Caracas, Venezuela, July 10, 2006–The government ofVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided today to set aside $10 million for acompensation fund for the families of campesino (peasant) leaders who have beenassassinated in the past seven years in the course of Venezuela’sland reform program. Peasant organizations say that over 170 peasant leadershave been murdered by assassins hired by land owners.
EliasJaua, the Minister for Agriculture and Land, made the announcement about thenew fund today, at the conclusion of a cabinet meeting.
The$10 million will go towards the first 54 families that the country’s humanrights defender office has identified as victims of the land struggle. Themoney will not go directly towards the families, but rather towards projectsthat will improve the families’ standard of living and to make sure that"those guilty for the killings pay for their crimes," said Jaua.
"Whatwill definitely be achieved is justice at least with regard to the well-beingof the families of those who were murdered by landowners," added Jaua.
Afew months ago the Human Rights Defender. German Mundarain, submitted a reporton the progress in the prosecution of the assassinations of campesino leaders. Accordingto this report, there have been 54 contract killings of campesino leadersbetween 1999 and 2006. 72% of the cases are still in investigation, 18.5% arein an intermediary phase, and 9.2% have gone to trial. In addition to the 54dead, there have been 21 wounded and 41 death threats.
Venezuela initiated an ambitiousland reform program in 2001, which was one of the main policy disputes with theopposition, which spurred the 2002 coup attempt. Since the start of the landreform, about 300,000 families or 1.5 million Venezuelans have received plotsof land.
While most of the land reform land has been state-owned, land reformbeneficiaries often enter into conflict with large landowners because manytimes large landowners lay claim to land that the government says belongs tothe state. Peasant leaders are often killed in the ensuing conflict byassassins who charge very little to carry out murders.