Santa Elena de Uairen, December 9th, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- Venezuelan communards and activists marched yesterday to demand the release of David Diaz, a leading member of an urban community project in Barqisimeto, Lara state. Diaz was arrested on 3 December and ultimately charged with “invading” private property, an accusation that his comrades feels is suspect.
“Land is a right, not merchandise!” chanted protestors in Venezuelan capital Caracas, as they marched to the public prosecutor’s office.
A statement circulated by the Ana Soto Productive Socialist City, of which Diaz is a resident and active figure, says that Diaz was arrested at a police checkpoint while traveling to Caracas to represent the community project in a grassroots conference, which president Nicolas Maduro was expected to attend.
According the communique, Diaz was initially charged with a robbery that took place in 2007 in the western state Merida, a place he had never before visited. After being brought into court on 4 December, the charge was changed to “invasion” of private land. Diaz’s fellow residents at the Ana Soto city project believe his arrest is linked to his activist work in the community and accuse local landowners of buying into the justice system against Diaz.
After word of Diaz’s arrest got out, residents gathered at the local socialist party PSUV headquarters, where party members pledged their support in what was deemed an act of injustice.
Ana Soto resident Alberto Peña told a Lara community television broadcaster that forces within that state are “once again criminalizing the struggles of the people.” Citing the constitutional law outlawing latifundium, Peña insisted, “We are defending the peoples’ right to dignified shelter.”
Venezuelan law considers any large uninhabited estate put to no productive use and of no benefit to the surrounding community as illegal latifundium.
The “socialist city” Ana Soto sprung up three years ago when over 400 families organized to create a productive urban space in a large privately owned lot and building, reportedly abandoned for over 16 years. The neighborhood, named after the 17th century indigenous warrior of present-day Lara state who led successful rebellions against Spanish colonizers for over 50 years, functions as a self-sustaining commune and hotbed for grassroots activism.
The area is surrounded by wealthy suburbs, whose residents have categorically rejected the new district and its pro-government initiatives. During the violent anti-government protests that swept the country in February, community leader Alexis Martinez was killed in one these surrounding suburbs by sniper fire while clearing rubbish from a roadblock.
A report published by community broadcaster LaraTvec accuses “corrupt civil servants, who place themselves in the service of real estate capital” of being behind the arrest, in an attempt to “give criminal characteristics to a problem that is wholly social; the question of land rights.”
“We want the National Assembly to call for the freedom of our companion this week,” said land rights activist Freddy Mogollon during yesterday’s march. “It turns out that those of us who live in the barrios (informally developed, dense neighborhoods), which account for more than 60% of Venezuelans who occupy land, are now considered invaders. A classist law is applied, those prosecutors' hands were won [by bribes]. These actions correspond with the interests of the bourgeoisie, and we will stay in the streets until this man is freed.”
During yesterday’s march, PSUV legislator Julio Chavez also defended Diaz’s innocence. “They now accuse him of being an invader…if David is an invader, then Fidel Barbito [former culture minister] and [current culture minister Reinaldo] Iturriza… and I myself are also ‘invaders,” Chavez said, making reference to government officials who recently came out in support of a similarly occupied community in Caracas.
The decision whether or not to indict Diaz was supposed to have been reached this afternoon, though no official notice has yet been given.
The question of idle land and ownership pervades Venezuelan politics, not only because conditional expropriation is condoned in the constitution, but also granted that some of the nation’s largest communes flourish on lands abandoned but still owned over centuries by powerful oligarchical families.
This morning, communard and radio host Jose Miguel Gomez warned that Diaz’s arrest and the recent court revocation of the land title held until recently by the nation’s most productive agricultural commune, El Maizal, is a sign of increased bourgeois influence within the judicial system.
Even beyond claiming land for themselves, Gomez says elite families are intimidated by the peoples’ power springing from the occupied lands.
“The bourgeoisie uses judicial power to dismantle communes and impede our victorious march toward socialism,” he wrote. “It’s about stopping communes from becoming solid tools for national production and economic diversification.”
Gomez urged communards and land activists to continue creating and resisting, writing, “The oligarchs know their hour has come, that 2015 will be the year that the people show the world that this revolution can be productive.”