Caracas a city made up of several cities. They oppose each other; sometimes they are afraid of each other. The east side bursts with news about Juan Guaido and the opposition. The west side is the territory of Chavista majorities, Miraflores Presidential Palace, the core of power. The division is about class but about names too: people in the east live in hills, while in the west they live in barrios. One of those barrios is the 23 de Enero neighborhood, which had a tradition of popular resistance even before Hugo Chavez came onto the scene and where several colectivos exist. Colectivos are one of the forms of Chavista organization.
The word colectivo has been used to embody the myths of the right wing to demonize the Bolivarian Revolution. They are described as criminal gangs used to carry out the dirty work of state security forces, such as preventing the opposition from holding their demonstrations. Republican Senator Marco Rubio has affirmed they should be described as terrorist organizations by the United States.
One of these colectivos in the 23 de Enero is the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force. The presence of the organization can be felt as soon as you enter the neighborhood, where you can see a banner in a tall arch that reads: “Welcome. Socialist Commune El Panal 2021.” Once inside the commune, you find a communal bakery, the daily life of a popular sector in Caracas with children wearing their school uniforms, newsstands, murals, motorcycles, music, and people trying to find shelter from the Caribbean sun.
“Colectivos are grassroots social organizations that work in political, social, communal, productive creations,” says Robert Longa, a reference in Alexis Vive. He’s sitting at Arsenal radio station, which they built in front of the communal sports facilities. Longa estimates that there are about thirty colectivos at the 23 de Enero.
“We are above all a communal movement. We think we must be immersed with the masses. This is about being a collective vanguard and that collective vanguard is the commune. We are part of the insurgent subject in the neighborhood,” Longa says. Alexis Gonzalez [after whom Alexis Vive is named] was murdered during the first years of the Bolivarian Revolution, during one of the coup attempts undertaken by the right-wing.
There are about 13 thousand people living in the communal territory, while the commune, together with the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force, has set up self-government agencies and is focused on economic and social development, including a sugar refinery, a bakery, a textile company, a food collection center, a blacksmith’s workshop, its own currency, a dance school, a sports club, and a pool for children during the weekends.
Alexis Vive, just like the other colectivos, is the target of media and political attacks of the right. “They see the colectivos in neighborhoods as pockets of resistance and containment walls, the same as the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). We are the center of media and material attacks that try to implode the system of our communities. On February 27, 1989 we came down from our slums; we did the same on April 11, 2002. We played a crucial role to seize and maintain power. And I guess they see the colectivos as an obstacle that will not let them generate the social unrest they are looking for.
There is calm in the 23 de Enero area, where the Patriotic Force and the Panal 2021 Commune exist. The organization manages to find solutions to problems of insecurity and it fights the economic situation every day. There is a complex situation in the poor areas of Caracas and it is even worse in cities far from the capital city. It is the result of the economic, financial blockade imposed by the U.S. but also due to mistakes: “The Revolution has made its own mistakes but we think we must solve them ourselves. Changes must be made inside the Revolution, not outside of it,” Longa says.
An activity is being carried out in the sports club; the Ministry of People’s Power for Communes is handing over tools for production. Communes from around Caracas’s western area came to the activity; people debate about the economic situation, difficulties and the need to produce, about prices, the meetings between the United States and Russia; about what could happen in such an unstable scenario where people’s organization is a major part within Chavismo’s architecture.
“We always knew this moment would come, that we would see the empire’s face sooner rather than later,” Longa says. “We expect anything could happen from them. They bet on precise operations that may include murdering the President or imprisoning him. They try to create troubles within the Bolivarian National Armed Force to achieve a split leading us to a civil war, bringing U.S. mercenaries with Colombian paramilitary soldiers to generate scenarios like Syria’s.”
Few moments of calm can be expected in Venezuela’s politics. Though here, as in the majority of Caracas western areas, Guaido’s emergence did not translate into demonstrations of support. Chavismo has deep roots, with identity, culture, organization: “the rank-and-file is evidence that Chavismo exists, as well as the resistance we’ve had during this time. There is a consolidated Chavismo, convinced that the strategic line drawn up by Chavez is the correct line, communes, people’s power, regardless of the mistakes committed by leaders who seem to hold back the Revolution. That’s part of the contradictions in the process,” Longa says.
Political time can speed up suddenly at any moment. The Alexis Vive Patriotic Force know it. As many other people’s organizations, they have been declared the target of a strategy aimed not only at overthrowing Maduro but at reshaping society, which means erasing the Chavista grassroots that learned to lead in politics. Longa is among thousands of people who are convinced that they won’t be able to achieve this: He reminds us that, “Venezuela is a country inherited from a liberator and with blood of indigenous leaders.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau
Edited by Venezuelanalysis.com