El barrio 23 de enero is a solid bulwark of the Bolivarian Revolution. Originally named December 2 to evoke the date when the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez came to power, its humble neighbors decided in 1958 to rename it with another date; his overthrow. Previously they had revolutionarily occupied thousands of apartments there that the regime had built but had yet to allocate.
The neighbourhood which is inhabited by thousands of workers, has been at the forefront of the popular struggles of their times: confronting the dictatorship, the armed struggle in the sixties and seventies, the Caracazo (1989), the defeat of the coup against President Hugo Chavez (2002) and firm support for his government. Situated in the west of Caracas, located near Miraflores Palace and within its territory, in the military barracks Cuarteldela Montana, lay the remains of the President. There the visitor is greeted by the hospitable and earnest soldiers of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and their militia brothers from the neighbourhood; together they guard it.
I went to El barrio 23 de enero with Rosalinda Chanagá, an honourable Chavista and Cuba solidarity activist. She introduced me to Juan Contreras, the well known popular leader and parliamentary legislator in the National Assembly for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Juan has lived in the neighbourhood all his life and together with his fellow comrades founded the Coordinadora Simón Bolívar (CSB), which dates back to 1989. Since then he has helped strengthen local power, “based on self-governance and co-management by the community of human and material resources and in the historic leading role of the people as members of society.”
Like all youth in the area, at age 13 Juan began to suffer repression from the police and other armed forces of the Fourth Republic (1958-1999). His mother’s house was searched 44 times. It was a crime to be young then, he says. The boys responded to the henchmen with stones and bottles; later they formed militant and guerrilla organizations, using other more effective projectiles.
The revolutionary armed struggle is one of the important antecedents in the history of the Bolivarian Revolution. It was joined by many of the best children of Venezuela in the decades of the sixties and seventies. It helped create the cadres of leftist parties which later joined the ranks of Chavismo. They participated in it directly or supported it from the ranks of the military; the Porteñazo and Carupanazo are memorable uprisings. Although unknown factors prevented it, veteran guerrillas should have fought in the uprising of Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez on February 4, 1992. Juan was one such person; he and his companions from el barrio 23 didn´t receive their weapons. Instead, they participated in the military rebellion on November 27 of that year.
CSB members were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured until the arrival of Chavez’s presidency. Like other neighbors, several of them were killed by the bullets of the forces of repression before 1999 and also from those of the anti-chavista counterrevolution thereafter. With Chavismo, the organization, born from social struggle in the neighborhood and solidarity with Cuba and other peoples of the world has blossomed. Its facilities occupy what used to be the police headquarters. Where once the residents had been beaten and tortured today operates the community radio station Al Son del 23, the Grandparents Club “Freddy Parra”, a digital information center where students from the neighbourhood’s schools receive free training, a Bookstore of the South, a Venezuelan Cafe with excellent products at reasonable prices, the “Carlos Vielma” grocery store which is part of the subsidized state network, a chess club and a veterinary clinic. The CSB promotes cultural, sporting and recreational activities that recapture public spaces occupied by crime and extends to other revolutionary strongholds in the country with a strategic plan “closely linked to the political project of Hugo Chavez”.
Juan asserts that in the presidential election of April 14 Nicolas Maduro can surpass the number of votes obtained by Chavez on 7 October. “This people are now another and no one can stop their struggle. Hugo Chavez launched a transformation of social consciousness that has no precedent in our history. “
Translation by Adam Marshall for Venezuelanalysis.com