Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bolivarian Food Revolution



I know I am not alone when I express my extreme sadness over the death of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I have been reading about his illness for a while and was hopeful that he could pull through. 

I know that the revolution is never one person – it is the people. So I know that, unless outside influences try to destroy it, the Bolivarian revolution he started will continue.

I had the honor to hear President Chavez speak when I went to Caracas. I was there to speak at the 2006 World Social Forum. This is actually where the concept of Food Empowerment Project first came to me.

Chavez spoke with great passion about what was happening to Mother Earth and urged us to protect her. He talked about how humans treated her and her creatures with such disregard and how we must act.

I sat in awe of a president of a country who would take time to meet and speak with a group of activists – not donors, not even potential voters – about our shared dreams and hopes for a better world.

I was lucky to see some of the changes he was beginning to institute. I was able to tour an area that was once an oil refinery and see what they had turned it into: one cooperative that made t-shirts and another that made shoes, a free clinic (equipped with a dentist office and other health services), and an organic garden.

The organic garden was maintained by senior citizens. The food was grown to feed the workers and anything left over was sold to a local market. This is similar to what Food Empowerment Project would love to see – people growing their own food and feeding their own community. 

We were able to look down at the ramshackle homes and see the small green roof tops that indicated where Cuban doctors lived, who work for free under the oil-for-doctors program. The doctors live upstairs and their clinics are downstairs. We saw many green roofs because they wanted to make sure there were enough doctors for each neighborhood.

In another area of Caracas, space was created for a garden at the crossroads between two highways. Maybe not the most ideal situation from a toxic perspective, but you can see the creative ideas being generated. The area was previously full of trash and it took about 14 truckloads to remove the garbage. 

The government transformed that space into a garden maintained by homeless people.

I know that no leader is perfect, so I write this to share what I saw and heard.

Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, uses food as a tool for positive change – to empower the people.

And yet, I can’t help but feel many times in the US that food is treated like a weapon. From Monsanto to Coca-cola to the lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities, food is a battleground and a marker of privilege rather than a right.

Instead of handing out ideas, tools, and land to make our communities healthy, we seem to prioritize corporate claims to own our water, our seeds.

When we act here against those who seek to put profit over people, greed over healthy communities, we must never forget we are acting in solidarity with people around the globe who also want a better life. We’re bound together in this struggle and desperately need creative models to feed ourselves, empower the people, and end the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

Photo of organic garden in Caracas, Venezuela 2006.