Food Voices: The Interviews
Felix Lopez, Farmer
Felix Lopez is the Coordinator of Production at the Aracal Cooperative in Urachichi in the state of Yaracuy in Venezuela. He is also part of the Indigenous Farmers’ Movement of Yaracuy, known as Movemiento Jirajara. His parents were farmers who raised him with socialist ideals and the ability to think outside the prevailing systems.
For years, I have been part of the struggle. There has been a lot of opposition and I have struggled for better conditions for the farmers. Because of this struggle, I have been imprisoned twice. That was in ‘78 and ‘91. The protests and calls for our release by the farmers’ movement outside the prison forced them to let me go.
My being involved with these movements has not been difficult. It came naturally. What is difficult is to really organize people, like the organization we are trying to do in the cooperative, especially when you have people who have not had the opportunity to learn how to read or write. But, we now have reached a time when our country has eradicated illiteracy.
There had been a bad perception of cooperatives because there had been a movement to form cooperatives in the 1940’s here, and it failed. So, people look back to that. That what is mine is yours and we share attitude does not resonate with people. To be part of the collective, both as an individual and in terms of your family, there are certain things you have to sacrifice. You join together with a lot of people you don’t know. Most are good, but some might be bad. This part is challenging. Building the trust, building the cooperative attitude, making the organization work. We are creating a different kind of organization. According to the national law of cooperatives, we have to come up with a statute for our organization, as well as internal rules that moderates how we act.
The cooperative strives to get the greatest sense of harmony with our members. For this reason, the members decide what they want to do, based on their interests. We united a large amount of people to come together and decided to form a cooperative. Because the constitution that we had wasn’t changed, we had to work with what we had. In order for it to be a true revolution, we had to change the model of production, which had been production by and for a single owner. We have had to maintain the battle because there have been a lot of enemies.
There are many difficulties. The first is land. Then is to have the resources and the finances. To have a state that values what you are producing. And then to be able to bring it to the people, whether it is processed or raw. These are national issues, not just in this state. It has to be a national policy. It is still not national, but we are heading there. Our production goes to the state, but nationally, only part of the production is bought by the state. There are gaps to fill to enable the state to buy the majority of all the country’s products, which will then go to feed the Venezuelan people. The infrastructure, for the most part, is still in the hands of those who are not part of this process and who do not like this government. They put up any obstacles they can to make the food not benefit the people.
The socialism that we have been working to move forward is not a form of socialism that we are just following some recipe of Marx or of Mao. It is a Venezuelan style socialism. We are taking different concepts and adapting them to our conditions. So, a group of people came together to write down exactly what it is we are striving for. And to convince those people who did not yet believe in this new model. It was hard work, but it was not impossible.
Food sovereignty is now in our national constitution. The constitution of Venezuela was discussed among the people and approved by referendum. What is in that constitution are the ideas of the people. We are in agreement and compliance with what the constitution says about food sovereignty. It is for this that we have to work very hard to get the lands in order to work the lands. We are convinced about the need for food sovereignty. If we weren’t convinced, we wouldn’t be struggling for the land, we would be struggling for something else.