by Marco Teruggi
“Las Casas de Alimentación” is one of the trenches to curb the impact of the economic situation in Venezuela. In the neighborhood of Caricuao, in Caracas, “Luchadoras de la Patria” works, where Luisa and the cooks get up every day at dawn to guarantee food for the most needy of their community.
Luisa Del Valle Baiz wakes up every day at four in the morning. She is 77 years old and has a “Caribe” (indigenous people) force attached to her words. She was born in Güiria, Sucre state, to the east of the country, a land with the smell of the sea, cocoa plantations and sun. From its coasts you can see the island of Trinidad and Tobago, from where her family came in search of work and a better life.
Luisa has been in Caracas for 54 years, in the neighborhood of Caricuao. On arrival, the landscape was a different one: “everything was pure bushes of cambur (Venezuelan for banana), mango bushes, vegetables”, she says. There was still no highway, no project buildings, no houses like bunches on the hill where she built her home and her family: four children, 21 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, four great-great grandchildren. Her mother is 101 years old.
She always got up early to work. But 10 months ago, the days were organized around the “Food House” that began to operate under her roof. Since then, together with four women, they prepare food from Monday to Friday for 221 people who were included after studies were completed of material deficiencies in the neighborhood.
“The need was critical but now you see my boys and it’s nice to see them,” says Luisa. The place is called “Luchadoras de la patria”.
The proposal to open the House of Food came, as in most cases, from the community, and found an answer in the Strategic Food Program Foundation (Fundaproal), the institution in charge of reinvigorating the Food Houses as of 2017, because there had been a policy at the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution to respond to the immense need, and it had been progressively shut down in view of the results achieved in terms of food.
From 2017 to date, 3,118 homes were put into operation in the country. Each day they feed 605,628 “missionaries”, as those who come to eat are called: humble people from the deep countryside, where the genesis of Chavismo is found.
“I like it, I feel it in my bones,” says Luisa, wearing a chef’s hat and an apron bearing the signature of Chávez and the name of the social program. It is not for money that she rises every morning and stays until the evening in front of the stoves in a complicated task. Neither did her colleagues Lilibel López, Roxana Herrero and Rosa Vázquez, who arrived from Guayaquil, Ecuador, 17 years ago, and stayed in this southwestern neighborhood of the Venezuelan capital.
They want the food to be good, rich. “You win their complements with the seasoning,” they say. Today they cook rice, chicken, lentils, arepa, fried sardines, and milk. Part of that food is to serve the most vulnerable population within the vulnerable, which is included through the Centers of Education and Nutritional Recovery. “I give to them all equally,” says Luisa.
Las Casas de Alimentación son una de las trincheras para frenar los impactos de la situación económica en Venezuela. Sputnik conversó con las cocineras de Luchadoras de la Patria, que se levantan cada día al alba para garantizar la comida para los más necesitados de su comunidad. pic.twitter.com/SJXRBYGcqp
— Sputnik Reporteros (@Sputnik_Report) July 12, 2019
The objectives of the Houses are several. In the first place, to guarantee food to the sectors with the greatest material needs, not to let them down. Secondly, to develop a plan so that they are not dining rooms that depend entirely on the State, but can settle in community spaces, with food production, community control, cultural activities, political education.
“One of the objectives is to transfer powers to popular power, transfer them in terms of operability, to generate a working method for the socio-productive, cultural, food health, so that at some point they can be separated from dependence of the institution as a food supplier,” explained Azurduy Tovar, manager of Fundaproal.
There are already steps taken in that direction in terms of transportation, processing and delivery of food. The method is as follows: the head of the House must go to find the food delivery at the collection center in a truck managed in his/her community, receive food, return accompanied by a member of the Bolivarian Militia, and verify that everything arrives in good shape and then is cooked and delivered to the beneficiaries.
That delivery is made at 11:30 in Luchadoras de la Patria. Until that time, the kitchen counter is full of plastic containers stacked in towers: each corresponds to a family, the “tuppers” have marked names, although you know who each one belongs to, says Rosa with her daughter.
The allowance is only free at night, on weekends, holidays and December 4, day of Santa Barbara. Luisa and her family are devotees of the Saint who now also guards the food store that is at the back of the house, after the cages with the green and yellow parrots, in front of the hill of houses that were built on top of each other, in an architectural product of the discrimination, will and the creative capacity of those who have built all the cities of the world.
Not only Santa Barbara protects the bundles of rice, flour, lentils, oil, eggs. There are also the virgin of Carmen, del Valle, La Pastora, Coromoto, the Immaculate Conception, our Lady of Pilar, the Nazarene, the divine Child, the heart of Jesus, Saint Onofre, Maria Lionza, the Indian of strength – which give strength, peace and tranquility -, and Simón Bolívar. Next to each of them are pictures of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
There are 14,804 mothers and fathers in the country, as they are called who perform the tasks of Luisa, Lilibel López, Roxana Herrero, and Rosa, for the 645,840 missionaries (beneficiaries) who every day eat in spaces like this.
The relaunching of the Food Houses occurred one year after the implementation of the central program of access to subsidized food, the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP), which serve about six million households in the country.
The CLAPs were created when the shortage was the center of gravity of the difficulty – between 2015 and 2017 – and the Houses were re-launched in view of the setbacks that the hyperinflation table brought and the breakdown of salaries as a possible way to cover the basic basket.
Today the problem is not the availability of food in supermarkets and neighborhood wineries, but prices and those who most feel that impact are the low income sectors.
The architecture to guarantee the arrival of subsidized food to the neighborhoods is part of the fight against the US blockade on the Venezuelan economy: they have carried out attacks on food importing vessels of the CLAP and the bank accounts that make the payments. Its objective is to suffocate the country.
In Luchadoras de la Patria, as well as in most organizational experiences, something strategic is created: community. It is one of the forms of invisible resistance, a possibility of enduring the assaults that are aimed not only at the Government but also and above all at the profound process, which put in place a historical subject whose political identity has the name of Chavismo.
“Chavez opened your eyes very wide and now no one cheats you, one did not know what his rights were and now he speaks, or I would not be here talking to you, I would be ashamed,” says Luisa, with her Caribbean strength stuck to the word.