Merida, June 26th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- The governor of Venezuela's Portuguesa state, Wilmer Castro, along with the leaders of four national farmer rights fronts created a State Farmers' Council on Thursday to defend small and landless farmers against attacks by large estate owners who oppose the government's land reform measures.
The council will open a space for local farmer councils to organize and articulate their agenda within the state government, with the long-term goal of strengthening the state-level coordination and fusion between the government and land reform activists, according to alternative community media reports from Portuguesa state.
Farmer activist Gabriel Gil described the State Farmers' Council as "an institutional and governmental space where the farmer movement converges to review what is happening in Portuguesa and the other agricultural states."
A government-activist alliance is key, said Gil, because "the large estate owners who are opposed to this [Bolivarian revolutionary] process have killed 216 of our farmers since 2001."
2001 was the year President Hugo Chávez passed a land reform law permitting the government to forcibly purchase idle or under-used private land for redistribution.
In March, two land reform organizers in southern Zulia state and Yaracuy state were shot to death, sparking local and national protests to demand that the national government increase efforts to prosecute those responsible for these crimes. The protests lead regional farmer rights fronts to form a national united front, which was instrumental in the formation of the Portuguesa State Farmers' Council on Thursday.
In April, the conflict between landed elites and pro-land reform advocates in Portuguesa state came to a head when state police evicted more than sixty landless farmers and three National Institute of Land (INTI) workers who were demarcating a section of a privately owned estate that the INTI had marked for re-distribution.
Land reform advocates are planning a national conference for August 1 to "advance the consolidation of a grand movement of movements at the national level that gathers the knowledge and experiences of all," in the words of activist Yoel Pineda.