Photo: Former customers of Veneranda Martinez-Gutierrez kneel in front of a memorial constructed at the site of her death.
By David Martinez
On Sunday night in East Austin, women revolutionaries and community members held a vigil for Veneranda Martinez-Gutierrez, a single mother of three who was shot by her estranged husband, Florencio Barron, at a gas station in the East Riverside neighborhood. After he shot Veneranda, Barron turned the gun on himself and was found dead at the scene. While physically unharmed, their now orphaned children witnessed the entire event, and Veneranda heroically died trying to shield her daughter from gunfire.
The tragic murder-suicide occurred around 5:30 AM on December 6, at a Valero gas station in the working class neighborhood of East Riverside in Central Austin. Veneranda was a constant fixture in the early mornings at the gas station as a well-known vendor of tamales to the local community. For the vigil, activists gathered near the spot of her death with a banner that read “Honra a Veneranda (Honor Veneranda)” and set up a small memorial with her photo surrounded by candles and flowers.
The details of the incident have devastated and enraged the masses, not only for the loss of such a beloved community member, but also due to the course of events leading up to her death. Veneranda’s killer, Barron, had been stalking her for months, and she had called the police multiple times seeking protection that was never provided. Under capitalism, the police’s job is not to protect the working class woman or man, but to serve the ruling class and protect property.
At the vigil, the organizers, Popular Women’s Movement – Movimiento Femenino Popular (PWM-MFP), emphasized this, telling attendees how Austin Police Department (APD) employs abusers who beat their girlfriends and molest their own children, as in the cases of officers Jason Dusterhoft and Dustin Lee, and should not be expected to help women.
The activists spread out to each corner of Riverside and Montopolis Drives, handing out information about Veneranda’s death and soliciting donations for the family to cover funeral expenses and to support her children, now living with other family members. PWM-MFP reportedly raised over $700, all from the generosity of working class Austinites who donated directly from their car windows. One CapMetro bus driver, who said he didn’t know the victim but drives by each day, stopped his route to donate, and many other donations came from mothers with young children themselves.
Numerous people who either knew Veneranda personally, or through purchasing her tamales, were deeply affected by the tragedy, and joined the vigil to make a donation and stop and reflect. Many told other attendees they had just bought tamales from her as recently as the day before, and were now in disbelief that she is gone.
Claudia Rodriguez, a community member who was a customer and neighbor of Veneranda, told Incendiary how the hard-working single mother would arrive to the gas station early each morning with her three children to set up a spot in the grass to sell tamales out of a cooler. She would sell out every morning before hurrying off to ensure that her children would arrive to school on time.
“She was a really strong woman, always providing for her kids. Always trying to do the best for them,” Rodriguez shared while holding back tears, as she embraced her own young son standing next to her.
“This has been her spot for a while already. Everybody knew this lady…and it’s sad, because just yesterday, we ate the last tamales we had from her.”
A member of PWM-MFP delivered a moving speech in Spanish, saying, “Domestic violence takes the lives of women and innocent children every day. It leaves scars on those who endure it, and it ends lives. When women seek help from the police, they rarely take it seriously…Today is a sad day because a mother, sister, daughter, and woman has been separated from her community and family.”
Barron, Veneranda’s killer, has been reported as her common law husband, and was not a part of the family’s life in Austin. He had been deported to Mexico in 2016 following a conviction for assaulting a child at Allison Elementary. US imperialism’s answer to Barron’s reactionary crimes was merely to send him away to another country as part of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, and was not motivated out of a desire to protect the people.
As an undocumented person, Barron had no access to any resources which could change his reactionary views, capacity for violence or any mental illness which he may have had. The ruling class has no interest in combating either male chauvinism or mental illness among the working class. Only a socialist society is capable of transforming such people.
Working class men such as Barron who turn to reactionary violence against women and children must be seen in the context of US imperialism, rather than an isolated case. Barron, as an undocumented immigrant from a nation oppressed by US imperialism, would have not only struggled for work, but any psychological problems would go untreated for the lack of mental healthcare available to people living in the country without legal papers, or to any member of the working class.
But apart from any mental health problems, in hunting down and turning on Veneranda, Barron acted on the violent anti-woman ideology that is constantly reproduced by the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie spreads sexism among the masses in order to divide working class man against working class woman, rather than against their true enemy, the bourgeoisie themselves who exploit all.
Men and women both stand to benefit greatly from socializing child care, breaking with the privatized care under capitalism which forces women to stay home and working men to divide up an already insufficient income. Working women, are dually oppressed, as the burden of childcare and making ends meet is placed upon them. Veneranda waking her children before sunrise every day, so they could join her as she sold her homemade food for a humble income, is but one small example of the efforts that women go through to support their families.
Throughout the night, activists spoke on how we must organize women to defend themselves against the abusers who cannot be transformed under capitalism, and to fight for a new society in which workers have the power to structure society for the good of the people, rather than the profits of the bourgeoisie. The economic system of capitalism is built on inequality, and by exploiting contradictions among the people, such as those between men and women, the bourgeoisie is able to reinforce their rule, as well as hyper exploit women and oppressed nations people.
“Your loss has affected all of this community, and it saddens me that now your family has to live without you,” a PWM-MFP activist told the crowd. “We must organize women against abusers and work towards revolution. We must unite ourselves with the struggle of the proletariat. We are going to continue fighting against the old system of exploitation.”
Bourgeois media outlet KXAN offered only the most distorted coverage, by omitting the politically charged nature of the vigil, they presented their audience with the messages of “social peace” and “healing” when in reality working people and militant women organizers made it clear that the class and social conditions which result in such tragedies, require a fight to accomplish any sense of people’s justice.
The women militants and community members alike understood that the police have no trust in the community for good reason. They expressed many times that social peace is only possible with social transformation, that healing will not take place when the system keeps its knives in the back of the working class and poor immigrant populations.