Zibechi: The New Venezuela

Cecosesola meeting. The cooperative functions non-hierarchically.

Cecosesola meeting. The cooperative functions non-hierarchically.

By: Raúl Zibechi

Systemic crises usually provoke long-term mutations that leave nothing in place. The crisis of Spanish domination over our continent converted it into a completely new reality. Societies that were established towards the second half of the 19th century had little to do with those existing in 1810, when the May Revolution in the district of Río de la Plata occurred.

Those critical periods also enable the birth of different social relations than the hegemonic ones that are one of the keystones of social change. Something new is not born during the mediocrity of stability, but rather in the midst of fierce storms when we are always capable of innovating, of working and creating.

Something similar is happening in Venezuela. Behind or beneath the political crisis, the offensive of the opposition and Washington, the government’s paralysis, the corruption that crosses the whole country from top to bottom, the scarcity and endless lines to buy food, another country exists. A productive country, in solidarity, where people don’t fight with each other in order to appropriate flour, sugar and corn for themselves, a country in which they are able to share what’s there.

An extensive and intensive tour through communities in the states of Lara and Trujillo, from the city of Barquisimeto to the Andes region permits confirming this reality. We’re talking about a broad network of 280 campesino families integrated into 15 cooperative organizations, besides 100 producers in the process of organization, who make up the Cooperative Central of Social Services of Lara (Cecosesola), which supply three urban markets with 700 tons of fruits and vegetables every week, at prices 30 percent below the market rate, since they elude the coyotes and middle men.

The direct visit to five rural cooperatives, some with more than 20 years and others in the process of formation, permits comprehending that campesino cooperation has an extraordinary strength. A simple cooperative with 14 producers in Trujillo, 2,500 meters (roughly 8,200 feet) above sea level, achieved buying three trucks, constructing a warehouse, the campesino house and a dormitory, basically producing potatoes and carrots manually, without tractors because their lands are sloping. A small miracle is called family and community work, because all the cooperatives have common lands that everyone cultivates.

Work and debate to correct errors, what we used to call self-criticism and was forgotten in some black hole of the masculine/militant ego. The 3,000 annual meetings that the 1,300 workers associated with the Cecosesola hold, open to the community, are extensive, harsh and frontal, in which personal deviations that harm the collective are not hidden. As we say in the South, they don’t go halfway; they go straight without anesthesia or diplomacy, which doesn’t damage but rather consolidates the atmosphere of partnership.

The network of 50 community organizations (15 rural and 35 urban) supplies more than 80,000 people per week in three markets for family consumption, which have 300 booths simultaneously. In these times of scarcity, they supply half of the fresh foods for a city of one million inhabitants, because of which lines of up to 8,000 people form in the central market, the most crowded of all, since the government closed some of the markets due to a lack of products.

The rural cooperatives produce fruits and vegetables; the urban community production units elaborate pastas, honey, salsas, sweets and articles for hygiene and for the home. In total, there are 20,000 associates from the popular sectors of Barquisimeto that are directly involved in the network.

The savings in production, markets and collections permitted them to construct the Integral Community Health Center, which cost 3 million dollars, has 20 bed and two operating rooms where they perform 1700 surgeries annually at half the price of the private clinics, managed by almost 200 people horizontally and in assembly. Besides, they have a cooperative fund (a sort of popular bank) for financing harvests, buying vehicles, medical needs and other family needs.

Everything, absolutely everything, they got through their own work and community support. They did not receive one single bolivar (the Venezuelan dollar) from the State throughout more than 40 years. How did they do it? Some documents elaborated by the network explain it in two concepts: ethics and community cooperation.

It’s not that there are no problems. There are many, with cases of individual profit, like everywhere. The document Ethics and revolution, distributed last March, says: “In our country a new private property modality is hastily being imposed, with each one attempting to seize the space that one fancies according to his or her convenience.” They are intransigent about that. It’s the same spirit that leads them to set prices without paying attention to market prices, but rather according to agreements between producers, making agreements by consensus, eliminating voting, perceiving all the same production needs and working to dismantle the hierarchies of internal power.

The guide it not the program, nor is it the relationship between tactics/strategy, but rather it’s the ethics. “Is there revolution without ethics,” the quoted document ends. History tells us that the popular sectors can overthrow the dominant classes, as has happened in half the world since 1917. What has not been demonstrated is that we are able to establish ways of life different from capitalism.

The Cecosesola workers can take from “their” markets the same amount of products as the rest of the community. If there is a kilo of wheat per person, it’s for everyone equally, whether they form part of the network or not. That is ethics. The scarcity is for everyone, without privileges.

That is the new Venezuela, where ethics guide. Although they are surrounded with meanness, they follow their path. Wasn’t that the revolutionary spirit?


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, June 10, 2016


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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