The Story Behind the Av. Baralt Protests

Mansion's Bakery, blocks away from Miraflores, is the latest casualty in the government's war on bread. It's also proof that people do go out and protest, until repression arrives, of course.

Alfredo spends countless hours going around the city in search of low prices and short lines, like so many caraqueños. For bread and pastries, though, he never had to go far: Mansion’s Bakery is just two blocks away from his house, right on Av. Baralt downtown. It’s his top choice. “I don’t know how they do it, they’re incredible. They have the best prices, amazing service, and they’re absolutely adored by the community”, he says.

Under Maduro’s rule, of course, running such a successful private venture means you’re looking for trouble. The bakery is now occupied by José Solórzano, a dude most famous for vandalizing and bringing down a statue of Cristóbal Colón. Solórzano claims to speak for the “free producers of bread” (free not as in freedom or beer, but as chavista newspeak for “forced”). I called Alfredo to ask how things got to this point.

Under Maduro’s rule, running a successful private venture means you’re looking for trouble.

Trouble started at least a year ago. Miraflores employees, mostly armed guards, occasionally went into Mansion’s, demanded bags full of bread, and hauled them in their SUVs without paying a dime. Atracadores de pan, pues. Emilio, the plump, affable portu who’s been managing the store, standing at the register every day for over 25 years, just had to suck it up. Cost of doing business sortathing.

But the situation got worse. Just last month, Alfredo saw national guardsmen sitting down for lunch, ordering food that costs much more than simple loaves of bread, then simply leaving without paying. That level of cara ‘e tabla. They then loudly complained about prices and threatened to denounce them to SUNDDE, the price control enforcement agency.

“I really don’t understand the fixation with this one bakery”, says Alfredo. “There are many others in the area that are way more expensive and don’t sell plain bread as often. Mansion’s was the one bakery in the area where you get friendly service, a safe heaven from the malandreo. This was the store where the local guy with Down Syndrome came asking for bread and the clerks patiently explained, day in and day out, that he needed to wait till 4 pm. Other places? He was rushed out without a second glance.”

Foto: Francisco Bruzco – Cronico.Uno

Then, on Wednesday last week, Alfredo found Mansion’s closed without any advance notice. “Strange”, he thought, “maybe they ran out of flour?” But there was no sign posted. Regular customers, most of them past their 50’s, were visibly frustrated and hungry: used to surviving on this bakery’s Bs.600 loaves, they just couldn’t afford to go the one across the street that sells only Bs.8,000 pizzas.

The following day, SUNDDE announced it was going to take over the bakery as part of their “90-day temporary occupations.” This is, as we know, more chavista newspeak, because on Saturday night Alfredo saw some people busy defacing the storefront and painting a picture of Simón Bolívar on a wall. Ahora es del pueblo.

Only el pueblo wasn’t going to stand for it this time. Emilio and the bakery’s workers began protesting against the seizure. This panadería is so well-loved around the neighborhood, Alfredo assures me, that dozens of people took to the streets to join the cause, an impressive feat in a place just three blocks away from Miraflores and the epicenter of the state’s repressive might. Some people were quick to wonder if this could mark the beginning of el zaperoco. Today, though, the demonstrations have wound down. Many were too afraid to take part after witnessing the usual deployment of colectivos from La Pastora and 23 de enero, thugs surrounded and empowered by squads of national guardsmen.

Solórzano, the vandal-turned-bread-liberator, told the neighbors that things had changed: they were going to make sure the bakery used 90% of its flour for plain bread, and that every single canilla would weigh 180 grams. Well, what we are sure of is that short of some very generous government subsidies and impressive management skills, Mansion’s Bakery is going bankrupt in the very near future.

It’s a damn shame.