Mérida, 3rd October 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The alleged murder of a rural worker in Lara state is the latest in a series of killings allegedly linked to paramilitaries in the far north of the Andes, according to a local human rights group.
On Monday night, 24 year old Jose Perez was en route to the rural community of Cerro Negro when he was reportedly killed.
According to the Association for Campesino (rural worker) Human Rights (APDHC), Perez may have been murdered by individuals associated with the El Fernandito gang- a group with alleged links to paramilitaries operating out of Lara and neighbouring Portuguesa state.
So far, gangs in the mountainous region between Lara and Portuguesa may be responsible for the deaths of between 10-12 campesinos in the area this year.
Perez's death follows from the alleged killing of another rural worker, 20 year old Jose Silvestre Perez, from the community of El Flaco on 16 September. This small rural area is part of the El Maizal commune, which straddles the border of the two states.
According to APDHC, on 18 September gangs struck again in El Flaco, allegedly seizing control of the local community school and stealing vehicles.
“The community school [was made] into an operations centre to evict farmers from their lands and recruit children and prevent their return to classes,” APDHC stated.
Community radio Antena Libre 96.3 fm presenter Jose Gomez has argued that the violence is politically motivated; targeting the commune, and linked to Colombian criminal organisations.
“The peoples' struggle has historically been repressed by the bourgeoisie, the struggle for the emancipation of land and rural sectors has been no exception,” Gomez stated.
Since 2001, conflicts between landless campesinos and large land holders have been reported in many rural communities. The 2001 Land Law empowered the government to redistribute unused land from ranchers and other large land owners to landless rural workers. Land holders who lost out under the law reform have long been accused of hiring gangs and paramilitaries to intimidate communities into giving up their new holdings, though rancher arrests are rare. According to unofficial figures, at least 300 campesinos have been assassinated in relation to these disputes.
“Today a village was taken, but tomorrow could be a national operation that would allow imperialism to end the Bolivarian revolution,” Gomez said last month.
Venezuela's western states have long struggled with crime proportedly linked to paramilitary groups that operate along the country's border with Colombia.
In 2010, Colombian authorities reported that paramilitary violence had intensified in the border region of Norte de Santander. Then Colombian Ombudsman Volmar Perez Ortiz told the press that paramilitaries were targeting civilians.
Earlier this year, the Venezuelan government announced it had captured two paramilitary groups that had crossed the border, and allegedly planned a terrorist attack on Venezuelan soil.
“These two groups that were captured in our territory belong to two well-known Colombian paramilitary gangs, and one of the groups is linked to one of Colombia’s most wanted criminals, El Chepe Barrera,” said the minister of internal affairs Miguel Rodriguez.
The latest attacks came less than two months after the Maduro administration stated in August that it would renew efforts to counter cross-border violence.
“I want to tell the people of Tachira, Zulia, Apure, Amazonas, Bolivar and all areas bordering these states, we are setting up a new strategy to strengthen governance... at the border, President Nicolas Maduro stated, when he announced a new joint civil-military taskforce would crack down on criminal gangs and paramilitaries.