Jesus Quintero looks up and down from the ground as he speaks.
“I like Chavez to the maximum,” he says.
Arias has driven me to la Marquesena, a sprawling piece of land up the highway from Barinas City. The land houses a government farm that produces food for the Mercals, the subsidized grocery stores that are spreading throughout the country.
Quintero is a supervisor. He works eight hours a day five days a week and often also Saturdays. When he works weekends he gets paid overtime. Right now he earns the same amount of money as he did driving a taxi in Barinas City, but he says that he prefers working the land to driving the taxi and will earn more money when the value of the food goes up.
He pats his belly.
“Chavez feeds me. All my seventy family members are Chavista. I am Chavista to death.”
It is somewhat of a coincidence that Arias has taken me to see la Marquesena. It is one of the places in Barinas I had most wanted to visit. During my first few months in Venezuela I’d learned that it was widely accepted that the names of the people who voted against Chavez in a 2004 referendum had been put into a database and are denied government jobs.
The computer program used to access this database is called Maisanta, the nickname of Chavez’s legendary great-grandfather Pedro Perez Delgado.
While I was in Sabaneta, Alfredo Aldana and Chavez’s cousin, Adrian Frias, separately told me different versions of Maisanta’s story.
“Some people thought Maisanta was very violent, a cruel guerrilla fighter,” Adrian said. “Others consider him a hero.”
Adrian’s version of the story has Maisanta going to look for a man that owes him money. He finds the man with a friend on seventh street in Sabaneta and confronts him.
The man tells Maisanta that he won’t pay the debt.
Both the man and his friend come at Maisanta drawing their guns, but Maisanta draws faster and shoots both dead before they can get off a shot.
Alfredo’s version of the story has Maisanta’s sister becoming pregnant by a cruel mayor from a different town. Their mother hands Maisanta a rifle and tells him that he must kill the mayor to defend his sister’s honor.
Maisanta takes the rifle and kills the mayor.
Both stories end with Maisanta needing to flee Sabaneta before he is arrested. He joins an insurgency against the dictator Juan Vincente Gomez and is a savage fighter before being betrayed and captured by government forces.
In 1922, Pedro Perez Delgado was sent to a Puerto Cabelo prison.
He died there.
Both Adrian and Alfredo claim he was poisoned.
After Delgado’s capture, Gomez also ordered the government expropriation of la Marquesena, the 4,000 acre farm owned by Delgado.
In 2005, Chavez, in an action he referred to as a “rescue,” re-expropriated the land from the wealthy family who had become la Marquesena’s owners after a series of title transfers.
Today, the land is meant to help Venezuela combat its dependence on imported food. “There are 26 million people in Venezuela,” Arias says. “This will be a long process.”
Even if it will be a long time before Venezuela succeeds with the revolution, on la Marquesena I find no lack of enthusiasm.
Alongside the members of the different cooperatives who have been contracted to work the fields, there are 180 campesinos from different Latin American countries who have been given scholarships by the Venezuelan government to learn about agricultural production. The students say they are doing their part to help Chavez complete Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America.
“Capitalism is fake and dirty,” one student says.
“Who controls it?” says another.
Myra Vizandos, a student from Colombia, walks me through a field with lines of green plants popping up from the soil.
“This is very interesting, being here in Venezuela. A big opportunity. We are going to apply what we learn here in our own countries. The need in our countries is great. Everything here is all in small production now. But this an economic chance for the land.”