Prometheus Unchained

VA columnist Reinaldo Iturriza examines a march by a social movement and the demands it made to President Maduro.

A public meeting took place between President Nicolás Maduro and Movimiento de Pobladoras y Pobladores [a housing platfrom, hetheforth Pobladoras] militants at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas on June 21, 2022. Pobladoras is a platform that brings together the Comités de Tierra Urbana [Urban Land Committees, formed in the early days of the Bolivarian Process to struggle for urban land deeds]; the Movimiento de Inquilinos e Inquilinas [tenants’ anti-eviction movement], the Movimiento de Trabajadoras Residenciales [janitors’ movement]; the Campamentos de Pioneros y Pioneras [self‐constructed housing initiative]; and the Movimiento de Ocupantes de Edificios [housing occupiers’ movement].

The meeting, which brought together more than two thousand people, was preceded by a popular march that left from Parque Carabobo, some fourteen blocks from the seat of the Presidency of the Republic.

There was significant participation from members of the Asociación Viviendo Venezolanos [AVV], a space that is not formally part of Pobladoras but sometimes joins forces with them to struggle in a common front.

Likewise, we should highlight the presence of a large contingent of comrades from Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara state, where there have been recent eviction attempts, especially in the city center. The evictions have been prevented by popular organizations. Movement spokespeople have denounced these episodes as foreshadowing the advance a real estate mafias in the area.

Though apparently small in quantitative terms (at least by Venezuelan standards), the mobilization was important not only for Pobladoras, but for the popular movement as a whole. There were two main reasons for this. First, it was an autonomous demonstration. In the words of platform spokesperson Iraida Morocoima during the meeting with Maduro: “We were the ones who sought this meeting.” Second, the mobilization happened at a time when the popular movement is weak.

In fact, the June 21 rally was the result of an intense and deep debate within the organization that lasted several months. During that period, a self-critical evaluation was an ongoing part of the conversation. In the collective memory of Pobladoras’ militants, the historic meeting with President Chávez on January 8, 2011, was a milestone for consolidating the movement. Many of the proposals that they brought to Chávez would eventually be translated into laws and public policies. Eleven years later, and after years of disagreements with institutions which led to support for Pobladoras’ initiatives slowing to a trickle, a huge consensus prevailed about the need to overcome obstacles and generate the conditions for a meeting with the president. But how to achieve this?

First of all, it was necessary to put things in order internally: identify the weaknesses in the movement; highlight the strengths which serve as leverage points; deal with differences in a constructive way; rebuild trust; and encourage the grassroots militancy that had lost hope along the way. In short, it was necessary to create conditions that would allow the movement’s forces to come together.

Having largely achieved this, they agreed upon a date for the street mobilization. The need to take to the streets again was one of the key aspirations of the movement’s activists.

In other words, without this internal process of unifying their movement’s forces, neither the street mobilization nor the subsequent meeting in Miraflores would have been possible. Here we see the importance, once again, of bringing up that which is not visible in politics. At the end of the day, the Pobladoras initiative is an important beacon for the entire popular movement.

The demands, or rather the immediate political objectives of the mobilization, were as follows:

  1. Defense of the land and buildings recovered during the revolution, their transfer into collective and communal property, and the regularization of popular land tenure in the barrios.

  2. An end to arbitrary evictions.

  3. The approval of the Self-Managed Housing Production Law.

  4. The condemnation of any action criminalizing those who struggle.

  5. Defense of all the social justice laws that were promoted under Chávez.

  6. Communalization of the cities, which would involve transfer of means of social production, both in the form of land and buildings recovered for permanent or transitory housing, as well as the holistic transformation of working-class neighborhoods. This would include services, communal industrialization, and communal construction in the hands of popular power – all of it through the reactivation of the Housing Mission with a new horizon for the city based on life.

All these issues were addressed, to a greater or lesser extent, during the meeting with the president. Iraida Morocoima, the first spokesperson to take the floor, stressed the need to “listen well to the people,” and in particular to those “who are in the streets” and suffer “the consequences of the crisis.” She also emphasized: “We are not here to tell you to change the [housing] minister. We are here to tell you to put all the ministers at the service of the popular movement,” because the people are being “robbed every time they [the landlords and the urban land terratenientes] feel like it.”

She also demanded “that the state provide the means” to do so: “Give us the means, here is where the revolution is going to be built.” Morocoima insisted that “the policies we are proposing are for everyone,” for the Venezuelan people as a whole, and not only for the movement. She concluded: “If you turn your back on the people… we are going to tell Chávez… Do lead with the pueblo.”

Nélida Cordero, from the Movimiento de Trabajadoras Residenciales, emphasized the need to defend the Special Law for the Dignification of Residential Workers, approved on May 6, 2011. She also talked about the need to pass the corresponding regulation for the law, which is still a pending task. She reported that recently, some public officials had said that they are in favor of modifying the content of that law. To that she said: “If you touch the law, it will be over my dead body.” Finally, she spoke on behalf of several residential workers, some of them very elderly, requesting that they be allocated public housing.

Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the last speaker to take the floor, focused on the status of a set of legal instruments. In general terms, he presented the demands in three registers: 1) the laws already approved cannot be subject to reform; 2) public ratification of these laws by the president; and 3) the need to implement, without further delay, the mechanisms established by these laws.

Thus, for example, regarding the Law Against Arbitrary Housing Evictions (2011), he told Maduro: “We need you to ratify that this law is still in force.” Regarding the Law for the Integral Regularization of Land Tenure in Urban and Peri-Urban Settlements (2011), which concerns the Urban Land Committees, Rodríguez explained that its application in the case of private lands is still to come.

Regarding the Regularization and Control of Housing Renters Law (2011), the spokesperson said that it has not been possible to advance toward developing the necessary protocols, which is the Supreme Court’s responsibility. Regarding the Land and Housing Emergency Law (2011), which affects the AVVs, Rodríguez referred to the existence of “thousands of plots of land that have not yet been transferred to the organization,” particularly when it comes to private plots. He also argued for the need to discuss and sanction three more recent legislative initiatives: the Self-Managed Production of Popular Habitat Law, a Pobladoras initiative which includes the recognition of diverse forms of property, among them collective and communal property; the Right to the City Law (a National Assembly initiative), and the Communal Cities Law, proposed by President Maduro himself.

Additionally, Rodríguez reiterated the organization’s demand for the “transfer of the means of production,” as well as resources for the recovery of machinery to the hands of the movement, and proposed the creation of a construction material factory, which would be called “Prometeo.”

Beyond President Maduro’s receptiveness to this set of demands, the instructions he gave to several ministers in the midst of the meeting, and the progress that may come as a result of this encounter – which is all, of course, extremely important – we should highlight the following: the meeting between the Pobladoras Movement and the president made crystal clear the urgent need for street mobilization, for unifying the organized pueblo, and the extraordinary importance of popular critique.

In an internal meeting one week after the conversation in Miraflores, Juan Carlos Rodríguez himself spoke of Prometheus, the mythical figure who had the audacity to steal fire from the gods to share it with humans, adding that his punishment was to remain eternally chained.

Rodríguez said, in so many words, that the objective is to kindle the fire and share it with everyone, to awaken a force that is asleep, to end the inertia, and to go on the offensive. In short, Prometheus has to break his chains.

Reinaldo Iturriza López is an activist, writer, and sociologist with a degree from Venezuela’s Central University. He is the author of several books, including 27 de Febrero de 1989: interpretaciones y estrategias and El chavismo salvaje.

Iturriza López, father of Sandra Mikele and Ainhoa Michel and Venezuelan baseball enthusiast, is a former Culture Minister and Communes and Social Movements Minister. He also headed the Audiovisual Production School at Ávila TV. He writes regularly for the blog Saber y Poder.

Translated 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.