Part 2: Venezuela's Trueque - Localizing consumption and production
In 2007, ten organized communities in different Venezuelan states put into practice the idea of local solidarity-based interchange networks, called trueques (barter rings). They received support from the National Institute for the Development of Small-Scale Industries (INAPYMI), the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), and the trueque movements from Colombia and Argentina. Until today, almost 2,000 people have joined these networks in order to establish a new communal relationship between production and consumption. This second part of this study will describe the initial experiences of trueque in Venezuela. It will also ask how this approach to reorganizing the relation of producers and consumers could count as a contribution to a new democratic and participatory economy.
Boconó is a small colonial town in Venezuela’s Andean state of Trujillo. Juan Carlos Godoy is one of around 60 prosumidores (the fusion of consumer and producer) in the local trueque market, where he sells empanadas for half a Momoy. “We named our communal currency after an Andean imp who is famous in our local history for punishing the people who destroy our environment,” he explains. 100 Momoys, elaborated together with the BCV to prevent imitations, were distributed to the registered prosumidores of the region. The currency is not convertible and it has value only in its trueque territory. From the third year on a negative interest rate of 3% will be charged to prevent any kind of accumulation. Also, the participants of the trueque have elected committees that supervise the registration of the prosumidores and exclude resellers and merchants from the market.
“For us the Trueque is an alternative,” Juan Carlos continues. “It won't replace the usual market, but it can help us to develop a regional identity, an identity that allows us to appreciate our work and what we are producing, to strengthen our communal relationships, not just the economic relationships,” he says. Clearly, the trueque market is a complementary form of interchange alongside the regular market. For instance, pastry producers have to buy most of their basic materials in the usual market.
Two times per month small-scale farmers of the region bring vegetables and fruits to interchange with Boconó’s urban population, which offers pastry products, elaborated food, and handicrafts, such as those from a carpenter’s workshop. While prices are oriented around the usual market amounts, an elected Council for Prices and Quality supervises potential abuses and imbalances in prices. A small-scale organic food producer, for example, can offer his products at higher prices if he justifies how the higher production costs lead to better quality.
In Trujillo’s highlands around Boconó, most of the farmers produce banana and plantain. The excessive supply of these products brings imbalance to the trueque. Hence, in order to diversify the fruits and vegetables in the market the Trueque activists are moving forward on the integration of Trujillo’s lowlands. “The trueque network is also a place where we can talk about the problems of chemical fertilizers and how to develop a sustainable production that doesn't destroy our sensitive Andean highlands,” Juan Carlos explains.
400 to 600 people interchange a variety of products each weekend in Venezuela’s biggest trueque market in Villa Rosario, in western Zulia state. The region, called the Sierra de Perija, is mostly populated by the Wayuu, Yukpa and Bari indigenous groups and is one of Venezuela’s poorest and most conflictive regions. The activists of the trueque from the beginning tried to integrate an ample territory and its culturally and economically diverse indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Participants from the coast of Lake Maracaibo contribute to the trueque market with a range of vegetables and fruits, while communities from the southern Sierra as well as the northern Wayuu indigenous communities contribute with handicrafts, such as hammocks, clothes and adornments. The workers from local state-owned industries, such as a milk and yogurt factory near the city of Machiques, also participate. And, the trueque market receives logistical support from local governments.
The rapid expansion of the trueque, due to an ambitious information campaign carried out by its own participants in the region’s communities, has evoked a series of organizational problems. Beside the problem of transportation, which can’t be organized just by solidarity-based practices, the different elected organization committees lack supervision and the ability to directly communication within 600 people. “In the last few weeks, we had so many denunciations of overpriced products, low quality, and imbalances caused by prosumidores who took more products than they brought to the market,” says Minerva Barroso, one of the initiators of Zulia’s trueque. “The idea of integrating as many communities and their products as possible into one market has brought us to an organizational limit. Even if we are going to vote more people into the organization committees that so far might help us in the solution of our most immediate problems, in the future we will have to divide the trueque,” Minerva explains.
According to Minerva, the Speakers Council of the Trueque decided that the northern and southern communities of the Sierra de Perija will have their own markets, but will continue to use the same currency, called Rélampagos de Catatumbo. To solve the problem that vegetables and fruits are mainly produced in the southern communities, some of the elected Trueque speakers plan to create a permanent Market in Villa Rosario, where all its participants can interchange permanently.
A permanent interchange of services and knowledge has been established in the village of Urachiche, in Venezuela’s central state of Yaracuy. Lucindo, member of a farmers’ cooperative, explains that the village has engaged in direct and solidarity-based interchange practices for a long time. “Our local currency, the Maria Leonza, now permits us to exchange more goods and services with more people in the community. For example, there is a blacksmith in the village who gives workshops, a nurse, as well as taxis that charge in Maria Leonzas.” Due to its diversified agricultural production and fertile soil, the trueque market in Urachiche can almost satisfy the basic necessities of its 40 participants.
Instead of expanding the Maria Leonza currency and interchange system to nearby towns, the members of the Urachiches trueque market have initiated a common market with a trueque network in the state of Lara. The trueque in Lara has an excess supply of clothes and handicrafts, and Urachiches agricultural producers interchange directly with them without the need of an interregional common currency, or any currency at all.
Implications for Trueque in Venezuela
An evaluation of the three different cases mentioned above might allow for some projection about the future development and potential of the trueque system in Venezuela, as a method of reorganizing production and consumption into local networks. I will argue that the successful realization of the trueque highly depends on the conditions of its territory and the interpersonal relationships within and between the communities.
Urachiche, as an example for small rural villages in Venezuela with direct interpersonal relations and diverse agricultural production, might be the best setting for the realization of a self-supplied local interchange. Intermediaries can be effectively avoided in this setting. The trade of services and knowledge can be institutionalized and become more efficient by using a communal currency. The small number of participants allows a direct communication about consumers’ needs and producers’ potentials. The link to other solidarity-based interchange networks in the region to diversify products in a direct (money-less) trade, instead of an expansion of its own locality, seem to be a good practice under the regional circumstances. Communal-currency based interchange of services and knowledge also seem to be transferable to Venezuela’s popular urban communities, which are characterized by social and economic practices, similar to Urachiche.
In Zulia and in Boconó, the diversification of food products in the market had become a priority and a limitation for the trueque networks. In Zulia, the integration of different communities in a vast territory necessarily augmented the amount of agricultural products in the market, while organizational problems increased. In Boconó, even though the incorporation of agricultural products from Trujillo’s rural lowlands might help diversify the market, it could cause similar organizational and logistical problems to what occurred in Zulia.
With this in mind, it seems that large-scale solidarity-based trade, which goes beyond an interchange in local community networks, must professionalize the market infrastructure. In this setting, consumer cooperatives and networks should be a complementary practice to reorganize the relation between production and consumption on a larger scale. Collectivized distribution and consumption in food-cooperatives, for instance, might be more efficient to organize a democratic relation between rural small-scale farmers and urban consumers than a trueque could be.
Consequently, to democratize the economy means the co-existence of a plurality of practices, each based on communities’ conditions and potentials. For rural communities, the trueque system definitely strengthens interpersonal relations, a new communal identity, and a more sustainable use of resources. Also, it can be an adequate form of interchange that avoids domination by intermediaries and promotes the development of untapped local economic potential. For instance, trueque experiences with regional oversupply have allowed banana producers in Boconó to initiate the production of stewed banana, banana meal, and chips. Beyond the contribution of trueque experiences to new relationships between consumption and production in the development of Venezuela’s popular economy, localized instead of globalized markets should be the goal for more plural and democratic economies across the world.