Venezuelan Farmer Rights Organizations Unite to Oppose Assassinations by Landed Elite
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009
By James Suggett
March 13, 2009
Several Venezuelan small farmer rights organizations united forces this week to prevent further assassinations of rural community organizers. The groups also marched to demand that the national government end impunity for those responsible for these crimes, and to support the government's land reform and food security measures.
"This popular front must struggle against impunity, against hired killings, and against paramilitarism," declared coalition leader Inder Herrera during the founding congress in Caracas on Tuesday.
The new front plans to team up with student activists, community councils, artisanal fisher organizations, and some state security forces to prevent any further assaults on rural community organizers.
Since Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez passed a land reform law in 2001, 214 rural activists have been murdered during their campaigns to carry out the law, according to the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers Front.
Braulio Álvarez, a National Assembly legislator and the coordinator of the Simón Bolívar Farmers Front, said further investigations could reveal that that the actual number of politically motivated murders of rural organizers is more than 400.
The formation of the new front follows the assassination last Monday of Mauricio Sánchez, who had been leading the struggle for land reform in southern Zulia state, and farmer rights organizer Nelson López, who was shot 15 times in the back two weeks ago in Yaracuy state.
The government has arrested those suspected of having carried out the murders, but the farmers are calling for a national investigation of what they say is a network of large estate owners and private cattle ranchers associations who gave the orders for the crimes.
"We consider it important and transcendental that we investigate to the fullest and without hesitation the landed oligarchy that is killing our brothers in the rural communities," said Herrera Tuesday.
Venezuelan Agriculture and Land Minister Elías Jaua attended Tuesday's conference and promised to solicit a national investigation.
"We have come to listen to the proposals of this popular farmers' movement and to express the government's commitment not to allow this situation to continue," said Jaua.
"One of the most atrocious crimes is that somebody dies while struggling for a piece of land, that's why we are going to ask for an appointment with the Attorney General and the president of the Supreme Court to speed up these investigations," said the minister.
Over the past two weeks, the Agriculture and Land Ministry and other government entities have taken under public ownership two privately owned rice processing plants that were caught hoarding food and evading price controls, and thousands of hectares of underused or idle land, in accordance with the 2001 Land Law and 2008 Law on Food Security and Sovereignty.
The measures come shortly after a national referendum in which Venezuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment to abolish term limits on elected offices. Following the referendum, President Chávez said his administration will correct its past mistakes by deepening its policies aimed toward the construction of "21st Century Socialism."
The farmer rights organizations marched through Caracas Monday to support the government's expropriation of socially irresponsible businesses and private estates, and to demand an end to impunity for those who ordered the murder of farmers.
"We completely support the measures that our Commander Hugo Chávez has taken to occupy rice plants," said Herrera to the press. "We must deepen the revolution," he said as the marchers gathered in front of Venezuela's most powerful private business association and symbol of anti-government activity, FEDECAMARAS.
Minister Jaua recognized the need for the government to work with social movement organizations such as the farmer rights fronts in order for the hired assassinations to cease and the national food security policies to be effective.
"We receive this support from the farmers and we are filled with strength to continue the battle we are waging to guarantee the right to food security to the Venezuelan people," said the minister.