Venezuela: Opposition Mayor Facing Inquiry After Attempted Campesino Eviction

Thirteen campesino families have demanded reparations after their houses and crops were razed by local law enforcement.

Caracas, April 21, 2022 ( – Venezuelan authorities have opened investigative proceedings against Raziel Rodríguez, mayor of the Zamora municipality in Miranda state.

On Thursday, the country’s National Assembly appointed a commission to investigate an incident that saw Zamora’s municipal police attempt to evict 13 campesino families on April 12, allegedly on Rodríguez’s orders, to favor a local corporation.

“May he face the full weight of the law,” deputy and Socialist Party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello said during the parliamentary session. “Just like this mayor takes orders from businessmen, we [deputies] should take orders from the people,” he added.

The nine-person commission was also tasked with investigations of similar cases that might occur.

On April 12, law enforcement agents burst into the Villa Zamora 2021 plot, destroying houses and razing crops in an attempt to evict 13 campesino families that lived there. Four campesinos were temporarily detained.

The raid was allegedly requested by Guatire Textil, a company that claims ownership of the 0.8-hectare property. However, a group started working on the abandoned land in 2013 and in accordance with the Land Law were awarded titles by the Venezuelan Land Institute in 2016.

Exequio Ruiz, one of those detained, told Diario Vea that Guatire Textil had constantly harassed the campesinos since 2015, and that he had “lost count” of the fruit trees destroyed over the years in efforts to drive them away.

The latest attack drew swift condemnation on social media and spurred Venezuela’s judicial branch to open an investigation into the case. Four policemen involved in the raid were detained on Wednesday, including chief of operations José Parica. They are facing ten charges, including corruption and abuse of power.

Mayor Rodríguez’s involvement was brought to light by a leaked audio message in which he says the campesino presence is “an invasion” and gives orders for the houses on the plot to be taken down.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that the opposition politician was being summoned for questioning. The session was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the attorney general’s offices in Miranda state. However, no updates on the proceedings were known at the time of writing. Authorities are additionally looking into environmental crimes after a number of trees, some of them over a hundred years old, were razed to the ground.

For his part, Rodríguez has not commented directly on the incident, but sent a message on social media thanking followers for “messages of support.” The Zamora municipality issued a statement alleging that its police had followed “proper procedures” following a request from Guatire Textil to address a “public disturbance.”

A former policeman himself, Rodríguez won the Zamora mayoral race on the Fuerza Vecinal ticket by a razor-tight margin in the November 2021 regional and municipal “mega-elections.” The municipality, which includes Guatire, a commuter town on the outskirts of the capital Caracas, had been governed by Chavismo since 2000.

Apart from the legislative and judicial investigations, state institutions were also quick to support the nearly evicted campesinos. Commune and urban agriculture ministries provided agricultural tools, while the Miranda governorship and Diosdado Cabello’s team supplied food. The Barrio Adentro healthcare program offered medical attention as well.

The Land Institute likewise visited the plot on Tuesday to grant technical support, with its president David Hernández pledging a further 0.8 hectares for the families. According to witnesses, plantain, avocado, mango, cassava, cocoa, bell pepper and tomato crops, among others, were completely destroyed by the police.

The rural producers have demanded justice and reparations for the damages incurred. They currently sleep in a makeshift refuge as they look to rebuild their houses.

“We lost everything, our houses, crops and farm animals, and demand to be compensated,” Steffy Briceño stated in a video released on Twitter.

Venezuelan rural movements have denounced a “landowner offensive” in recent years that looks to revert the progress made under the Bolivarian Revolution. There have been growing complaints of impunity surrounding attacks, evictions and even targeted killings of campesino leaders. Countryside collectives have likewise denounced a lack of state support for production.

Former President Hugo Chávez’s landmark Land Law from 2001 laid the legal groundwork for idle landsteads to be rescued by organized small producers. According to official sources, 6.5 million hectares of land were recovered in the past 20 years.

The Land Law was fiercely opposed by Venezuelan landowning elites and one of the factors behind the short-lived 2002 coup.

However, despite an overwhelming Chavista majority in the National Assembly, campesino movements had to mobilize last year to oppose efforts to reform the Land Law pushed by the cattle ranchers guild Fedenaga and allied ruling party deputies. The rural organizations secured a pledge from the Nicolás Maduro government that the legislation would not be touched.