Sanctioned but Fighting Back: The Alí Primera Commune (Part II)

Besieged by imperialism, a remote commune projects a better future based on solidarity and the commons.

Nested in the mountains of Yaracuy, the Alí Primera Commune was born shortly after Hugo Chávez began to promote communes. However, its roots date from some 500 years ago, in the resistance that Indigenous peoples mounted against Spanish colonists. Later, in the 1960s, the mountains became home to communist-inspired guerrilla movements.

The Alí Primera Commune is solidly organized, with a fraternal spirit and solidarious attitude among its militants. However, this rural commune faces many challenges. Accessible only by walking or motorbike, a part of the community lives in very humble adobe homes where they cook on open fires. Moreover, the US blockade has adversely impacted local production. The challenges these campesinos face are many, but their resilience and commitment to Chávez’s communal project is the stuff myths are made of.

[This piece, part of the Communal Resistance Series, was preceded by “The ‘Old-Yet-New’: Past and Present Intermingle at the Hugo Chávez and Alí Primera Communes” and by “Chávez in Our Hearts and Socialism on the Horizon: The Alí Primera Commune (Part I).”]


The US blockade

The US blockade has had devastating consequences for working-class Venezuelans. Here we learn about its impact on the Alí Primera Commune and their strategies of resistance.


María Peroza: The blockade has been hard on us. I would say that the two main bottlenecks have been getting agricultural inputs and transportation. However, along the way, we have also learned and recovered some ancestral techniques such as making organic fertilizers.

Gonzalo Castillo: These have been times to “trabajar con las uñas” [apply elbow grease]. The biggest problem has been transportation: there are few vehicles here and several are out of commission because it’s really hard to buy parts. Additionally, fuel is scarce and very expensive. If you add to that the poor state of the roads, you get the picture. Getting our production to the market is really difficult.

Also, when we need to do an errand or buy something in the town of Urachiche, we have to walk many hours to get there and back. Before we could always hitch a ride, but very few people drive to town now, mostly because of gas shortages.

Furthermore, our community’s health has been hit hard by the crisis: it’s very difficult to get people to the hospital when they need it, and once there getting a hospital bed is an ordeal. Plus, getting medicines is nightmarish, mostly because they are very expensive.

The blockade is brutal.

Mariela Principal: Here our focus has been to collectively work so that we can go on producing. We produce coffee and we have some cattle. Our production methods are very crude now because we can’t purchase the inputs, but little by little we are learning about alternatives. However, we must work toward the industrialization of our production.

Wulliam Galíndez: We have a few advantages here in the campo when it comes to the impact of the sanctions. While our production has dropped and things haven’t been easy, nobody goes to bed without eating here, as happens in the cities. At home, we have a conuco where we grow ocumo, plantains, and beans, and we have a few chickens as well.

Marlene Escorche: Sometimes, when a bad thing happens, as time passes, one learns that there is a good side to it. Our conucos now are better cared for, and we have learned to value what we have. Moreover, we have figured out how to make flour with plantains and ocumo, so we are fostering local food sovereignty.

Of course, one should not make light of the impact of the blockade: people have died, others have left, and some got demoralized and separated from the revolution.

Iván Liscano: One of the most dramatic things in these faraway communities now is giving birth. With the roads in poor shape and the vehicles low on gas, getting a person to the hospital isn’t easy. When that happens we look for solidarity from the neighbors: perhaps somebody’s truck is still running and they are willing to take us to town. However, they might not have gas, so we have to ask another neighbor to spare us some fuel.

We have had births en route on two occasions. I was with one of them, I had to do my part as a “doctor.” The situation was very stressful, but in the end, it all worked out!

Solidarity is key in these situations.


Ana Morales: We are an imperialist target because we are a rich country: we have a lot of oil and other resources that they [the US and allies] need. However, we have been struggling against oppression since the Spanish got here.

Later, in the independence struggle in the early 19th century, we fought for national and social emancipation. Even then, Simón Bolívar was aware of the imperialist threat and said: “the United States appears to be destined by providence to plague Latin America with misery in the name of liberty.” Then, Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution constituted an affront to imperialism, yet we reaffirmed our intention to be a sovereign nation. That is why the US is dead set on bringing this project down.

Bianca Pérez: The blockade has brought much pain and sorrow to these mountains. Still, we also learned that our project represents a threat to imperialist interests and that fills us with a bit of pride!

US imperialism knows of our commitment to Chávez’s project, to socialism, and to the commune. That is why they consider us a threat… and if they let us breathe, our project would indeed be a threat to their hegemony!

José Alvarado: The US wants to bring Chávez’s project down, and they don’t care if people suffer or die. However, this shouldn’t surprise us. How could it be otherwise? We have to fight, we have to be resilient, but, more importantly, we have to keep the project alive!

However, there is another blockade that we should talk about: the internal blockade. Some sectors are not committed to popular organization such as cooperatives, communal councils, or communes.

They say that there is no money to invest in communes, and while it is true that resources have dwindled, it is also true that what there is, isn’t channeled toward strengthening popular power initiatives.

And you might ask, why should the government support these initiatives? Shouldn’t they be autonomous and self-managed? Yes, but a rural campesino community cannot keep up the roads and it can’t compete with capitalists, if the state is not there to help it generate new conditions.

We came to power via the popular vote, but that means that within the Process there are some opportunists inside. That is why we often say that there has to be a revolution within the revolution.


Wladimir Alvarado: The conuco [small, self-consumption plot] has been the key to our staying alive. All families keep a small vegetable grove where they grow much of what they need to survive.

I remember that, in a meeting with Commander Magoya [60s guerrilla leader], he told us: the conuco sustains struggles. In the 60s, the campesinos fed the guerrilleros with their conuco production. Later, each time there has been a crisis, the conuco has been the saving grace for us. Now, when US imperialism lays siege to us, we stay alive because the conuco is still there.

Ana Morales: We are organizing to replace industrial fertilizers – which are very efficient but damage the soil and hurt us – with organic ones. It takes a while to make the shift, because we were used to buying it off the shelf and just plopping it down.

Yet, little by little the use of organic methods is picking up. We chat with our neighbors, we organize workshops, and when people begin to see that organic fertilizers work and are also far cheaper, things begin to change.

María Peroza: We have learned how to make earthworm humus and other fertilizers that are almost as efficient as industrial ones. We are also in a process of recovering ancestral campesino knowledge and techniques.

Arturo Cordero: The coffee seedling nursery shows that we are trying to find solutions: 17,000 new coffee trees will soon begin to grow here. These slopes in this zone are perfect for coffee growing and, while remote, in real terms we are just a stone’s throw away from large cities such as Barquisimeto and even Caracas. In terms of production, reactivating coffee growing is our main objective here.

However, one thing I would like to emphasize about the coffee nursery is that it is an expression of solidarity. The seeds were given to us by El Maizal and the Argelia Laya Brigade [Communard Union brigade]. The Brigade left behind the seeds as a goodwill gesture, and they will reactivate coffee production at the Alí Primera Commune.

I think that solidarity and building links among communes are the keys to overcoming the impact of the sanctions.


The commune is the future

The communards of the Alí Primera are blessed by a beautiful natural context and fertile land, but life isn’t easy on the slopes of the Urachiche mountains. Perhaps that is why they are particularly committed to the commune: the communards here know that poverty and alienation are all that capitalism has to offer them, and they understand that Chávez’s socialist project may be their only way out.

Wladimir Alvarado: Capitalism isn’t going to change. Its very logic is based on the exploitation of the working class and campesinos. One could say that in capitalism we are free to economically develop, to set up a business… and doing so hurts nobody. But if you succeed in that business you are destined to exploit people.

On the other end, there is the commune, which is the only viable path to breaking our dependence on capitalism. Also, the commune is about self-governance and class autonomy. The state won’t make the revolution. Only the working class can do that!

Chávez would often say: There is no future without the commune, there is no homeland, there is nothing without the commune. He was right. These years have been very difficult, but we have survived because we have a commune… And while the Alí Primera Commune has a long way to go, the fact is that we are organized, united, and have a common goal. That has kept us going.

Ana Morales: Chávez’s legacy is the commune, and building ours has been a really wonderful experience. We are like a family, and we know that we can count on each other.

We have many problems, but here there is always a helping hand nearby. Of course, that is not new here: our community has always been tightly knit, but it was the commune that began to turn what was once simply spontaneous into a way of living.

Iván Liscano: Making a commune is about working together. We are like a family here at the Alí Primera Commune. In fact, it is not accidental that we are all compadres [godparents] of each other’s children.

I remember that a friend took note that I wasn’t the godfather of any of her kids and so she said let’s choose a name for the family puppy, and I said: Let’s call it Chucho Ramón. Now, [as “godparent” to the puppy] we can rightfully call each other compadre and comadre.

Mariela Principal: We think that the commune is the only viable way to build the new society, because common needs and common problems can only be solved efficiently in a cooperative manner.

That is why the Citizen’s Assembly is so important to us. When you and I and many others all have the same problem, we will only be able to solve it together!

Wladimir Alvarado: Capitalism produces individualistic and egotistical people. Of course, this goes against the interests of the pueblo. If we all share the same problems, shouldn’t we try to solve them together? That’s what socialism is about, that is what the commune is about!

The commune should not be understood as a mechanism to establish a channel of communication with the government so that they solve our problems. The commune should strive for self-sufficiency.

While the government must solve some of the infrastructure problems that we face, the commune should have its eyes set on being self-sustaining and self-governed. Why? As Chávez would say, our state is still a bourgeois one, so we, the people, have to begin to build an alternative.

The commune is socialism in the political, economic, and social spheres. It is an exercise driven from below that should eventually overcome the current state of affairs.


The Communard Union

The Communard Union was officially founded in March 2022, but it had already been in the making a few years earlier. The Alí Primera Commune joined the Union early on, and it quickly seized people’s imagination: all around the commune you find people who see the Union as a light at the end of the tunnel.

Germán Prado: Chávez would often say that communes shouldn’t be isolated or they would fail. When things got really hard here, because of the blockade and the lockdown, this became all the more clear to us.

Ours is a commune with a robust organization but with very limited resources. As opposed to other communes, we don’t have communal land and we don’t have vehicles to help us move around (although the comrades from the Fundo San Simón Cujisal Co-op at the Hugo Chávez Commune, who are our brothers and sisters, are very solidarious and will lend us their truck from time to time).

In any case, when things got really dicey, it became clear to us that building links with other communes was imperative.

Arturo Cordero: In 2020, we went to Villanueva [Lara state] and, from there, we began to build links with El Maizal Commune. Then we had a visit from the Argelia Laya Brigade, and we committed ourselves to the Communard Union.

The Communard Union is very close to our hearts: we share one common vision and are all committed to building real communes. We have learned a lot from the Communard Union, and sharing our long history of struggle with them has been really wonderful.

Each commune has its history and its stories, each commune has strengths and weaknesses. While isolated we face enormous challenges, but together we can begin to see that there is a way forward.

Wulliam Galíndez: The Communard Union gave us the seeds for the coffee nursery. Furthermore, when things were really rough, we brought cornflour from El Maizal at much more affordable prices. This shows us that the Communard Union doesn’t just have political potential. It also has economic potential.

Germán Prado: We held the Communard Union pre-congress here at the end of 2021, and it was a wonderful teaching moment. We had a very lively collective reflection and we sang Alí Primera’s tunes with a lot of passion… plus we also ate a lot of avocados. It was avocado season, so we had a real feast!

As we speak, the Communard Union is working on building a distribution route among communes, a circuit outside the capitalist market so that we can increase our autonomy, and build our own economic communal system. Chávez would often talk about building these networks, and we have to make it happen!

Iván Liscano: We have two enemies, imperialism and capitalism, and they are interlinked. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the commune, but our communes have a long way to go. For the communes to be strong, we also need to link them up. Communes should not be about bare survival, they should be the seeds for a new and good society. That is where the Communard Union comes on the stage.