Food Houses, Casas de Alimentación, are one of the trenches combating the impact of the US economic war on Venezuela.
Luisa Del Valle Baiz and the cooks get up every day at dawn in the neighborhood of Caricuao, Caracas, to set up “Fighters of the Fatherland” — to guarantee food for those in need.
Valle Baiz wakes up every day at 4am. She is 77 years old and has a Caribe [indigenous people] strength attached to her words. She was born in Güiria, in the eastern state of Sucre, a land with the smell of the sea, cocoa plantations and sun. From its coastline you can see the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, from where her family came from in search of work and a better life.
Valle Baiz has been in Caracas for 54 years, in the neighborhood of Caricuao. When she came the landscape was different. “Everything was full of bananas and mango trees, vegetables,” she said. There was still no highway, no apartment blocks, no houses hunched up on the hillsides where she built her home and raised her family of four children, 21 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren. Her mother is 101 years old.
She always got up early to work. For the past 10 months, the days have been organised around the Food House that began under her roof. Since then, together with four other women, she prepares food from Monday to Friday for 221 people, who were signed up after neighbourhood studies found they had deficiencies. “The need was critical”, Valle Baiz said.
The place is called Luchadoras de la Patria. The proposal to open the food house came from the community — an answer to the Strategic Food Program Foundation, the institution in charge of reinvigorating the Food Houses. From the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution, it had been policy to respond to an immense need. But the community’s greater access to food since the Bolivarian revolution meant that it had been progressively shut down.
From 2017 to today, 3118 food houses have been set up across Venezuela. Each day, they feed 605,628 people. “I like it, I feel it in my bones,” said Valle Baiz, wearing a chef’s hat and an apron bearing Hugo Chávez’s signature and the name of the social program.
It is not for money that she rises every morning and stays until the evening in front of the stoves. The same holds for her colleagues Lilibel López, Roxana Herrero and Rosa Vázquez, who arrived from Guayaquil, Ecuador, 17 years ago and stayed in the south-western neighbourhood of Caracas.
They want the food to be good and tasty. “You win their hearts with the seasoning,” they said. On July 22, they are cooking rice, chicken, lentils, arepa [corn flour patties], fried sardines and milk. Part of the effort is aimed at serving the most vulnerable in the community, who are registered with the Centers of Education and Nutritional Recovery. “We serve them all equally,” Valle Baiz said.
The objectives of the food houses are many: first, they guarantee food to the sectors with the greatest material need, so they are not abandoned; and secondly, they are developing a plan to allow the canteens to not depend entirely on the state but be integrated into communities with food production, community accountability, cultural activities and political education.
“One of the objectives is to transfer the responsibilities to popular power committees”, explained Azurduy Tovar, manager of Fundaproal. “That means we have to generate a working model for food security so that, at some point, the food houses no longer need to rely on the state for their food supplies.”
There have already been steps taken in that direction including in transportation and the processing and delivery of food.
The method is as follows: the head of the house goes to the food collection centre in a truck managed by his/her community, receive food, return with an escort from the Bolivarian Militia, verify that everything arrives in good shape, then cook and deliver to the community members in need.
That delivery is made at 11.30am in Luchadoras de la Patria. Until then, the kitchen counter is full of plastic containers stacked in towers: each corresponds to a family with the boxes marked with names, although Vázquez said they already know who each one belongs to.
The food delivery is only free at night, on weekends, holidays and December 4, Santa Barbara Day. Valle Baiz and her family are devotees of the saint, who now also watches over the food warehouse.
The warehouse is located at the back of their house, behind the cages of green and yellow parrots and in front of the hill of houses that were built on top of each other — an architecture that was a product of discrimination.
Santa Barbara is not alone in watching over the bundles of rice, flour, lentils, oil and eggs. There is also the Virgin of Carmen, del Valle, La Pastora, Coromoto, the Immaculate Conception, our Lady of Pilar, the Nazarene, the divine Child, the heart of Jesus, Saint Onofre, Maria Lionza, the Indian of strength – which gives strength, peace and tranquility – and Simón Bolívar. Next to them are pictures of Valle Baiz’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The relaunch of the food houses took place a year after the state’s program to access subsidised food was implemented by the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) which reach about 6 million households in the country.
The CLAPs were created when shortages were acute, between 2015 and 2017, and the food houses were re-launched following the setbacks that hyperinflation brought as well as the breakdown of salaries.
Today, the problem is not the availability of food in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery shops but rather prices. Those who most suffer are those with a low income.
The setting up of the structures needed for poor neighbourhoods to receive subsidised food is part of the fight against the US blockade.
Washington has targeted CLAP food importing vessels and the bank accounts that make the payments. Its objective is to suffocate the country.
But in Luchadoras de la Patria, something strategic is being created — community. It is one of the forms of invisible resistance, and a way of enduring the assault that is aimed not only at the government but also, and above all, at the revolutionary process, known as Chavismo.
“Chavez opened our eyes very wide and now no one fools us. We did not know what our rights were and now we speak. Alternatively, I would not be here talking to you, I would be ashamed,” said Valle Baiz, her Caribe strength emanating from every word.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]