Mérida, 20th November 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Rural groups are demanding that justice be done in the cases of 178 peasant assassinations in the struggle over land ownership in Venezuela, and that humanitarian assistance be extended to victims’ families.
In a press conference held in Caracas on Wednesday by the Association of Relatives of Assassination Victims (Asofavisi) and the National Communard Network, rural activists denounced that at least 178 peasants had been assassinated due to land disputes since 2001, allegedly by gunmen hired by large landowners.
“Since 2001 we have experienced the fury of the national bourgeoisie, of the landowners. We’ve seen 178 peasants fall to hired killers,” said Maite Garcia, the daughter of farmer Armando Garcia, who was assassinated in 2002 in the western state of Zulia.
Garcia criticised judicial and police authorities for not investigating the murders and unearthing the presumed powerful actors behind them.
“Every case has been reported and recorded by the Attorney General’s office, however, until now there is not even one person in jail for the killing of our relatives…not in my father’s case or in any other that we know of are there arrests or suspects being searched for by authorities,” said the Asofavisi member to local media.
A representative of the National Communard Network, William Gudino, added that those who denounce the assassinations receive death threats themselves.
The conflicts over land ownership originate from the land redistribution policies of the administrations of Hugo Chavez (1999 – 2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013 - ). Under the 2001 Land Law and subsequent reforms the Bolivarian government has sought to break up large, idle land estates and allow peasants to gain ownership of the land they cultivate.
It is estimated that from 2001 to 2011 3.6 million hectares of land were expropriated, with this process continuing apace since then. There are around 30 million hectares of arable land in Venezuela, and in 1998 7 million hectares were held by just 0.4% of landowners.
However legal and illegal takeovers of land by peasants and indigenous groups have in some cases led to conflict with large landowners who have resisted such actions. Peasant groups claim that certain big landowners have hired gunmen to assassinate peasant leaders and rural workers involved in land disputes.
Peasant groups further argue that local judicial corruption and landowner influence prevent these cases from being investigated. The assassinations have taken place in rural areas in the west of Venezuela, which shares a long porous border with Colombia.
The Asofavisi and National Communard Network said on Wednesday that they suspect that Colombian paramilitary groups are also engaged in the assassinations in order to repress organised peasant groups.
“We are convinced that Colombian paramilitaries have a close relationship with these crimes. In this sense, we want to work with authorities to identify, locate and capture these armed and organised groups," said Gudino of the Communard Network.
The two pro-peasant groups have been holding discussions about the issue recently with the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly’s Committee of Interior Policy.
The activists want to propose to President Nicolas Maduro that a Law Against Assassinations (sicariato) be passed to combat judicial impunity and investigate the material and intellectual authors of the killings. They also want the murders to be declared as politically motivated, and they say that 17,000 signatures have been collected in support of the idea.
Other demands by the groups include: a commission with authorities to implement the proposed law, a state sponsored program of humanitarian assistance to victims’ relatives, and a new social program, or “mission”, for female peasants.
“We are struggling for the defence of human rights, for justice, and for the dignity of the fallen,” said Garcia of Asofavisi.
Gudino finished his declaration by stating, “We are showing solidarity with all those in any part of the world who have fallen in the struggle for a better, more just, peace loving society; for socialism”.