Community action, mobilisation, and self-organisation
An important feature of many self-organized and homegrown communities is the community efforts infused in the growth of the neighborhoods. Upgrading these settlements instead of relocating the residents is a better option because of the strength of community ties in the settlements which proves beneficial for self-building and organizing. For example, the most basic facilities such as sewage lines and paved streets were introduced in Barrio San Blas through the initiative of the communities. Neighbors came together to propose projects they needed to the municipal councils, making these barrios establishments of self-governance. The same happened in Barrio Juventud Bolivariana where the community bought their pipelines to introduce better water services in their neighborhoods.
For a country dealing with an economic crisis and protests against the current administration, numerous barrios in the Petare neighborhood are still economically active. There is also an influx of residents from the city who come seeking work when they lose their jobs. Many local leaders in the barrios, such as San Blas, have taken a stand against both the Chavez and Maduro administrations to ensure they could continue to regulate their development on their own terms and pace.
Women are usually key actors in the barrios- traditional gender roles that assign women to domestic and child-raising duties and their exclusion from traditionally male-dominated political spheres have increased their engagement in domestic, community-related concerns such as health and education. The culture of many women working from home and being actively present in their neighborhood translates into the presence of many female community leaders in the barrios. Women of barrios have mobilized the community to create local spaces of participation partly beyond state control, which has strengthened their negotiating power within state-sponsored programs. The shared experiences of women, together with their use of democratic methods of popular control such as local assemblies, help avoid the appropriation of women's labor by the state for their means. The dynamics of the family are such that the mother is often the head of the family, which explains the strong ties between female leaders and the community.
The residents know what their communities are most in need of in terms of public health, socializing, and recreation. They therefore often clash with entities such as FAES (used to be called Tupamaros) who are paramilitary armed forces assigned by the government to take control over barrios. Especially in Barrio San Blas, the techniques used by the FAES would often include terrorizing the residents and local leaders- yet another hurdle towards self-management for the barrios. Political agendas have repeatedly tried to drag down the progress made by homegrown settlements.
Another example includes a 20-year old barrio, Barrio Juventud Bolivariana. In 2000, a group of people from Barrio San Blas “invaded” a stretch of land between San Blas and Pomarrosa Estate. They were inspired by Chavez’s promise to redistribute land to the poor and improve their living conditions. The residents started by establishing ranchos (a derogatory term to describe self-fabricated wood and cardboard dwellings), then installing more wooden walls and zinc roofs. Even though they had trouble with transporting materials from the main road to the land, the families themselves laid blocks for their houses, and all services were assembled from within the communities and with help from surrounding barrios. Another homegrown settlement helped the Juventud Bolivariana with installing an electric cable before the city stepped in to install proper electricity services. Residents bought their pipelines and connected them to the main tube that passed from San Blas to the Pomarrosa and managed to partner with a subsidiary of the national water company, Hidrocapital. Easy mobility, the lack of which was a significant problem for the residents, was also sorted out when neighbors organized taxi services on the main road and public transport services including the barrio on their routes.
While many residents speak favorably about the role of the Chavez administration, others share the impact of the broken promises of the government. The civil association, the network of community leaders, was disbanded by the government to form the Consejos Comunales. In a locale where everyone had a right to construct and develop as per their wishes, the Consejos Comunales aimed to centralize the power distributed amongst the residents. In addition to reducing the control of the residents in their neighborhood, the government also doesn’t provide them with funding for their proposals. While international aid may be available to residents, they may not know how to obtain their funding. Since the government no longer runs special provisions and provides resources to the barrios, dependency on international aid is highly beneficial.