Caracas, March 14th 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s National Land Institute (INTI) has launched an investigation into the violent evictions of hundreds of families from occupied land in the rural state of Barinas last week, carried out by its chief regional representative.
According to reports from the country's largest rural social movement, the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), more than 860 people were removed from their homes when the INTI’s coordinator for Barinas, Ingrid Gil Guzmán, carried out an early morning raid on the farming communities of Orticero, Las Mercedes and Jovito last Tuesday in conjunction with law enforcement officials.
“When they arrived to evict us they drove the tractors over to destroy our crops, they poured gasoline on the plantains and poisoned the wells that the campesinos had made for human and animal consumption,” testified María Alejandra Tovar from Las Mercedes ranch.
“They took our animals, burnt our homes, our harvests, they destroyed everything in their path” she continued.
So far the INTI’s national headquarters in Caracas has denied giving the order to clear the land, which has been occupied by the campesino communities and converted from idle terrain into productive farming units.
“Our institution does not endorse abuses against campesinos, and if it happens in Barinas or in any other state, we ask farmers to make a complaint,” said INTI President and Vice-minister for Land, José Rafael Ávila Bello, after meeting with evicted campesinos last Friday.
The INTI President went on to confirm that he had named an official commission from Caracas to investigate the incident, which he stated was not representative of the government’s official policy.
“The line of our worker-president Nicolas Maduro is that anyone who is producing is an ally of the revolution, we won’t allow land to become a piggy-bank,” he stated.
In testimonies released since the eviction, CRBZ spokespeople report that they have consistently petitioned the INTI for official land titles over the last 18 months, as well as complained about Guzman to the institution’s headquarters in Caracas due to her alleged links to large landowners in the region.
“In Barinas, Chavez’s homeland, there are 2000 different spaces aimed at the recuperation of land. (But) In the last six years there has been a lack of firm decision making, administratively, juridically and politically on the part of the state, said CRBZ spokesperson, Pedro Alvarado.
“Since last year, the campesinos in Barinas have been making complaints, around 500 campesinos occupied the INTI… firstly asking for the dismissal of Gil (Guzman).. who as coordinator has been doing business with a landowner, which has obliged the campesino sector to take action,” he continued.
Violent evictions were also reported in Barinas in December 2016 and January this year, but Alvarado says that rural social movements still do not know whether they were ordered by the INTI in Caracas or by Guzman.
As well as demanding answers and clarifications over the government’s official land policy, the evicted campesinos say that they are now also organizing legally to regain the land.
Nonetheless, CRBZ activists have welcomed the INTI president’s move to carry out an investigation as a “satisfactory response”.
“We agreed something very important with President Avila, and that is to carry out inspections with the special commission and assemblies in all campesino sectors,” CRBZ representative Manuel Rodríguez told press.
Since coming to power in 1999, the Bolivarian revolution has pledged to carry out significant land reform for the benefit of the country’s campesinos, including the approval of legislation allowing for state expropriation of idle private land, and establishing the constitutional right to land for campesinos.
Nonetheless, campesino efforts to pursue land rights have often been violently blocked by large landowners. To date, at least 300 campesino land activists have been assassinated since 1999, often by hired assassins in the pay of the owners of latifundios, or large landed estates.