Venezuelan State Reopens Investigations into Hundreds of Suspected Rural Activist Assassinations

Three hundred cases of rural land activists thought to have been assassinated at the hands of hired assassins will be re-opened by Venezuela’s Public Prosecution service.

By RACHAEL BOOTHROYD ROJAS
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Two Venezuelan land activists harvesting crops. (CRBZ)
Two Venezuelan land activists harvesting crops. (CRBZ)

Bogota, September 7 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Three hundred unresolved cases of rural land activists allegedly murdered at the hands of hired assassins will be re-opened by Venezuela’s Public Prosecution service in an effort to root out impunity for politically motivated crimes.

The measure was agreed in a high level meeting between the National Ombudsman’s office, the Public Prosecution service, the Public Defense, the Ministry of Eco-socialism and Water, the National Land Institute, and the Foundation for Victims of Politically Motivated and Rural Assassinations. 

More than three hundred rural activists are estimated to have been killed at the hands of rightwing paramilitaries since 1999, when many land activists began to take collective action following the election of leftist president Hugo Chavez. 

Most of the victims have been government supporters allegedly targeted for organizing in favor of the Land and Agrarian Development Law, passed by Chavez in November 2001. The legislation is aimed at breaking up the country’s centuries-old, privately-owned landed estates and allows rural workers to occupy unused land. While popular with rural communities, it has been strongly opposed by the country’s landowners. 

Justice for murdered campesinos and activists has long been a demand of rural social movements such as the the Revolutionary Bolivar and Zamora Current. Despite the government’s official support for land reform, movements have strongly criticized state institutions for their lack of teeth in protecting social movement leaders from reprisals, as well as for failing to prosecute those responsible for political assassinations. To date, only a handful of cases have resulted in the successful prosecution of hired killers, while not a single landowner has been brought to trial.

The latest decision to reopen the cases means that some families will now have a second chance to win justice for their loved ones, after the majority of the cases were initially abandoned by the state prosecution, due to alleged lack of evidence. 

Mate Garcia, a spokesperson for the Foundation for Victims of Politically Motivated and Rural Assassinations and daughter of murdered activist Armando Garcia, who was killed in 2002, welcomed the initiative as positive step. 

“We are very hopeful about this work-group, where all of the cases of violence in our countryside are being taken up,” she said.

Garcia also confirmed that her organization had presented a series of recommendations to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which is currently holding session to draft up a new Constitution for the country. 

Since being nominated as new Attorney General in August, Tarek William Saab has vowed to rid the state prosecution of impunity and combat classism in the Venezuelan justice service. He has accused his predecessor, Luisa Ortega, of having covered up violent political crimes and corruption during her ten year stint in office.

Ortega fled into self-imposed exile in August after an investigation was brought against her by the Supreme Court for “grave misconduct”. Ortega says she is the victim of political persecution due to her public break with the government of Nicolas Maduro earlier in March. 

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