Pueblo a Pueblo is a grassroots plan for organizing the production, distribution, and consumption of food that connects agricultural producers with urban dwellers. In so doing, the project breaks with the despotic dictates of the capitalist market. In the first of this three-part piece in the Communal Resistance Series, Pueblo a Pueblo’s spokespeople talk about their organization’s history and its objectives.
About Pueblo a Pueblo
Key spokespeople from Plan Pueblo a Pueblo [“people to people”] tell us about the philosophy driving their work.
Ricardo Miranda: Pueblo a Pueblo is an attitude, a plan, and a method that seeks to break the contradiction between the campo and the city, thus tearing down the walls that capital builds to keep sectors of the pueblo apart and isolated from each other.
The market system focuses on consumption, but production and distribution are erased from the equation. That is why Pueblo a Pueblo focuses on – and links – production, distribution, and consumption in what we call a “living economy” [economía viva]. This new kind of economy must develop outside of the dominant mechanisms of alienated consumption.
In real terms, what does this mean? The pueblo must be in control of land, seeds, and distribution mechanisms, but also of consumption. To do this we work with organized communities in barrios and in rural areas. On the city side of things, for example in the San Agustín barrio in Caracas, people come together to debate and determine the produce they need; this allows the rural producers associated with Pueblo a Pueblo to plan their production. As a result, when the crop is ready, a producers’ assembly will set the price of the products based on production costs. Then, the products are moved to collection centers. The final step is organized distribution events, such as those in San Agustín.
This does away with the intermediary, the capitalist operator that extracts value from the campesinos and overcharges those who purchase fruits and vegetables in the market. In doing so, prices go down but waste – and crop loss – also goes down.
As it turns out, the existing market is not planned, but rather the opposite: the only thing that drives the economy of capital is profit, not people’s needs. With Pueblo a Pueblo, production meets needs, and producers meet consumers in a “virtuous cycle” based on life and not capital.
For us food is not a commodity, it is a human right, so the plan brings together producers and consumers as subjects, not as pawns. In the period between the early days of Pueblo a Pueblo [around 2015] and the outbreak of the pandemic, we had nearly 300 planned distribution events. There, the prices were established in a transparent process where nobody got rich off the work of third parties.
Laura Lorenzo: Pueblo a Pueblo is a plan that brings working people from the campo and the city together to do away with the parasites that turn what some produce to live and others need to live into a commodity.
In legal terms, we are a foundation [Fundación Pueblo a Pueblo], but the Plan is not about locking people into a legal format, the Plan is about the free and conscious association of organized communities that decide to break away from the market’s dictates.
The Plan began in 2015. It had Carache, in the Andean state of Trujillo, as its home base for production, while El Panal Commune and later San Agustín Convive, two grassroots organizations in Caracas, became its urban counterparts.
Additionally, since 2021, we have been working with 270 schools to provide the produce they need to cook balanced meals for almost 100 thousand kids. This is particularly important at a time when the blockade has affected child nutrition. Pueblo a Pueblo does this, again, without intermediaries and with on-site accompaniment to diversify and balance school meals.
Salvador Salas: Capitalism separates the working class of the campo and of the city by building a seemingly insurmountable wall between the two. Everyone understands that, for working people, distribution is a problem in the capitalist system. The space of intermediation separates producers from consumers, but overcoming that separation is not easy.
To change this, we need to understand how capital builds this barrier. It’s not just about the intermediaries having the trucks, the silos, and the permits, which is important in itself. It’s also about the resources that are needed to grow a crop. To grow one hectare of tomatoes the producer needs seeds and other inputs, and the input packages have costs up in the thousands of dollars.
To finance the crop, a campesino will often be forced to turn to a capitalist in the distribution business; this person will deliver the inputs, but he also establishes terms that are very unfavorable to the campesino. Through these deals, campesinos lose control over the production process, and some will even come out with losses at the end of the cycle.
Gabriel Gil: That is why our focus in Pueblo a Pueblo is campesino production and working-class consumption, without capitalist mediation – or distribution – in between the two.
I should add something else: campesino production is actually very efficient. According to the “Sociedad Científica Latinoamericana de Agroecología” [SOCLA], around 70% of all the fruits and vegetables consumed around the world are produced by campesinos. Other sources, such as reports from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], come up with similar figures. Venezuela is no exception.
Salvador Salas: Let’s look at our experience in Pueblo a Pueblo: between 2015 and 2020 the plan distributed four million kilos of produce that fed thousands of people. Most of that came from some 140 associated producers caring for some 100 hectares of land in total.
This goes to show you that campesino production – particularly in times when the crisis of capital combines with the imperialist siege against Venezuela – is not only efficient but also shows the way out. Conventional agriculture is environmentally and socially destructive, anti-sovereign, and the production per hectare tends to be lower than campesino production.
That’s why we argue for a model that is self-organized, does away with the market by integrating producers with consumers, and protects the environment, the campesino, and the consumer.
Gabriel Gil: The “Green Revolution,” which arrived here in the 1960s, began to generate a break between the campesino and nature. That is when industrial agriculture took root with a model that pollutes ground and water, and depletes the land of its nutrients. This model favors capital over campesino life – and life in general – and places corporate transnational interests over national and sovereign ones.
So, in addition to bringing down the barriers between the urban and rural working class, Pueblo a Pueblo is a plan that promotes the use of sovereign seeds and agroecological practices. Now, some may ask, is this viable? Yes, it is: while one hectare of genetically-modified, agro-industrial corn will yield up to 10 thousand kilos of corn, an organic, campesino-produced hectare can yield more, and the crop will be diversified.
Ana Dávila: Pueblo a Pueblo campesinos are part of the “Freely Associated Producers Network” [Red de Productores Libres y Asociados, REPLA], and while Carache is the rural epicenter of the plan, there are producers in several states, including Lara, Portuguesa, Yaracuy and Barinas. The campesinos produce for our “Consumers Network,” which brings together organized communities in Caracas, Miranda, La Guaira, Aragua, and Carabobo.
We have been at it for seven years. I would say that our most important achievement has been to bring the producer and the consumer together. When the campesino and the barrio dweller look each other in the eye, when they hear each other’s stories, class-based solidarity emerges.
Another one of our achievements has been the practice of establishing cost structures outside of the dictates of the system. What does this actually mean? The prices we employ are determined by the campesinos and not by the market, so they are not vulnerable to price drops. On the consumer’s end, they aren’t left to the whims of the market, where we often see prices go up for no good reason. This means that, with Pueblo a Pueblo, the producers get a fair payment for their crop, and consumers are able to access food at prices as much as 70% below the market.
As you can imagine, in a country that is under a brutal blockade imposed by the US, all this is very important.
PUEBLO A PUEBLO’S GUIDING PRINCIPLES
Gabriel Gil: To understand Pueblo a Pueblo, it’s important to talk about the five agroecological dimensions we promote, which are also universal principles.
For us, the first dimension is shortening the destructive distance between the campo and the city. In other words, it’s about establishing systems for the distribution of food without intermediaries, speculators, and mercantile actors. They [the intermediaries] are able to hijack production, because the capitalist landscape is designed to concentrate consumption on one end and production on the other.
That is why we work to generate systems where producers and consumers exchange without intermediaries and outside of market relations. In so doing, a solidarious, fraternal, class-based connection emerges between the producer and the consumer. This encourages the campesino to produce with more care, with a lower toxic load, while the city dweller overcomes the condition of being an alienated consumer and may even come to Carache [epicenter of Pueblo a Pueblo] to help with the crop.
Another one of our principles is the rescue of land and territories. When we talk about rescuing land, we are referring to actions that lead to campesinos having ownership of the land. When we talk about the rescue of territories, we are also pointing to cultural recovery.
What does this actually mean? If a group of campesinos takes control of a plot of land, that is good, but if they continue to produce with the conventional, highly polluting scheme, they are participating in the reproduction of the existing mode of life. That is why Pueblo a Pueblo promotes a cultural change where values such as solidarity, cooperativism, and communalization come back to the centerstage.
Then there is the principle of healthy food production. This means shifting gears and leaving behind the use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. Now, some may say that this is not viable. However, according to Miguel Angel Altieri – an internationally renowned agroecology expert – conventional, biotechnological agriculture has yields below those of campesino agriculture. For example, a plot under mono-culture can yield 10 thousand kilos of corn per hectare, but a diversified campesino plot will yield plantain, yucca, and avocado (to give you an example) while systematically yielding a larger corn crop than mono-culture.
The conuco, the milpa, the chacra – which are names given to campesino production plots in Latin America – are the key to food sovereignty. Why? Because intensified care, diversification, crop rotation, and other non-industrial practices such as the use of animal traction, lead to high crop yields and don’t deplete the ground of its nutrients.
Another Pueblo a Pueblo principle is transforming campesino production. Traditionally, Indigenous, Black, and in general conuco producers take part of their crop and transform it into yams, flours, and other goods to provision their pantry. We want to scale up these kinds of practices so that producers have a built-in safety net, while consumers can acquire the transformed products. In so doing, the producers and the consumers are displacing ultra-processed foods that are harmful to our health and are controlled by the global agroindustrial complex.
Last but not least is organization. For non-conventional, healthy, non-market practices to succeed, organization is paramount. We need to promote a new perspective: people both in the city and campo need to organize around the alternative model, while institutions must promote a shift towards something that especially now, in a country under siege, is strategic: food sovereignty.
We often say that we are two steps away from hunger and one step away from food sovereignty. If we take the right course of action, we will flourish. If we don’t, the crisis may deepen.
The origins of Pueblo a Pueblo
Pueblo a Pueblo was formally born in 2015, but the organization’s cadres have a long history of struggle for rural justice.
Ricardo Miranda: You can trace the history of Pueblo a Pueblo back to the 1980s and the campesino struggle for the land. That’s when a long struggle in Los Cañizos-Palo Quemao in Yaracuy state brought university students from the city and campesino families together. The campesinos had been displaced from the land in the late 1950s, when thousands of hectares went into the hands of sugarcane-growing Cubans.
We resisted in a camp around Los Cañizos facing the brutal repression of the military and police forces, building barricades, organizing skirmishes against the military, and after being gassed with pesticides from an airplane, which killed cattle and left the young and elderly sick. Then we began to gather momentum. That’s when a journalist from Le Monde Diplomatique wrote an article about the “chemical warfare” against the Venezuelan pueblo.
That was followed by our storming of the Spanish and Mexican embassies in Caracas. Eventually, in 1991, [President] Carlos Andrés Pérez had to cede and the campesinos were, in principle, able to settle in their land.
I was there with many others, and the experience changed not only our understanding of the campesino struggle, but we also learned that projection in the media could generate widespread sympathy with rural struggles.
After 1991, as part of the Jirajara Campesino Movement [organization born in the Los Cañizos struggle], we realized that the intermediaries were sucking the life out of the campesinos in Los Cañizos, and we began with our first effort to do away with them. In Caracas, there was a group of priests committed to the people, so we set up several centers for the distribution of campesino production there.
In the beginning, it was hard, and we even had some loss of production. However, that is how we began to learn about distribution. Los Cañizos gave us many tools; there we learned about organization, about agrarian production, but we also learned that having control of the land isn’t enough. Thinking about the distribution and consumption end of the equation in social terms is also key. This is still a pending task in the Bolivarian Process.
But I would dare to say that our story goes back much further, to the 16th century, when Miguel de Buría and his partner Guiomar, who had been captured in Dahomey [currently Benin] and subsequently bought to Yaracuy, rebelled against the slaveholders and created cumbes or liberated territories. In those free lands, formerly enslaved and Indigenous people lived communally. For Pueblo a Pueblo, looking back at our communal past is very important.
But the origin of Pueblo a Pueblo can also be traced to Chávez and the 2001 Land Law, which opened the way for a revolution in the campo. In the early 2000s, Laura [Lorenzo], Gabriel [Gil], myself, and other comrades assumed spaces within the state’s agricultural bureaucracy in Yaracuy. From those posts, we were able to support campesino production: we distributed 10 thousand tractors, and we also promoted Decree 090.
Laura Lorenzo: Decree 090 is very much part of our history. It passed in 2004 and it was an instrument for activating the Land Law in two states: Cojedes and Yaracuy. The decree was a juridical but also a social instrument that allowed landless campesinos to recover land effectively.
In brief, the decree made the Land Law applicable. After a legal and technical review of a reclaimed plot of land, decree in hand, the people would go to a estate and take control of it. In Yaracuy alone, where we were working, 110 thousand hectares were recovered, and there was justice done for hundreds if not thousands of campesino families.
Ricardo Miranda: The years when we assumed government posts were learning ones, and they allowed us to have a full analysis of the campesino situation – or, to be more precise, of the campesino’s plight in capitalism. Along the path, we identified two bottlenecks: there is the issue of distribution, and then comes the issue of political education. Chávez was the great educator, but when he passed away, that space that he filled with his reflections was vacant.
In 2014 we [Miranda, Lorenzo, and Gil] left all our bureaucratic posts in order to work directly with campesinos, although we continued to cooperate with governmental institutions. Breaking that wall between the city and the campo was our guiding principle, but building a new kind of unalienated consciousness among campesinos and the urban working class was also a must.
That is when we took to the road and began to retrace the route of the Simón Bolivar Guerrillero Front, which rebelled against the corrupt government and against capital in the 1960s. Led by Argimiro Gabaldón, the guerrilla front operated in the states of Yaracuy, Portuguesa, Barinas, Lara, and Trujillo.
While looking for a territory where we could begin to build a just model for the production, distribution, and consumption of campesino production, we learned that all along the guerrilla’s territory, the front had organized the campesinos and encouraged the creation of rural savings banks. They also promoted the creation of co-ops and campesino leagues. That’s when we decided to figuratively piggyback on what the guerrilleros had done.
Retracing the guerrila’s historical route, we arrived to Carache, in the Tucamán Páramo [highland], in Trujillo state. In the 60s, Gabaldón had taken “Carache” as his nom de guerre. Five decades later we made Carache the epicenter of Plan Pueblo a Pueblo.
And so, in 2015, our official birth year, we began to rehearse what we call the “double participation ladder” [see part II of this interview], which brings producers and consumers together to do away with the capitalist intermediary. However, our history is intertwined with the struggles of all the campesinos oppressed by the land-devouring agricultural model that capitalism promotes.