by the trust and legitimacy of the communes gathered in Caracas: the system, which took its first step, brought together 13 communes of the Caricuao parish, where Ruiz Pineda is one of the sectors.

The second step was to receive the coffee without yet having the storage site that has now been opened in the gallery. The distribution and sale was done in each commune, they collected the money and paid the coffee commune. This is how the process that allowed them to obtain the first capital and a surplus began.

“With the funds we are risking more chains with more producers and other items,” explains Yaritza. In a scenario of monetary devaluation, they opted to reinvest in more products – it is better to have food than bolivars – and to use the surplus for an indispensable instrument: the communal truck, which was out of service for lack of money to fix it.

Popular power in action

The Communal Socialist Economic Initiative System had begun to stand up. It meant tackling three simultaneous elements: economic, organizational and political. The objective was not to open a warehouse to commercialize products from rural communes, but to strengthen each territorial organization, what they call popular power, with concrete actions.

Luisa Gragirena, community member, presented the Organic Law for the Community Economy: “This is our foundation, our beloved president Hugo Chávez left us the legal platform for us, as a popular power, to develop and break the schemes of the capitalist system, evidently it is not easy, but it is not impossible either.

Luisa reads: “The purpose of this Law is to develop and strengthen popular power, establishing the norms, principles and procedures for the creation, functioning and development of the communal economic system (…) in favour of satisfying collective needs and socially reinvesting the surplus, through strategic, democratic and participative planning”.

There is no communal economy without popular organization, without the construction of democratic bodies to participate and decide. In the system they decided that this principal forum would be held every Wednesday at 15:00. There, spokespersons of the communes meet, evaluate, plan, and decide.

On Wednesday, July 17, for example, they have come to present the new products.

On Wednesday, July 17, for example, they have come to present the new products that will be incorporated into the next operation. This is what the Family Production Unit produces, of which Rosa Meléndez, a community member from Caricuao, is a part: she has soaps, shampoo and rinsing cream. At the moment they produce 4,000 soaps per month, and will reach, she explains, 20,000 per month through the sales and financing provided by the system.

The objective is to advance toward production levels: “We are going to finance certified seeds and according to the planning of the land we are going to promote production units, by December we will be able to eat our chives, paprika, and seasonings that are typical of the end of the year date,” explains Yaritza.

The future

Each step has been accomplished by the strength of the organization. They hope to install storage centers in each commune that is part of the system, expand two new areas for each new office, add more communes, achieve a communal chain that is sustained in this context: to ensure a fair income for producers, and surplus to be reinvested.

They have made strategic progress in these three months, guaranteeing the products to be used for breakfast in the neighborhoods: coffee, arepa, butter, and the addition of custard, which, as they explain, had disappeared from the tables. They lack cheese and animal protein, and that is one of their objectives.

They have a great deal in front of them. There is within them – the great majority are women – a profound will to collectively address the difficulties they face. The dimension of Chavismo here has one of its clearest meanings, in each one of them, the communal councils, the communes, the system. There are thousands of Yaritzas and Luisas throughout the country.

“Let it be known how we Venezuelans are fighting against the economic blockade,” they say as they bid farewell.