Food Houses (“Casas de Alimentación”) are one of the trenches to curb the impact of the economic situation against Venezuela. “Luchadoras de la Patria” is set up in the neighborhood of Caricuao, Caracas. Luisa and the cooks get up every day at dawn to guarantee food for those in need in 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] strength 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 coastline you can see the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, from where her family came from in search for work and a better life.
Luisa has been in Caracas for 54 years, in the neighborhood of Caricuao. Upon arrival, the landscape was a different one: “everything was full of banana and mango trees, vegetables,” she says. There was still no highway, no apartment blocks, no houses hunched up on the hillsides where she built her home and raised 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. For the past 10 months, the days have been organized around the “Food House” that began to operate under her roof. Since then, together with four other women, she prepares food from Monday to Friday for 221 people who were signed up after studies 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 food house 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 from 2017. It had been a policy at the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution to respond to an immense need, and had been progressively shut down in view of the results achieved in terms of access to food.
From 2017 to date, 3,118 homes were put into operation in the country. Each day they feed 605,628 people from the catacombs of the country, 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 Chávez’s signature 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 doing complicated work. The same holds for 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, tasty. “You win their hearts with the seasoning,” they say. Today they are cooking rice, chicken, lentils, arepa [cornflour patties], fried sardines, and milk. Part of that food is to serve the most vulnerable population, which is registered through the Centers of Education and Nutritional Recovery. “We serve them all equally,” says Luisa.
The objectives of the food houses are manifold. First of all, to guarantee food to the sectors with the greatest material needs, so they are not abandoned. Secondly, to develop a plan so that they are not canteens that depend entirely on the state, but can be integrated in communities, with food production, community accountability, cultural activities, political education.
“One of the objectives is to transfer responsibilities to popular power, transfer them in terms of operation, to generate a working method for the socio-productive, cultural, food security, so that at some point they can be separated from dependence on institutions 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 the food collection center in a truck managed in his/her community, receive food, return escorted by a member of the Bolivarian Militia, verify that everything arrives in good shape so it is then 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 boxes 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 watches over the food warehouse. The warehouse is located 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 architecture that is a product of discrimination, will and the creative capacity of those who have built all the cities of the world.
Santa Barbara is not alone in watching over 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 Luisa’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
There are 14,804 mothers and fathers in the country, a common name for people like Luisa, Lilibel López, Roxana Herrero, and Rosa, who watch over the 645,840 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 reach about six million households in the country.
The CLAPs were created when shortages were at the center of the struggle – between 2015 and 2017 – and the houses were re-launched in view of the setbacks that the hyperinflation context brought, and the breakdown of salaries as a possible way to cover the basic food basket.
Today the problem is not the availability of food in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery shops, but rather prices, and those who most suffer that impact are the low income sectors.
The architecture to secure the arrival of subsidized food to popular neighborhoods is part of the fight against the US blockade against the Venezuelan economy: Washington has targeted CLAP food importing vessels 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 assault that is aimed not only at the government but also, and above all, at the revolutionary process which put in place a historical subject whose political identity bears the name of Chavismo.
“Chavez opened our eyes very wide and now no one fools us. We did not know what his rights were and now we speak, or I would not be here talking to you, I would be ashamed,” says Luisa, with her Caribbe strength stuck to every word.
Translated by Orinoco Tribune, edited by Venezuelanalysis.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.