Santa Elena, August 18th, 2015. (venezuelanalysis.com)- Over the past week, two different Venezuelan groups have stepped forward to denounce illegitimate raids conducted by National Guard officials (GNB) against peasants on disputed farmland in Barinas state, and on the agricultural commune El Maizal, respectively. Over a thousand acres of crops were reportedly destroyed in Barinas.
Edison Diaz, the spokesperson for the affected farmworkers in Barinas, brought their case to AIPO, a people’s defense organization in Caracas, months after the attack, initially fearing repercussions.
Diaz explained that 2500 families were evicted during the raid, which he claimed was ordered by the state governor Adan Chavez.
“We had been working 480 hectares with our own resources, self-financed…” Diaz told community news broadcaster Aporrea Tvi, “We planted there over 60,000 plantain trees, 30 hectares of yucca, 30 hectares of corn….and rows of scallions, tomatoes and peppers. It took us three months, and all of it was lost in one day.”
The land in question, a has been occupied by farmers since 2011, with permission from the National Land Institute (INTI), which upholds the country’s land laws.
In 2001, Venezuela’s revolutionary Land Law made waves by permitting groups of landless tenant farmers to obtain land belonging to large estates, or latifundios, that are not producing at at least 80% of their capacity. The law stimulated co-ops and food production outside the country’s existing monopolies, while challenging oligarchical land ownership in Venezuela’s countryside.
Under the law, farmers are protected from eviction unless INTI determines their occupation illegitimate. In April of this year, after a new president of INTI came into office, the legality of the farmworkers’ occupation was brought into question.
Notwithstanding, residents and activists alike are outraged at the destruction of crops during a conspicuous time for Venezuela, which is currently suffering from food shortages.
Diaz, who is also a coordinator for the Anti-imperialist Socialist Campesino Movement, recounted how on June 3rd, an estimated 800 GNB and seven tractors set upon the community, uprooting crops that were scheduled to be harvested that week.
While asking for protection from activist circles, Diaz maintained that the sortie was indubitably sent by “the untouchable Adan Chavez,” who is also the late president Hugo Chavez’s elder brother.
A report published Sunday by Aporrea Tvi called upon Chavez to respond to the accusation.
The commune El Maizal, which straddles the states of Lara and Portuguesa, was also raided by GNB on Saturday, though details have not been released.
According to a statement posted by the communal government, the attack took place during a televised event during which president Nicolas Maduro presented the commune with new greenhouses, awarding their extremely successful efforts at food production.
This is not the first time El Maizal has been the target of aggression, and representatives have avowed that local GNB units have been known to act on the orders of influential landowners in the region.
In December, the communal property title of El Maizal was revoked by a Supreme Court judge, though Maduro has remained firm in his support of the 7500 communards in spite of what he deemed a “counterrevolutionary” ruling.
In the past month alone, the federal government has showered the communes with support, bequeathing equipment from tractors to computers across the nation, and approving 500 million bolivares in funding for communal enterprises, which are small to medium scale companies owned and operated by networks of communal councils.
Communes Minister Elias Jaua has not yet made a formal declaration on these most recent episodes.