Caracas, March 14, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Campesino collectives took to the streets of Caracas on Monday to demand justice for Carlos Bolívar.
Bolívar, a longtime activist and spokesman from the Ezequiel Zamora Campesino Council and the Campesino Struggle Platform, was assassinated on March 2 in Guárico state. He had spearheaded the long struggle to rescue Los Tramojos landstead.
“We are here to urge national authorities to open a deep investigation into the assassination of Carlos Bolívar,” Jesús Osorio, also a prominent figure from the Campesino Struggle Platform, told Venezuelanalysis. “This is one of the most emblematic land struggles we have seen and one where a powerful landowner has used his influence to subvert justice.”
“This can’t go on unpunished,” he went on. “There is a revamped landowner offensive in the countryside that is targeting us to seize land.”
Ramón Soto, fellow member of the Ezequiel Zamora Campesino Council, echoed calls for a thorough investigation. “The situation needs to be clarified and those responsible must be punished, no matter who they are.”
In February 2022, around 30 campesino families secured land titles spanning some 2,900 hectares of the 4,800-hectare Los Tramojos plot. They had rescued the unproductive land in 2010 under the conditions set by the Land Law but were violently evicted in 2017 after local landowner José Elías Chirimelli presented title deeds that were later proven to be forgeries.
Protests and mobilizations brought the struggle to the limelight. After nearly five years, the Venezuelan Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of the Ezequiel Zamora Campesino Council and paved the way for its return to the land. Bolívar was heavily involved in efforts to jumpstart production, with cattle rearing being a key activity in the area.
However, Soto explained to Venezuelanalysis that the threats from Chirimelli never ceased.
“We feel constantly threatened because Chirimelli received the plot right next to ours,” he said. “Not just that, after he forged documents, why was he rewarded with land?”, Soto asked. He requested that the National Land Institute take action to remove Chirimelli from the area and either award the land to campesinos or use it for public works.
The rally featured campesino collectives from at least seven states. Speakers brought up cases of murdered activists targeted by alleged landowner violence. One of those was Urbano Reina, killed in Cojedes state in December 2022. Rural movements claim 350-400 campesinos have been killed since the approval of the 2001 Land Law, including 27 since the Admirable Campesino March of 2018, in which Carlos Bolívar participated.
Several Caracas social movements joined the Monday demonstration as well. 150 to 200 activists marched from Plaza Morelos to the Attorney General’s Office in central Caracas.
Amidst calls for Attorney General Tarek William Saab to come out and hear the protesters’ demands, a small delegation went in to meet with officials. Upon exiting, Campesino Struggle Platform spokesman Andrés Alayo told those present that there had been four arrests in Guárico state already and that public officials confirmed that it was a targeted killing.
He added that the Attorney General’s Office had likewise pledged to reactivate joint working groups with campesino movements and the Supreme Court dedicated to investigating violence against rural activists as well as judicial attacks.
Different speakers throughout the mobilization spoke of over 300 “false positives” whereby powerful landowners use local authorities and courts to bring criminal charges against campesino spokespeople so as to demobilize land struggles.
Alayo went on to call for unity in the Venezuelan countryside. “From many different colors we need to weave a unified flag,” he said.
The march then went on for several more blocks until a National Assembly office building. A commission of deputies welcomed in campesino representatives and likewise pledged to support efforts to address human rights violations in the countryside and mediate conflicts.
Monday’s rally follows other mobilizations from rural producers demanding support and regulation from the Venezuelan state. Coffee, corn, rice and sugar cane growers, among others, have staged protests requesting that the government back small-scale production and take action against a growing agribusiness influence.
Campesino spokespeople have likewise voiced concern over an unbridled influx of food imports that represent unfair competition for national production.