Flying into Caracas, the plane was full of middle class Venezuelans travelling home from Miami. On board, no one spoke to the passenger next to them for fear of finding out they were on the opposite side of the political divide.
In highly polarised Venezuela, these things are best left unsaid.
It was a strange feeling flying into La Guaira airport; it was almost like coming home after a long journey abroad. To me, Venezuela is my second country, given I have visited it so many times since I first lived here for two years in the 1970s.
On the bus ride into Caracas, I noticed the decrease in traffic jams and a marked increase in beautifully painted murals and billboards of former president Hugo Chavez everywhere. Our driver explained that the government had built a number of additional off ramps along the highway so that it was much less congested.
I had come to Venezuela, in part, to participate in the Venezuela Analysis solidarity delegation.
As part of our visit we went to an inner suburb of Caracas, La Pastora, one of the first places that the Spanish colonisers occupied. Many of the houses here were more than 300 years old and built with mud walls to better resist earthquakes.
We met with members of the Miraflores Commune, which is made of the various local communal councils in the area and is part of the bottom-up participatory democracy system that the Venezuelan government have promoted.
Through the Commune, local residents had organised to have two new roads built in the area, repaired some rundown stairs, installed new water pipes and introduced ramps to enable those in wheelchairs to more easily get around.
During our discussion, residents spoke to us about Robert Serra, who had lived in La Pastora. In 2010, Serra became the youngest ever deputy elected to the National Assembly. A fearless lawyer, Serra did not hesitate to expose the corrupt shenanigans of the elites.
Because of this, and his outspoken support for Venezuela’s pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution, Serra was murdered in his home, along with his assistant, in a vicious and bloody attack that left him with more than 40 stab wounds.
The murderer was subsequently caught and is now in jail, but has never revealed who hired him.
We then travelled to a nearby suburb to meet communal council members from a block of flats named after Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar Lopez Rivera. The block of flats had been built as part of the Gran Vivienda (Great Housing) social mission.
There were six buildings housing more than 1000 poor families in the complex. Roberto, a local resident, told us “Before I lived in a shack, a ranchito, beside a drain full of sewage, with no possibility of going to university.”
Residents pay a very low rent, and will eventually be given ownership of their apartments.
Different cooperatives had been set up inside the complex to run a bakery (which supplies bread for all the families), a woodwork shop, a laundry and a clothing shop that made recyclable nappies which were not damaging to the environment. They also produced a number of other useful products, such as shopping bags to carry long loaves of bread with the aim of eliminating plastic.
Before returning to our hotel, locals cooked a soup for us made from the large vegetable garden in front of the building.
[This is the first in a series of articles by Coral Wynter looking at her experience as part of the Venezuela Analysis solidarity delegation.]