Venezuelan Campesinos Occupy Land Institute in Ongoing Confrontation with Authoritites

This week a group of social movements took action to defend Chavez’s agrarian legacy.

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Campesinos in a peaceful symbolic takeover of the Venezuelan Land Institute in Barinas state. (CRBZ)
Campesinos in a peaceful symbolic takeover of the Venezuelan Land Institute in Barinas state. (CRBZ)
By Cira Pascual Marquina
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Caracas, June 26, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A group of campesino organizations led by the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ) staged a symbolic one-day occupation of the headquarters of the Venezuelan Land Institute (INTI) in the central state of Barinas Monday. Approximately sixty people assembled amid flags of diverse social movements to give voice to the plight of Venezuela’s beleaguered but patriotic rural producers.

The protesters want more and better state support for grassroots efforts to democratize land use. The INTI, which was created by ex-President Hugo Chavez and has a national mandate to redistribute rural land, has in many cases not been forthcoming with agrarian charters which permit the usufruct of unproductive land.

“We have fields where there have been ten years of struggle that have yet to receive a response regarding land tenure,” said Juan Carlos Pinto, a CRBZ member involved in the occupation in an interview with Venezuelanalysis.

In addition to streamlining access to agrarian charters, the group of protestors is concerned with the criminalization of the small farmers’ struggle, evidenced in recent evictions or other forms of violence exercised by state and paramilitary actors. In some cases, land occupiers have even been murdered or “disappeared.”

In this regard, Pinto referred to two campesinos from a cooperative farm called Palo Quemao in Barinas state. “On May 12, they were disappeared and then brutally murdered. To date, there has been no justice for these campesinos. Actually, the government hasn't even opened an investigation into the case.”

Faced with the demands from the CRBZ, the leftist Tupamaro party and five other participating organizations, INTI national head Luis Soteldo has agreed to meet with the groups in the nearby state-run agrarian development unit Florentino Center on Wednesday.

The regional government of Barinas state, headed by United Socialist Party member and brother to Hugo Chavez, Argenis Chavez, has, according to a CRBZ press statement, been more confrontational with the local governor allegedly denouncing the occupiers as “right-wing.”

The CRBZ, which claims to be defending the legacy of Chavez’s agrarian project, has been in a longstanding struggle with the government’s bureaucracy. Before the elections, in which the organization supported the candidacy of incumbent President Nicolas Maduro, they began to call for a “productive emergency plan” as a response to the country’s grave economic crisis.

To this demand, they have since added other, more recent requests. These include that the National Constituent Assembly investigate the judiciary “since it is there that [large landowners] make the deals that damage the campesinos,” and an investigation of the current INTI leadership.

Although President Maduro has called to end land evictions and for the National Constituent Assembly to investigate repression in the rural areas, Venezuela’s small farmers continue to face serious and unresolved problems.

For many involved, the INTI occupation was just a beginning of a new chapter in the rural struggle. According to Kevin Rangel, National Coordinator of the CRBZ, it was an action “guided by the campesino movement’s plan for mobilization and struggle, an action to pressure and initiate a series of sessions of struggle in Barinas state.”

“The movement will continue to pressure for justice, for the emergency plan and so that the campesinos can carry out land recuperation with legal guarantees,” he added.