To speak of Antímano is to speak of one of the traditionally poorest parishes in Caracas. Yet, since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998, Antímano has become one of Chavismo’s reference points.
With its 131,963 inhabitants (according to data from the last National Census of 2011) and 18 shantytowns or barrios, Antímano is an electoral thermometer for Chavismo, where progressive forces lost their first election in 2015.
On that occasion, the citizens of Antímano elected opposition candidates Richard Blanco and Stalin González as their representatives in the National Assembly.
However, Antímano, like the rest of the country, does not escape the current economic crisis and the deterioration of public services that has become widespread in Venezuela.
For some inhabitants of the sector, Antímano Parish has suffered frank neglect for quite some time.
This reality has led some in this populous area to feel disenchanted [with authorities], and to abstain from participating more in the political movement for which they fought so hard in the past.
Indira lives in La Acequia neighbourhood. She is 31 years old, an accountant and worked in the public sector for many years. Now working in a private company, she says that she is still Chavista, but that the mismanagement of the state by President Nicolas Maduro’s government has led to abstention and disappointment.
"I am Chavista, I always voted for Chavez, but it seems to me that this government is blind. It doesn't listen to us, it doesn't do anything, it's like we don't exist," says the young woman while travelling on a "pirate" public transport unit (1) which travels from [central Caracas Metro station of] Zona Rental to [outlying Caracas district] Caricuao, which has Antímano as a mandatory stop.
"Would you vote for the process again?" we asked, as she looks idly out the window, with the tired gaze typical of those who live on the periphery of the capital who have to rise before dawn and get home after sundown.
"No, but I wouldn't vote for Juanito Alimaña either," she says, referring to the nickname [of the protagonist crook of a popular Latin song by Hector Lavoe] by which the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, refers to [opposition leader and National Assembly] Deputy Juan Guaido in his weekly television program
But there is another sector of Chavismo that thinks differently.
José Borges, 42, lives in the German Rodríguez shantytown with his son Miguel, seven, and his wife. They have rented a small place, a one space bedsit, for about five years.
Although Jose and his wife are both professionals and have extra jobs, their [combined] income isn’t enough to allow them to find something bigger. They claim that when Chavez was alive, things worked better because he made sure they did.
"Chavez was a guarantee that things would work properly, but economic warfare, alongside some negligence by the middle-rank authorities, has drawn Antímano into a situation of neglect today,” he tells the Supuesto Negado team as he looks out of the window at a view adorned by hundreds of houses like his.
Their complaints seem to echo those which rumble throughout Venezuela: harsh water rationing; leaks in clean water supply; accumulated litter on the streets and delays in collecting solid waste; difficulties in acquiring cooking gas and irregularities in transport routes, among others.
"In Antímano we are at the mercy of the speculation of the transport sector, which has mostly eliminated the provision of traditional services and internal routes, approved by the mayor, and [now] provide services as “pirate” buses, with express sections via the motorway where you have to pay them what they want and give them whatever little cash you have," Borges says.
His family, he explains, also has to perform somersaults to get cooking gas. Despite claims that his sector’s communal council administers the vital product, he says that he often has to leave the parish to fill his gas cylinder.
A little further down Calle Real, the main street of Mamera [district in Antímano], we find the family of Leandro Gomez. He lives with his two brothers and parents, who are elderly and receive a pension as part of the [government-run] ‘Amor Mayor’ social mission dedicated to tending to the elderly.
He defines himself as a Chavista at heart, but is certain that this does not prevent him from realising that Antímano has deteriorated, especially in the provision of public services.
"The water here arrives on Sundays and is turned off on Wednesdays, but sometimes several weeks pass before they reconnect the service," he said.
He also reports what he thinks to be irregular handling of the CLAP [subsidised food bag or box] by the communal council.
"Here the Santa Eduviges Communal Council meets once a month and asks people to pay three fees for the CLAP program: the cost price of the bag, administrative expenses and transport costs, all this goes to the bank account of one of the [CLAP] spokespersons, which we elect by the way, and she passes it to [local government run CLAP warehousing firm] INMERCA. But two months or three months go by without the CLAP bag arriving despite parish families having deposited or transferred the payment. This I have never understood, and the communal council does not explain it," he said.
Gomez, who has lived in Mamera for 33 years, says that despite the difficulties, if there is a call for elections, whether parliamentary or of another kind, he would vote for Chavismo once again.
"Yes I would vote, and I would vote for my revolutionary government again, I support President Maduro 100 per cent, just as when Commander Chavez was there," he declared. He also warned the national government about what he considers to be low levels of interest [by the local government] in monitoring the effectiveness of the social missions and urged the central government to listen to the people more.
"Commander Chavez said it: the people are the power we have, we have to listen to the people, that's why he created the great laws," Gomez added.
José Borges is of the same opinion, claiming that not only he and his wife would vote, but that Antímano as a whole would exercise its right to suffrage.
"Antímano always votes, no matter what, and has always shown it. The number of voters has decreased here, but the [electoral] machinery continues to operate," he opined.
Between the bases and the middle-rank state authorities
Fatima Guveira is a leading spokeswoman of the El Depano Communal Council. Their shortcomings and problems are not very different from those of their neighbours, the only difference being that they apparently handle a little more information.
She explains that the delay in the distribution of gas, which is carried out by the Antímano Social Property Gas Company, may be explained by several factors such as fuel shortages at the filling plants or damage to the three delivery trucks which have to cover the whole parish.
Guveira also states that in the area CLAP subsidised food bags arrive on time once a month, while in the sector’s shops "exorbitant prices" are placed on these same products. She goes on to call for a "heavy hand" to be applied [by the government] against this phenomenon.
"Prices are more and more exorbitant every day, and the reselling of primary goods is increasing, we need a heavy hand in these areas," she decried, as well as recalling that the problems in the urban litter service are worsened by the same members of the community who throw waste everywhere.
But despite everything, Fatima is certain that in the ballot box she would give her vote to elect Nicolas Maduro for a new period, or in the case of the parliamentarians, to recover ground lost four years ago. For her, it is not about "one man" but rather a socio-political [Bolivarian] process that cannot be abandoned.
"I think that there is no one like Chavez, but he had his reasons to ask us to support Nicolas Maduro, besides, this is not about a single man, but a process that we must support, with Maduro in Antímano the [government-run social] programs have been maintained and some have even been strengthened. However there is no denying that there is a bit of apathy to the national situation, that's where we have to do a strong job to maintain efforts and not lose this process," she said.
"Of course I would go to vote, not out of obligation, but of conviction. I am with the process and I intend to support it, as I told you, not for one man but for the process itself. We cannot allow it to be lost," she insisted.
One step away from the top
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) councillor in Antímano, Jimy Gudiño, also offered his views on the situation in the most Chavista parish of Caracas.
In a telephone interview, Gudiño acknowledged that there are problems and deterioration in public services, a situation that he believes is compounded by the blockade against Venezuela.
"The case of Antímano does not escape any of the realities of the parishes of Caracas, or from the parishes across the country. We are currently victims of an economic, trade and financial blockade. That blockade has led to deterioration in some public services, but we are organising ourselves in [community] workgroups," he explained.
According to Gudiño, there are currently 22 communes and 197 communal councils [in the parish], making Antímano one of the sectors where popular power is best organised. This, he goes on, is why the sector has been able to withstand the onslaught of the crisis.
"It is one of the most organised parishes for popular power. If we look at the political field, we have 65 Hugo Chavez Battle Units (2) showing a high presence of political machinery within the territory (...) and if we look at the field of the different technical workgroups in the popular sectors, we can see that we have more than 60 health committees and more than 50 land committees," he said.
The PSUV representative guarantees that Antímano and its population enjoy high morale, and that the electoral political party machinery is prepared to defeat the opposition in any scenario. However, he does not see a presidential election in the immediate future, because, he says, the opposition [constitutionally] must wait for Maduro to complete half of his mandate, which he began in January of this year, to activate a recall referendum.
"We are ready to win the election, we have electoral machinery ready to win the election, whether it is of the National Assembly or whatever (...) Antímano will continue to stay about 70 per cent in favour of the Bolivarian Revolution," Gudiño projected.
So here we have four different visions of reality, from the bases, the middle rank authorities, even the high politics of Antímano, each one observing, living and feeling the parish differently.
The popular saying "It depends through which lens you see things" seems to fit Antímano perfectly, which in Chávez's time became one of the strongest and most impenetrable Chavista strongholds, whose streets Chavez himself walked in 2010 to rescue those affected by the rains as well as in 2012, when a human river accompanied its campaign caravan for the October elections of that year.
"In 2010, Commander Chávez was here in the parish and we won’t be able to forget it for many generations, how that man got to the top of the hills to walk alongside the people," recalls José Borges, as his gaze is lost through the window of his little bedsit, in the most Chavista parish of Caracas.
(1) “Pirate” transport units are units which work outside regular routes, lines, or cooperatives, often picking up passengers overflows where regular, “legal” units can’t cope. They are not subject to rules and regulations regarding safety or comfort, or laws about pricing, often causing expensive and uncomfortable or unreliable journeys by the opportunistic unit owners.
(2) UBCH’s are the base unit/branches of the ruling PSUV party
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation and additional notes by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.