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Caracas struggles for food sovereignty against the U.S. blockade

By Drake Myers

Farmers market in Caracas.

Caracas, Venezuela – On March 4 a member of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee visited the Feria Conuquera Agroecológico (Agroecological Small Farmer's Market) in Caracas’ Caobos Park and interviewed activist and biologist Giselle Perdomo. Perdomo, who organizes the farmer’s market, detailed how U.S. sanctions have impacted both the struggle for food sovereignty and her own family.

The market is run by Chavistas but is not itself a government program. It works to bring farmers from in and around Caracas to sell in the city. Under the weight of U.S. sanctions, food is very difficult to import into the country, but in the last couple of years the country has seen vast improvements in food sovereignty: Venezuela now produces 94% of its own food after importing 80% for the last 100 years. The farmer’s market is a small part of that effort.

Perdomo’s group also defends Venezuela’s revolutionary 2015 Seed Law that outlawed the use of transgenic or GMO seeds. Without the laws, Venezuelan farmers would be pressured to adopt seeds supplied by transnational GMO corporations in order to sell their crops on the international market. Under that system farmers must buy specially designed seeds, fertilizer and herbicide from the agricultural monopolies year after year, becoming fully dependent. Although the law was passed after his death, Hugo Chávez led the fight against transgenic foods. In one instance he ended a soybean contract with GMO giant Monsanto in 2005, advocating that the land be used instead for indigenous crops and calling transgenics a threat to the nation’s food sovereignty.

Promoting indigenous foods remains key today, although there are hurdles in getting the people to accept them over the international market foods they are accustomed to. Perdomo explained, “So, for example, I plant something that's called purple yam. And even Venezuelans don't know what it is, right? So I offer it here in the market, and many people just ask, you know, what's that? Because it looks like the color of beets. So people just look at it, it's weird. And they go on. So we need to try and change people's attitudes towards things that are local.” To this end the fair bakes the yams into bread to get people used to the taste and works on educating about local foods, how to make organic pesticides, and farming techniques.

Perdomo lost her six-year-old son in part because of the horrors of a medical system under attack by the U.S. Many doctors fled the country, live-saving medicines and equipment were impossible to import, and at times the electricity was spotty in hospitals. “My son, he had difficulties with his muscles. They were all very hard, so he couldn't breathe very well. He couldn't cough. So if he got a cold that was a life threatening thing for him. And taking him to a public hospital was just heartbreaking, because you saw kids queuing up to breathe, to get to the one piece of equipment that’s working. You know, the lighting sometimes didn't work. And then it was just chaos. It was chaos. You should be able to, you know, have a hospital that doesn't give you nightmares.”

It’s different now. Medicines like those that Perdomo’s son needed are more easily available, but it’s cold comfort to her and others who have lost loved ones to the U.S.’s cruel unilateral coercive measures.

The Caobos Park is full of farmers with stands selling fresh produce – plantains, vegetables, honey and much more. One man sells homemade rice wine, and a woman makes infused tea bags. Next to the market a government health program has tents set up to fight obesity. They give people free check-ups and vaccinations, and there is a dance party, soccer and games to promote wellness. Thanks to their enormous strength of will and a people-oriented government, Venezuelans have been able to claw back a sense of normalcy, but still suffer under the economic pressure. Organizations like the Anti-War Committee still call for an end to the U.S. sanctions regime.

But the very nature of the U.S. hybrid war campaign makes it harder to organize around than a traditional invasion. Nevertheless, Perdomo says the anti-imperialist movement must persist: “It has impacts on human health, just like wars with bombs do. And it has impacts on emotional health, just like wars with bombs do. The most insidious thing is that people don't consider it to be war. Therefore there's not a whole lot of newspapers talking about the war on Venezuela because if there aren't explosions, then there isn’t outrage. And there should be outrage because we are suffering, we have suffered. But the flip side of that is we have made resistance a lifestyle and we have made happiness in the face of struggle a lifestyle.”

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