Merida, August 15, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Justice appears to be close for the families and colleagues of three campesino leaders murdered in Barinas state this month, as Venezuela’s Public Prosecutor’s office announced the arrest of the alleged perpetrators this Tuesday.
Three citizens have been arrested, Attorney General Tarek William Saab informed via Twitter, including Ricardo Mora, a local oligarch landlord, who is being accused of ordering the assassinations, and two other citizens accused of carrying them out.
Mora was arrested in El Dorado airport in Bogota, Colombia over the weekend, whilst Joel Garrido Lobo and Gustavo Carrillo Perez were both detained in Venezuela.
The murdered campesinos are Reyes Orlando Parra, Pedro Vielma, and Jose del Real Aguilar, all well-known local Chavista small farmer organisers of the Los Lanceros de la Pascualina de Zamora Council of Socialist Producers.
According to eye-witness reports from August 2, two “land vigilantes” kidnaped the victims from the Escondida ranch where they worked and shot them dead nearby.
The murders occurred on the same day as a ground-breaking televised meeting between President Nicolas Maduro and a commission of pro-government small-scale farmers, who had marched 435 kilometres to Caracas to present a series of bold agrarian policy proposals to the president.
At the meeting, and only hours before the murders took place, Maduro echoed the campesinos’ calls for an end to land evictions and the persecution of campesino leaders.
Following the killings, campesino organisations took to social media to denounce them, including this statement by the Bolivar Zamora Revolutionary Current:
Today Reyes Parra, Pedro Vielma, and another campesino companion of the Escondida ranch were murdered in Barinas. Hooded assassins said they were there on behalf of landlord Ricardo Mora. Previous threats from Mora had been denounced by the campesinos. We demand justice. No more impunity.
Hoy fueron asesinados Reyes Parra, Pedro Vielma y otro compañero campesino del predio La Escondida en #Barinas. Sicarios encapuchados dijeron ir de parte del terrateniente #RicardoMora. Se habían denunciado amenazas de Mora a los campesinos. Exigimos justicia. No más impunidad pic.twitter.com/4RL5EGZmc8
— CRBZ Venezuela (@CRBZ_oficial) August 3, 2018
The 300-strong local community to which the three men belonged was engaged in a five-year land dispute with Mora, and had recently scored a significant victory in May this year when they were given title deeds for the 904 hectare Escondida ranch.
The ranch had been declared unproductive in 2014 and occupied in 2017 by the community who sewed 6000 plantain trees and four hectares of corn, as well as preparing for cow farming and rice and yuka growing.
Mora, who allegedly owns properties in at least three different Venezuelan regions, alleges that he had purchased the Escondida ranch from the state in 2016 and is backed by the National Federation of Cow Ranchers.
Local farmers, however, accuse Mora of being behind a November 2017 violent attack on the campesinos in which their crops were burnt, as well as numerous death threats against their leaders. The powerful landlord is also alleged to have used his influence in the local police force to persecute the farmers.
The encounter between Maduro and the marching campesinos has been described as the “one of the most important political events of recent times” by ex-Commune Minister Reinaldo Iturriza. However, the on-going persecution of campesino leaders has been pointed to by many Chavista organisations as proof that much remains to be done for the government’s stated policy of favouring organised campesinos to become a reality in many rural localities.