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Venezuela: food as bullets

The daily struggle for food in a rural community and the promise, threat and illusion of the humanitarian aid


This post by Lisa Sullivan is from her own blog, Lisa’s Venezuela.

February 27, Palo Verde. As the Humanitarian Aid Battle revved its engines on Saturday morning on the Venezuela/Colombia border, our group of young conuqueros (farmers)was gathering for our weekly work day.

The morocha arrived with a kilo of rice to share, generating some excitement. Her mom is in the militia, so her family receives two boxes of food a month versus the one box every four months the rest of us are allowed to buy.

On conuco days we eat what we grow. Our greens and fruit are delicious, but these young growing bodies yearn for calories. In this thin mountain soil the main calorie crop we can coax in abundance is plantains. The kids try multiple ways of preparing them – as soup and arepas, in caraotas and quinchonchos, but sometimes we yearn for a change.

Juan Carlos had also brought a pumpkin. It was so ripe that it had split open, its fragrant orange flesh distracting.

Chairs gathered into a circle to begin our work day – as always, with a song and reflection. The chorus of the day’s song seemed fitting for the moment. Venezuela, por haberme dado tanto, estoy contigo en la risa y en el llanto (Venezuela , for having given me so much, I am with you, in laughter and tears.)

In the reflection that followed, each person was asked to think of a word that expressed what Venezuela had given them, then write the word on an a heart-shaped piece of banana leaf (one of our many substitutes for un-affordable paper).
When planning the reflection, Ledys and I had wondered what these kids, ages 11-14, would be have to say in their brief, isolated, difficult lives. A lot, as it turned out.

As each spoke their word, I had to squeeze my eyes to keep the tears from falling. Conuco. Family. Tradition. Solidarity. Humility. Strength. Community. Beauty.

We ended the reflection in an embrace. It lasted a long time. Venezuelans have no problem expressing their affection. I knew however, that this hug was for Venezuela.

I couldn’t help but wonder if that same passion for Venezuela was in the hearts of those who were pushing this aid into Venezuela like bullets. Or those who were defending Venezuela from this aid with real bullets. Or those who threatened to make sure this was aid accepted. OR ELSE! Or those who stood on the world’s stage with false smiles, defending Venezuela’s sovereignty, while stuffing their pockets with its oil and gold.

As Team Humanitarian Aid (the Opposition) and Team Defend the Homeland (the Maduro government) and Team Invade (The US) and Team Rape the Nation (China and Russia) lined up on their respective sides, our conuqueros divided into the day’s teams. One team to gather firewood and cook. One team to turn the compost piles. One team to weed and fertilize the banana plants.

By mid-morning one compost pile had been turned, the rice and pumpkin were boiling on a hearty fire, half the banana plants had their weeds cleared, stomachs that had no breakfast in them were rumbling. I went into my house and found the one piece of birthday cake sent to me two nights ago from Chichila and divided it into 16. one-square-inch pieces for each. I took the grounds of the mornings coffee, added water and reboiled, with a few teaspoons of precious sugar. Then I brought the meager fare to the shade of the siempre verde tree and called the kids to the log benches. By the look on their faces, Julia Child could not have laid a finer table.

As the kids feasted, laughed, teased, laughed, drank, laughed, collected cups and laughed, I felt their joy lift me up. Every single time we gather these kids of skin and bones, of strength and spirit, Ledys and I receive what we call our vaccination of joy. Against all logic and reason, the laughter never ceases.

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As we were about to return to our posts my phone buzzed. Cell coverage had been coming in and out for days, lasting often only seconds at a time. I read a message saying that one truck of aid had crossed the border. As I read the message to Ledys the kids overheard and cheered. When will it reach Palo Verde? (our town) asked Alexibel excitedly.

By the time the few trucks of aid that managed to pass the border had been set ablaze in a massive plume of black smoke, the kids had returned home, stomachs filled with rice, pumpkin, a tiny piece of cake and a sip of coffee.

I needed their ever-present laughter to slop the flow of my tears as I looked at the image of those trucks loaded with food, burning black at the border. As much as I knew the motives of those trying to ram the aid through, I couldn’t help myself. This hunger has lasted too long. I have worked too hard to grow just enough food. All I could feel was a visceral sense of rage upon seeing so much food go up in flames. The opposition blamed the government. The government blamed the opposition. No matter who lit the match, the result was the same.

Four days later, I remain haunted by that image of that burning food. And all I can feel is this: Basta! Enough food as bullets. From all sides.

Enough food as bullets from the government. Food has been withheld, stolen, resold, converted to massive wealth for a few, doled out as favor and taken away as punishment for too long,

Enough food as bullets from the opposition. The hunger of Venezuelans has been abused for their political gain. And it has been used to obtain US sanctions causing more hunger. And now as justification for the unspeakable threat of military action.

Enough food as bullets from the US. While what lies in those boxes at the border is likely some version of food, its real contents are the desire to overthrow Venezuela’s government and install one favorable to them. To regain a foothold in this land of oil and gold.

Enough food as bullets from Russia and China. While from one side of their mouths they speak out against US aggression, on the other side they are plundering Venezuela’s wealth.

Enough food as bullets. They rain down on us from all sides. Enough.
I am well aware that food bullets  may soon turn to steel bullets. The drums of war are real. I have traveled up and down Latin American listening to horror stories of the legacy left by US intervention.

So many people have written to ask me: Lisa, what can I do. As US citizens, our greatest gesture of support for the people of Venezuela is to tell our country to back off.  Even for those who long to see Maduro go, the threat of US intervention has given only him the gift of oxygen. The rivers of blood carved by U.S. throughout Latin America still run red.

I’m not sure what next week will look like. Or even tomorrow. But today I’ll join Ledys in planting one more banana tree.

Lisa Sullivan writes: I have had the privilege of living in Venezuela for over three decades, raising my three children in the community embrace of Barquisimeto’s barrios. In Venezuela I learned to play the cuatro, plant trees, grow food, believe in children, and accompany a pueblo in its struggle for dignity. I have traveled many many roads of Latin America, collecting the tears shed by families of the disappeared, learning the songs left by its martyrs, sitting down at tables of power to ask: no mas, no more. I hope to share the Venezuela I experience in my rural community of Palo Verde, Sanare and the barrios of Barquisimeto where I am a frequent sojourner. It is a Venezuela that struggles, sings, sows, yearns, suffers, dreams and dances, even in the midst of this grave crisis.