Introduction
Tcally
he Miraflores presidential palace in downtown Caracas has histori-
been the site of much political activity, from presidential vic-
tories to coups, impeachments, and protests. From 1998, Miraflores was
occupied by President Hugo Chávez and a governing coalition of Bolivarian
political parties, who carried out a radical program for redistribution and
regional integration based on the vision of the early-nineteenth-century
Republican leader Simón Bolívar. Next door to the Miraflores palace is
Mirapollo, a fried chicken joint. Palmiro Avilan, a community organizer
from the parish of Petare, carries out most of his political work here.
When I met Palmiro at Mirapollo, I had to elbow my way past noisy
gatherings of swarthy men tearing through plates of greasy fries and roast
chicken. The booth in the corner of Mirapollo is Palmiro’s ‘‘office.’’ Palmiro
is in his fifties, short and broad shouldered, with a goatee and dark skin. He
has three cell phones on the table which are constantly ringing and beeping
with incoming text messages. Community activists come in and out of the
booth. Over a cold malta, Palmiro tells me that he is a devotee of Maria
Lionza, a popular cult based on various spirits of indigenous and black
fighters from the past, such as Guaicaipuro, Negro Primero, and Maria
Lionza herself.
‘‘These spirits have the elements of blackness,’’ said Palmiro, ‘‘a spiri-
tuality that’s been gestating and has its roots in the rochelas [communities
of escaped slaves] that formed for over two hundred and fifty years in the
plains. It was in the plains that they created the liberation army of re-
sistance to rescue five countries from Spanish imperialism. One of the first
leaders was José Tomás Boves, who led a group of ragtag Indians and
blacks against a Republican army that was in the hands of mantuanos
[creole elites].’’
In nationalist histories, Boves is an antihero who betrayed the cause of
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