The struggle to include food sovereignty in the national constitution of Venezuela was hard-won. Felix Lopez, a farmer and cooperative member, discusses his role in the movement.
WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas , longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the book Food Voices: Stories From the People Who Feed Us . In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. WhyHunger is featuring highlights of these stories, gathered from 70 interviews on a journey that spanned from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond.
Felix Lopez is the Coordinator of Production at the Aracal Cooperative in Urachiche in the state of Yaracuy in Venezuela. He is also part of the Indigenous Farmers’ Movement of Yaracuy, known as Movimiento Jirajara. Felix has been part of the struggle for decades, including during a time when the Venezuelan government was not supportive of the campesinos’ (farmers’) movement.
“My story is very easy. I am a native farmer from this area. My parents were farmers and I was brought up in this culture. My parents taught me socialist ideals and we grew up thinking and speaking differently — not just thinking within the system we had, but beyond that. For years, I have been part of the struggle. There has been a lot of opposition and I have struggled for better conditions, better ways of living for the farmers. Because of this struggle, I have been imprisoned twice. The protests and calls for our release by the farmers’ movement outside the prison forced them to let me go. That was in ‘78 and ‘91.
“Food sovereignty is [now] in our national constitution. The constitution of Venezuela was discussed among the people and approved by referendum. We are in agreement with what the constitution says about food sovereignty and that is what we are working towards. It is for this that we have to work very hard to get land in order to work the land. 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.
“Aracal is the fruit of the everyday struggles of the campesinos. We united a large amount of people to come together to form a cooperative. Because the constitution that we had wasn’t yet changed at the time, 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. We had to, at times, fight against the state and other obstacles in order to have a cooperative.
“We are creating a new kind of cooperative, because in Venezuela there already were some cooperatives, but they were capitalist cooperatives. We wanted to have a socialist cooperative. We have created laws for the organization, as well as internal rules. According to the new national law of cooperatives, we have to come up with a statute for our organization about what we want, as well as internal rules that moderate 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.
“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 in Venezuela. I think this is one of the most effective models for society because, to work for yourself, you are not waiting for someone else to give you something or lend you something or provide you with something. It is hard work, but it is not impossible.”