Venezuela: Hunger Strike Draws Attention to Campesino Struggles

Shortly after announcing the beginning of a hunger strike, a joint commission between the government and campesino groups was relaunched to address agrarian grievances.

The campesinos from the Admirable March announced a hunger strike on Tuesday
The campesinos from the Admirable March announced a hunger strike on Tuesday

Pays de Gex, France, September 13, 2018 ( – Venezuelan campesino leaders called off a hunger strike Wednesday evening shortly after meeting with national government officials who acceded to their demands.

Held in Caracas, the meeting brought delegates of small farmers together with representatives from the National Constituent Assembly and the Venezuelan Vice-Presidency, who agreed to relaunch an official government working group tasked by President Maduro with addressing rural grievances

The grassroots show of strength comes just a month after the conclusion of the Admirable Campesino March which saw over one hundred campesinos marching more than 400 kilometers on foot from the state of Portuguesa to Caracas in July and early August. After some early tension, the campesinos got to meet Maduro and voice their complaints and demands in an emotional live television broadcast. Among the highlighted issues were corruption in state bodies and land evictions.

At the meeting, President Maduro lauded the campesinos’ initiative and issued a series of instructions, among them the holding of a campesino congress and the setting up of working groups, with the Executive Vice-Presidency and the National Constituent Assembly, to address the grievances that the marchers had brought to light.

However, one month later, the campesinos that remained in Caracas felt that progress had stalled and that their plight has gone on unchanged, deciding to launch a hunger strike to draw national attention back to these issues.

Speaking to Alba TV, campesino march spokesperson Arbonio Ortega announced Tuesday that he and nine other leaders would go on hunger strike until the president’s orders safeguarding their rights are carried out.

“A struggle without pressure has no solution, and as such we are exercising pressure mechanisms,” he declared. “We want the President’s instructions to be fulfilled and to be rid of those who are corrupt, inefficient, incompetent, who pay no mind to the campesino, who go on fearing for their posts and making deals with landowners.”

Another leader, Eumary Enrique, denounced agrarian judges and other state officials, who she accused of consistently acting against the interests of small farmers.

“We’ve had enough of attempts to humiliate and silence the campesino sector! We are not afraid,” she told Alba TV.

The pressure mechanism was successful, with representatives from both the Vice-Presidency and the National Constituent Assembly meeting with the campesino leaders just a day later and agreeing to relaunch the working groups meant to implement Maduro’s instructions. The campesinos now hope that these renewed efforts can help advance some of the struggles in the Venezuelan countryside.

According to reports, both sides agreed that leading ANC officials Diosdado Cabello and Dario Vivas are to coordinate the working groups, while the Venezuelan Land Institute (INTI) has been ordered to settle the ownership of 85 plots under dispute within the next 8 days.

Campesinos have been staying at the Fermin Toro school in Caracas since the culmination of their historic march last month

Evictions and killings

Wednesday’s meeting comes on the heels of another attempted eviction carried out by state police against small farmers in La Tachuela, in the state of Barinas, injuring 5 and destroying several houses. According to Marco Teruggi, the property belonged to a former PDVSA official until it was occupied by campesinos with the aim of putting the previously idle land to use in accordance with Venezuela’s Land Law.

The incident was quickly denounced throughout social media, and the chief of Barinas’ state police later announced that disciplinary and judicial sanctions would be brought against the functionaries involved in the action. The raid also drew a strong rebuke from Barinas Governor Argenis Chavez.

“I want to categorically reject the violent acts that took place on Monday in La Tachuela, a property currently being adjudicated. I’ve ordered that rigorous investigations be made to find those responsible,” the governor tweeted.

Former President Hugo Chavez’s home state of Barinas has been the stage of several confrontations over campesino takeovers of unproductive land in recent months. In one such episode on May 11, Jesus Leon and Guillermo Toledo, two campesinos from the Robert Serra Communal Council, which occupied the unproductive plot of Palo Quemao, were murdered by hitmen. The cry for justice in this case was one of the central demands of the Admirable Campesino March, and remains unanswered.

Even more recently, on August 1, Orlando Reyes Parra, Pedro Vielma and Ramón Rosario, members of the Los Lanceros de la Pascualina de Zamora Council of Socialist Producers, which occupied the idle plot of La Escondida, also in the state of Barinas, were kidnapped and murdered. In this case, the two suspected hitmen, and the previous landowner, presumed as the intellectual architect of the crime, were arrested shortly afterwards.

In April, President Maduro ordered a moratorium on land evictions in response to grassroots pressure. However, the measure has yet to be fully implemented, sparking ongoing campesino organizing, which crystallized in the 400-plus kilometer march in late July and August.