*This video was made with supporting images from Voces Urgentes, LaraTVeC, El Maizal, Commune Negro Miguel, aporrea, VTV and El Sacudon.
El Maizal: A Productive Communal Model
On March 5th, 2009, the national government expropriated 600 hectares of unproductive land in the municipality of Simón Planas in the state of Lara which would soon become the heart of the commune El Maizal. The commune was organized that same year in response to former President Hugo Chávez’s call to begin collectively producing on the lands.
El Maizal’s first communally owned unit of corn production quickly began producing more than 4.000 tons of corn per year, and developed the capacity to invest in other areas of production, such as cattle for beef production, milk and cheese products, gas distribution, and a variety of vegetables which are distributed directly to the inhabitants of El Maizal and surrounding communities. Its agricultural production has also provided resources for the local communal economy, which have allowed the community to enact autonomous policies and implement local social programs in everything from school infrastructure, housing programs, pavement of roads, agricultural credits for small farmers, to providing health benefits for workers and habitants of the commune.
According to Carlos Terán, member of the El Maizal Commune and worker in the communal corn production unit, “We are producing to show that things can be done from within popular power. Since Chávez said “Communes or Nothing” we are here showing that the dream that he had and maintains in heaven, is obtainable, and we are achieving it, we are building it. Through our productivity we are self-sustainable and the profits go directly to the people…”
The communard Maria Angel Bonilla, of the dairy production unit explains, that the communal production also benefits the community by provided direct distribution of food at accessible prices.
“There is a network where we sell combos with cheese, meat and vegetables, everything that we are producing here in El Maizal goes directly from the producers to the people.”
Productive communes, such as El Maizal, have found in that the communal model liberates them from the state bureaucracy and corruption that can plague institutions. In the commune, decisions are made in assembly to guarantee the collective well being, and all use of resources must be publicly scrutinized.
“One of the biggest differences between organized communes, organized popular power, is how we manage or use the resources that enter the El Maizal Commune. Every resource that comes into the commune is checked and reviewed by popular power. The 22 communal councils control [this process], and anyone who lives here can carry out an audit…” states communard Johander Pineda
For the communal spokesperson, Angel Prado, the commune has provided a humanistic organization of work and community life that differs from the alienating exploitation in a of a capitalist system.
“We see can how this humanizes us. This humanizes work, human beings are valued and are put at the forefront of everything, also the land is made completely productive.”
As Crisis Ensues, The Commune Advances
As the recent financial war and economic downturn worsened en Venezuela, participation in many communes and popular organizations declined. In contrast, El Maizal became more organized and combative, pushing forward towards what would appear to be the objective laid out by Chávez in his last speeches, the communal state as the point of no return for the commune. That has implied two things for El Maizal: the creation of links with other communes and taking over means of production that have been left idle. In several cases, this has meant take-overs of failed state owned companies.
In 2014 El Maizal took over 12 greenhouses belonging to the Venezuelan Food Corporation (CVAL).
Communard Wildenys Matos states that these expensive and high tech installations have been severely deteriorated after having been left abandoned for at least 7 years, with little to no production.
“we took this over… We appropriated this means of production and now we are starting to see the advances. Here you can see as least some greenhouses that are deteriorated… with what we have begun to produce here we will continue repairing… We have changed some of the roofs, repaired many pipes… and began working, but when it was under state control, they never produced anything.”
The greenhouses are now being gradually repaired and used for the cultivation of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables.
In June of 2017 the workers of the state owned pork processing company, Porcinos Del ALBA, solicited the support of the commune El Maizal, to take over the plant after having faced administrative abandonment.
Wildenys Matos, expresses that the commune did not doubt in supporting the workers in a take-over of the company once they had inspected the installations. This pig farm counted with the capacity for more than 6000 animals, but at the time, it was only housing 600 animals with a daily loss of almost 50 animals due to a lack of animal feed and deplorable conditions.
After the take-over, the commune quickly negotiated animal feed and invested in medicines and repairs and the company has slowly recovered productivity. Matos states that they were even able to begin distributing pork through the Local Committees for Food Distribution and Production (CLAP).
El Maizal was again asked to lead the take over of an experimental productive facility belonging to the state owned, but opposition controlled, Midwestern University Lisandro Alvarado or UCLA by the spanish abbreviation. According to the local farmers and the few remaining workers, the facility has been in a situation of abandon for almost 8 years due the university administration’s alleged “lacks resources”. But the El Maizal commune says the facility should have had no need for continued state financing, given it’s diverse productive capacity in the areas of cattle, dairy, poultry, fish and vegetable production, as well as food processing and storage.
In less than three months since the occupation of these university facilities, the El Maizal Commune has managed to recuperate 15 dairy cows and increase milk production from 30 to 90 liters per day, as well as re-activate tractors and other abandoned machinery. They hope to have fully recuperated the poultry pavilion with more than 600 chickens for meat and egg production by the end of February.
Mayoral Elections and the Battle for a Communal City
After the communal leader from el Maizal, Angel Prado, won a seat in the National Constituent Assembly in July of last year with 80% of the vote; communes, communal councils and popular organizations from the municipality of Simón Planas came together to nominate him as mayoral candidate for the December 10th municipal elections in the hope that his election would help catapult Simon Planas towards a communal city with the same rebellious dedication to popular organization and production as found in El Maizal.
Although Prado’s candidacy was formally presented to the CNE on the tickets of the Venezuelan Communist Party, Tupamaros and other smaller parties with more than 1000% of the required supporting signatures for nomination, the CNE removed those parties from the ballot, claiming that they did not comply with the necessary requirements. Another revolutionary party, Homeland For All quickly announced the substitution of their support for the PSUV candidate Jean Ortiz, for the commuard, Angel Prado. Two weeks before the elections, Prado and the Homeland for All party received notification that the leadership of the ANC had denied Prado permission to participate as a candidate, despite the fact that many other constituents participated in the elections without any required permission.
The communes tirelessly participated in mobilizations to the ANC in Caracas, camped out at the local branch of CNE offices, and held massive demonstrations that left little room for doubt of the popular support for this communal candidate. Despite the campaign, Prado’s name was taken off the ballot. The communards were still undaunted. They decidedly continued their campaign and decision to vote for the Homeland For Everyone Party, confident that their victory would be acknowledged. Though the Homeland For All party still won 57% of the votes, they were allocated to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela candidate, Jean Ortiz, who was promptly sworn in as mayor.
Unwilling to surrender their votes and months of struggle, the communes filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, that is currently awaiting a final decision.
El Maizal and the communes of Simón Planas have undergone months of threats from security forces, confronted sabotage such as the burning of 40 hectares of their cornfield, and now face investigation from police authorities for undisclosed reasons, but they are far from giving up their hopes of building the communal state. Instead, the communes of Simón Planas and the adjoining areas of the State of Portuguesa have intensified their bottom-up organization, beginning the new year with a series of assemblies to discuss the creation of at least 3 communal confederations to consolidate an alternative to Venezuela’s traditional municipalities, based on popular power, self-government, and communally-run production.
They are confident that their efforts will lead to new levels of organization, autonomy, production and sustainability for their territories. But the question still remains as to why the National Constituent Assembly, which has promised a place for the communes in the new Constitution, has denied a communard and the communes that support him, the right to participate in the municipal elections, and whether their calls for justice will be finally heard.