One of Yolanda’s biggest disappointments came while working for San Blas, with the loss of the 2017 “elections”, the first time in 11 years that the opposition lost the election for the Sucre City Hall, which historically supported opposition candidates.
Many of the community leaders who worked alongside the Sucre City Hall for years towards the improvement of their communities quit. Many of Yolanda’s friends were against the adcotrination they were subjected to by the new administration. Around 30 of the community leaders quit.
Yolanda decided that resisting would be her new form of protest. What used to be days of work and planning for projects to be carried out by the leaders of the 12 subsectors of South Petare, became heavy days of pro-government movie screenings and socialism workshops.
“[...] they were always trying to force us into their politics, there was a constant battle over power, because we wouldn’t let them indoctrinate us, [...] nothing gets done nowadays [...] I just want this government to fall fast, I don’t want a CLAP box, I don’t want anything from them.
Even though Yolanda’s functions in the Sucre City Hall were cut to a minimum, her next goal was the Consejo Comunal.
After the dismantling of neighborhood associations and civil associations by the regime, they installed Consejos Comunales in each community.
Pro government neighbors stated that Yolanda couldn’t run for the Consejo Comunal elections because she didn’t support the current government. Nevertheless it was the neighbors that demanded Yolanda’s candidacy to be accepted. She won the elections with a groundbreaking result of over 500 votes, and is now the general comptroller. Yolanda explains that government supporters were against her candidacy because normally opposition leaders would step down in Consejo Comunal elections, and then any benefits sent by the government to the community in the form of food subsidies,domestic electric appliances, etc would be controlled solely by government supporters who would distribute these benefits only amongst the pro-government neighbors. What happened in the Juventud Bolivariana Consejo Comunal elections when the 3 leaders of the civil association stepped down in the Consejo Comunal elections, opening ground for people like Richard. This is what used to happen before Yolanda ran for the general comptroller position, the Consejo Comunal leaders received doors and new T.V’s by the government and they split them up between themselves and their families. Naturally, after Yolanda took control of the San Blas Consejo Comunal it never received benefits again.
With no benefits coming in, most pro government Consejo Comunal members have lost interest in developing projects or organizing activities for their community.
Despite their lack of interest in the development of projects or activities for their community, they are strongly against the carrying out of any opposition led initiative, any initiative sponsored by a private company as well as any initiative brought in by any Non-Governmental Organization organized by Yolanda or any community member.
Just a couple weeks before our interview, Yolanda organized a free medical assistance day with local NGO “Manos al Futuro” and “Empresas Polar.” Even though none of the Consejo Comunal members offered to help, Yolanda organized a group of volunteers and cleaned up the square where the event was going to be held.
“The morning of the medical assistance day, [...] the Consejo Comunal people sent a truck of sardines to the square, so they would sell sardines and my event would get ruined, but neighbors hurried off to my home to to warn me. I ran off to the square, and ran them off. [...] I went as soon as they warned me, thank God they warned me.”Yolanda Vegas, Neighbor of San Blas Barrio
Yolanda has worked for her community her whole life. She initially worked for the Sucre city hall as collaborator, later as a zone coordinator for the San Blas barrio. She currently serves as a general comptroller (highest rank in the consejo comunal scheme) of the San Blas consejo comunal, despite the chavistas rejection of her candidacy. The arrival of chavismo, certainly made her work in the community a lot harder and complicated. From intimidation, displacement and several indoctrination tries, Yolanda continues to work for San Blas from her own political stance. The national blackout that struck Venezuela in March of this year was a testimony of this. San Blas had to overcome 8 days without electricity or water. Yolanda didn’t wait long till she began to fabricate oil lamps and distribute them amongst her neighbor for what seemed like endless dark nights. The rising prices of candles and batteries alarmed Yolanda, soon she was teaching other members of the community how to make their own oil lanterns. Now most of them are prepared, they never know when a new blackout will strike.
“This [San Blas] was very beautiful, now it’s just sad and regrettable, this became nothing.”.-Yolanda Vegas, Neighbor of San Blas Barrio
Yolanda’s leadership is admirable, yet not uncommon. Most communities have their own Yolanda’s who look out for the well-being of all neighbors, they most overcome much complex problems nowadays and have less or none resources to do so but they continue to insist on a better future for their people.
Yolanda now works in partnership with local organizations like “Manos al Futuro”, “Alimenta la Solidaridad”, “Trazando Espacios” amongst many others to continue to bring benefits for her community in a moment of great need.
These leaders are not only well articulated amongst themselves but have a deep understanding of their territories and the hard pressing issues that most affect their communities. They’ve been practicing self-governance since the founding of their communities, and with proper technical assistance they could continue to improve not only their built environment but the delicate social web that makes up their community.
Any level of government must understand the role they play in their own development process and not only support this but continue to provide them with tools to carry out the proper planning, community organization and financing of their projects. A difference from the workshops carried out by the Consejo Comunal that center solely on the state as a single source of financing, the government should provide communities with financing opportunities through private bank loans, social security initiatives led by private companies or even initiatives financed by local or international NGO’s.
The government has failed in their attempt to control the development of all unplanned settlements, it is only through the decentralization of power that these communities will be able to improve their quality of life.