Fifty-seven years ago, Venezuela lost one of its most remarkable revolutionary leaders: Argimiro Gabaldón, known as “Commander Carache.” A poet and communist guerrilla fighter, today he is a symbol of popular struggles, with campesino movements raising his standard for social justice.
Born on July 15, 1919, in Biscucuy, Portuguesa state, Gabaldón belonged to a large family and enjoyed a high-quality formal education, with Cuban independence hero José Martí a primary source of inspiration. However, he would often say that he learned the most from the people.
From a very young age, and growing up in a rural environment, Gabaldón became close to campesinos, listening to their stories and struggles. This camaraderie would help him understand the reality of the country’s deep social inequality and oppression, first under cruel military dictatorships and later at the hands of US-backed right-wing governments (1958-1998).
“The lessons from workers and friends prevailed in ‘Chimiro’ [childhood nickname] over the lessons from books. He preferred the knowledge of the people,” reads the biographical book An encounter with Argimiro Gabaldón, Commander Carache by the Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity Committee.
A militant poet
Although communism was outlawed in Venezuela, Gabaldón devoured the scarce reading material about communist teachings and experiences abroad. In 1934, he co-founded a clandestine cell of the recently created Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) in El Tocuyo town, Lara state.
The young activist began organizing a number of political activities, including student strikes in the capital Caracas. In 1939, Gabaldón’s militancy was momentarily interrupted when he moved to Brazil to study architecture, which he later abandoned to pursue literature and painting. Traveling to Argentina as well, he became familiar with Latin America’s class struggles.
In 1945, Gabaldón returned to Venezuela to join campesino movements and set up the first communist cells in the mountains of Lara state. There he also dedicated time to teaching rural populations how to read and write.
Simultaneously, Gabaldón flourished as a writer, producing several poems that have immortalized the country’s popular struggles and Latin American guerrilla movements.
“Do not let your pain be hidden
force it to come out and fight
wielding the rifle and the grenade
encouraging the march.
Let it burst into a shout in the assault
let it laugh and sing in the ambush.”
Do not let your pain be hidden, Argimiro Gabaldón (1963).
While enduring clashes with forces from Marcos Pérez Jiménez’s military dictatorship (1950-1958), the young leader also set up an underground printing press and the “Liberation Radio” station to inform about the clandestine communist resistance.
On January 23, 1958, a coup d’etat ended the repressive military rule and Venezuela entered a period of so-called “pacted democracy.” The Puntofijismo system was based on alternating power between two right-wing political parties, excluding popular and leftist forces. This period (1958-1998) would later be characterized by the introduction of neoliberal policies.
Democratic Action (AD) founder Rómulo Betancourt took power in 1959. A former radical activist in his youth, Betancourt swung wildly to the right to put the country at the service of foreign capital and under Washington’s tutelage. He would set the tone for a string of others that followed.
Freedom for Venezuela or death!
“I am not a warrior. I had never thought to be one. I love a quiet life, but if my people and my country need warriors, I will become one,” the guerrilla leader famously said. Inspired by the Cuban Revolution triumph in 1959, he understood that pulling Venezuela from misery would require greater sacrifices.
In 1960, the now seasoned militant proposed raising the flags of the armed struggle, a call answered soon after with the creation of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), an armed wing of the Communist Party.
Gabaldón went on to lead the first guerrilla camp in La Azulita, Mérida state, and later founded the “Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Front” trekking the mountains of Lara, Portuguesa and Trujillo. He became known as “Commander Carache” and would rally the rural poor with his famous battle cry: “Freedom for Venezuela or death!”
Alongside several other outstanding guerrilla leaders, such as Fabricio Ojeda, the communist insurgent had the country’s political elites shaking. The government’s response was ruthless, committing atrocities in rural areas in “anti-guerrilla operations” while suppressing urban cells and supporters of the armed struggle.
Threatened by the popular guerrilla commander, in March 1964, the recently empowered Raúl Leoni administration offered a 15,000 bolívar reward for Argimiro, dead or alive. The insurgent leader’s death would come on December 13 of that same year but from an accidental gunshot in El Tocuyo town, where his militancy began.
Fifty-seven years later, Argimiro’s legacy is far from forgotten. Currently, the Argimiro Gabaldón Communal Territorial Corridor, located between Lara and Portuguesa states, carries the leader’s name to uphold social justice. The corridor brings together six communes, self-governed popular organizations focused on sovereign agricultural production.
On July 15, 2017, the Nicolás Maduro government exhumed Argimiro’s remains and transferred them to Caracas’ National Pantheon in honor of his revolutionary legacy.