Pueblo a Pueblo [People to People] is a grassroots project for organizing the production, distribution, and consumption of food, which connects agricultural producers with urban dwellers. In so doing, the project breaks with the despotism of the capitalist market. In parts I, II, and III of this four-part piece in the Communal Resistance Series, Pueblo a Pueblo’s spokespeople talk about their organization’s method and history and about the transition to a sovereign, agroecological model. In this final part of the series, we learn about the organization’s effort to distribute food to schools and its links with the Chávez and Bolívar Commune.
Fruit and veggies for schools
After a 2021 meeting with President Maduro, Pueblo a Pueblo became a source of fresh produce for Venezuelan school meals.
Laura Lorenzo: As we speak, we are distributing food to almost 300 schools, thus providing the produce they need to cook balanced meals for some 100 thousand kids. This is particularly important at a time when the blockade has affected children’s nutrition. Pueblo a Pueblo does this without intermediaries and offers on-site accompaniment to diversify and balance school meals.
Our school food distribution initiative operates in seven states at the moment [Caracas, Miranda, Lara, Anzoategui, Trujillo, Barinas, and Portuguesa]. While it is run in collaboration with the government’s school food program [known as PAE], our work in this area obeys Pueblo a Pueblo’s basic premise: working with organized communities on both the production and the consumption of food.
When we begin working with a new school, we don’t just deliver produce. We also meet with the community, involve them in the process, and work with those who cook, so that the meals will be balanced and healthy. Finally, we help build a network to deliver fruit and vegetables from local producers, thus encouraging consumption of local produce.
EARLY DAYS AND DEVELOPMENT
Laura Lorenzo: Produce distribution to schools dates back to the early days of Pueblo a Pueblo. We did it here in Carache [Trujillo state] first. We began with the Mesa Arriba school, and around 2017 we expanded to 46 schools through an agreement with the National School Food Corporation [CNAE]. In other words, we supplied the 35 schools in Carache plus 11 in Caracas, including schools in the 23 de Enero and San Agustín barrios.
In August 2021, after Sputnik published an article about Pueblo a Pueblo, President Maduro called us for a meeting. He requested that we supply food for 600 schools. More importantly, the president requested that Pueblo a Pueblo’s methodology be “copied” in the food distribution initiatives promoted by the government.
The new phase began in November 2021, after overcoming many administrative and bureaucratic hurdles. These included having to be associated [in legal terms] with a private enterprise, since the Food Ministry, which is in charge of contracting “providers,” won’t contract with communal enterprises or other non-private entities.
President Maduro’s initial request was that Pueblo a Pueblo be brought on to distribute 600 tons of produce to the schools. However, the first requisition from the Food Ministry was under 300 tons, and currently, we are at 100 tons of produce for 100 thousand kids. Nonetheless, we have the capacity to distribute 600 tons, and we are sure that eventually, we will be distributing that amount.
Our work with schools not only supplies healthy food for kids while benefiting producers, but it also helps strengthen grassroots organizations around educational centers.
Gabriel Gil: Our work in schools hasn’t been easy because there are so many bureaucratic hurdles. Additionally, there’s a handful of corporate food conglomerates that control most of the food distribution to the 22 thousand schools spread over the national territory.
In any case, that’s how it’s always been: the popular movement has to make room for itself so that grassroots alternatives will be able to grow.
The “Chávez and Bolívar” Commune
Set in the slopes of Carache in Trujillo state, the headquarters of Pueblo a Pueblo, this commune has a network of productive fields and, most importantly, it brings together 788 campesino families.
Antonio Bracamonte: The commune is Chávez’s most important and embracing legacy because it brings us together and it rekindles the spirit of community, cooperation, and solidarity that capitalism snatches away from working people.
When the Comandante began to talk about communes, Chávez and Bolívar was one of the first communes to organize, although our “formal” registering came later, in 2013.
Of course, building a commune isn’t always a linear process. We have had advances and setbacks over the years. Most recently, in 2019, we received a truck from the government, which is fundamental to getting crops out of the valley. However, the commune lost direct control of the vehicle: an institutional “bad actor” conspired against us. Now we are working hard to get the truck back, and this whole problem will be solved soon. Justice will prevail!
Italo Román: Hugo Chávez and Simón Bolívar took firm steps forward toward sovereignty, and that’s why our commune bears their name.
For me, the commune is the highest form of government, because that’s where we, the people, decide what must be done and how to do it. In a commune, the organized community – not the bosses, not the mayors or governors – is in charge and sets the rules of the game.
Also, our experience shows that communes are good mechanisms for solving problems more efficiently. A while back, we got funding to fix the Caingó road. By relying on self-management and self-construction, we were able to fix twice as much road as planned.
Around the same time, we got resources to build two houses for vulnerable families, and we were able to stretch the funds and build four instead. The commune has been good to us and we’re good to the commune!
Carmen Marquina: I’m one of the founders of the commune, and I remember that the early years were both a difficult and wonderful time. We weren’t new to taking decisions in assemblies, but navigating the administrative processes wasn’t easy.
Over time, we learned the ins and outs of these processes, and among other things, our communal council got a tractor, which is an important means of production for the community. The hardest thing, however, is keeping people motivated. In the beginning, some didn’t want to commit to the commune, but that eventually changed… and then again, when the blockade came to hit us, the commune slowed down, only to pick up once again in the past few months.
At the Chávez and Bolívar Commune, when we stumble, we pick ourselves up and go forward!
Antonio Bracamonte: We recently went through elections to choose new spokespeople for the communal councils. We are in good standing with the law [laughs]. The process hasn’t been easy because losing the truck was a moral blow for the commune, but we have learned some lessons, and I have no doubt that we will recover and go forward once again.
COMMUNAL ECONOMIC CIRCUIT
Antonio Bracamonte: The “Communal Economic Circuits” are a relatively new  initiative by the Ministry of Communes that promotes the production of specific goods – from fresh produce to coffee and cornmeal – in communalized territories.
Carache is a highly productive region. Now, even though we are operating at 50% of our productive capacity [due to the blockade], about 40 tonnes of fresh produce leave our commune every month. Part of it goes to the market through Cecosesola [a network of cooperatives]; another part goes to schools and working-class households through Pueblo a Pueblo; the remainder gets sold to intermediaries.
The Circuit is yet another mechanism to promote production, while ensuring that some of the surplus goes back to the commune. In our meetings with the folks from the ministry, we determined that we could produce 27 strategic crops – from tomatoes to onions and everything in between – in our territory. However, we need resources to do that, particularly seeds and inputs.
So far, we’ve received a small, non-refundable credit, and producers from all seven communal councils got a moderate amount of seeds. This will help us to scale up the production, albeit slowly.
The Communal Circuit will also open up new paths for distribution. As it is, the commune, as an entity, cannot legally sell its production, because administrative and bureaucratic roadblocks make it impossible. The objective is to bring down these obstacles, thus promoting communal distribution here and around the country.
The idea of the Communal Circuit is similar to the Pueblo a Pueblo philosophy: both aim to suppress the logic of the market, and put the focus back into the world of production. In fact, Pueblo a Pueblo is part of this Economic Circuit.
Of course, the Communal Circuit is new here, and there are processes that must be improved. Each territory has its particularities, its production cycles, and its needs. Additionally, the funding is small, and it comes only about once a year. Last year we received 13.000 dollars in bolívares, but by the time we were able to access it, the sum had come down to 4000 dollars due to devaluation. We understand the government’s economic difficulties, and we are grateful for the support, but the processes have to be streamlined.
Nonetheless, our hopes are still high. Once we have the resources and infrastructure we need, we will be able to increase our production, and that will be good for the commune and for the country.
Just like Pueblo a Pueblo, the Circuit aims to do away with intermediaries. Some of the production will go to other communes through barter exchange, but we also want to supply schools and hospitals.
Finally, there is an obstacle that is derived from the blockade. The government must address the following urgent need: getting fuel here isn’t easy, so one of our requests is that small and mid-sized producers – the ones who actually feed the country – have access to fuel quotas. Of course, this demand goes beyond the Communal Economic Circuit initiative and the Ministry of Communes. However, for our production to get to the plates of the Venezuelan people, we need fuel.
Overall, the Communal Economic Circuit is a welcome initiative. It will do away with some of the problems that we, as campesinos, face in a country under siege, but it will also encourage communal organization. In fact, the current reactivation of the Chávez and Bolívar Commune is linked to the Circuit initiative.
Chávez and the campesino
Hugo Chávez’s Land Law  opened the way to a radical rural reform. To close this series, Pueblo a Pueblo spokespeople tell us about Chávez’s legacy in the campo.
Laura Lorenzo: Chávez made visible those who were invisible, particularly campesinos. The right to the land was at the heart of his program, and he did it while all political and economic powers in Venezuela and abroad were opposed to a fair redistribution of the land.
If you recall, many of the Aló Presidente programs were held in the countryside and with campesino families that were working hard to produce. The Revolution gave many tools to campesinos – from land to seeds to tractors to technical education – and Chávez himself educated producers on political and legislative issues. When it comes to the campo, it is not an overstatement to say that Chávez marks a before and an after.
Antonio Bracamonte: The “Plan de la Patria” [Homeland Plan] is our bible. In it, Chávez layed out a road map for sovereignty and socialism, and he addressed the needs of campesinos with a great deal of precision. It’s interesting that even though more than ten years have passed since the Plan was first published – and many misfortunes have occurred including Chávez’s death, the economic war, and the blockade –, when you pick up the plan and read it, you can see that the model that he developed is still relevant.
There is a long way to go and the enemy has done its part to slow down our Revolution, but I’ve no doubt that we’ll get there sooner or later!