Around 300 men and women who live off the land producing food left Portuguesa State on foot on July 12 of last year en route to Caracas. Dubbed the Admirable Campesino March, the peasants passed through five states and covered more than 400 km to deliver proposals to the Bolivarian government, demanding solutions [to a number of agrarian problems].
Among their demands was the regularization of land title disputes, justice for the assassinated peasant leaders, and the holding of a campesino congress that would look to unify land workers. Their demands were presented at nationally published meeting with President Nicolas Maduro, who immediately gave the go-ahead and instructed his cabinet, especially those who work in relation to agrarian issues, to solve them case by case.
Now, more than 300 days since, the responses have been few.
In this same time period, according to Jesus Osorio, spokesman for the march, 16 peasants have died as a result of rural violence. Osorio, alongside a group of peasants, held a sit-in outside the Ministry for Productive Agriculture and Land to demand that the word of the President of the Republic be fulfilled.
Other requests [by the marching campesinos], within the framework of work groups held with the executive, included the inclusion of 50,000 extra hectares into the food crop plan. The Minister of Agriculture, Wilmer Castro Soteldo, pledged at the time to incorporate these lands into the National Crop Plan for the North Summer Cycle. The cycle has now passed, and with it [the Minister’s] promise.
Now, a little more than 30 days before the start of the winter crop cycle, farmers and peasants of the march have still not received any response. For this cycle they have requested the incorporation of 38,000 hectares.
For Osorio, it is essential to comply with [Maduro’s] instructions, since [higher] food production will help “at a time like this in which we live. With the strategic task of producing food we could win the war that we are going through.”
In this sense, the agricultural producer added that it is vital that this goes hand in hand with the recognition of the right to the land for the men and women who produce food on it every day. “This contributes to the fight against the large estates, but also in the defense of the national territory in this moment of foreign threat to the homeland” stated the spokesperson of the peasant March.
Half baked instructions
The encounter between President Nicolas Maduro and the Admirable Campesina March was held on August 2, 2018, during which Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez, President of the National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello and the person in charge of the agricultural portfolio, Wilmar Castro Soteldo, were entrusted to respond to each of the requests made by the agricultural producers.
Amongst the requests made was one related to the land ownership, with 108 cases [of disputed land ownership] nationwide awaiting regularization.
For Nieves Ríos, spokeswoman for the peasant march, dispossession of land amounts to the seizure of territory by Capital, which shows that, “in addition to an economic war, there is also a social war”, also seen by the assassination of campesinos.
In that sense, another point taken to the president was related to calls for justice for targeted assassination cases. During the Bolivarian revolution more than 300 peasants have been killed due to land issues, and hundreds have had to move because of threats. To this figure one must add 16 peasants who have been killed since the meeting with the president. In fact, the very day of the presidential meeting, assassins killed a campesino in Barinas State.
Another request made at the time was the revision of the [State run] institutions that govern the agrarian policy of the Bolivarian Government, since in many cases they have become inoperative and in other cases corruption has become cystic. This has produced a slowing down in the processes of the handing over of the land or producing a silence against requests for peasants.
Finally, the peasant march requested that a peasant congress be held, to organize and articulate the political forces of the sector, as well as to advance in the development of production and distribution plans at the national level. The proposal was to hold this with the logistical and political support of the Bolivarian revolution.
Postscript- Following the original publication of this article, three more campesinos were reported dead in the Guacharaquera Ranch in Portuguesa State March 22. Alexander Mendez, Danny Mujica, and Vladimir Sachez were reportedly involved in the organized campesino struggle in the ranch. These three targeted assassinations bring the total tally up 19 since President Maduro ordered that not another campesino must fall.
Furthermore, two campesinos were arrested by the Bolivarian National Guard on March 21 in the Fudeco Ranch in Lara for their role in organising the peasant community in the sector who looked to occupy and begin production on the land in accordance with Venezuelan law. In a press release by the four communal councils of the sector in which they denounce the arrest of Cesar and Luider Colmenarez, the landlord of the 300-hectare abandoned ranch is blamed for the attack. The ranch forms part of the public-private agreements under the umbrella of the Venezuelan Coffee Corporation, a public entity directly controlled by the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture.
Translated by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.