Venezuela: Campesinos demand gov't rectify agrarian policy

Campesinos arrive in Caracas to meet with the government over the problems faced by small farmers.

A large contingent of Venezuelan campesinos marched across the country for almost three weeks in what they called the “Admirable Campesino March” to raise awareness about the many problems faced by small farmers, including evictions, harassment and general neglect at the hands of government institutions.

The marchers, who first set off on July 12 from the city of Guanare, Portuguesa state, arrived in Caracas on August 1 with the plan to deliver a collective document that presents both their complaints and proposals to President Nicolas Maduro.

The action is known as the “Admirable March” in memory of Simon Bolivar’s Admirable Campaign that swept across the country, following a similar trajectory, in 1813.

The marchers’ caravan includes members of the Campesino Struggle Platform, the Nicomedes Abreu Classist Campesino Current and the Revolutionary Bolivar and Zamora Current.

Campesino Struggle Platform spokesperson Usmary Enrique told AlbaTV that the marchers’ manifesto, “brings together problems of the [campesino] sector, but we have also included solutions that, we believe, should be carried out to get the country on its feet.”

“Enough of bad practices and bad agrarian policy!” Enrique said. “During the last three years the crisis has become critical because of the lack of food … we have to import food when we could produce what is today being imported.”

In a symbolic gesture, the Admirable Campesino March began precisely two months after the murder of two rural leaders from Barinas state, Jesús León and Guillermo Toledo, whose assassins have not been brought to justice.

In addition to the more than 300 campesino deaths and disappearances in the past 15 years, Venezuela’s small peasants have frequently faced harassment by police and other state security organs acting in the service of local landlords.

Furthermore, small producers and communes find it almost impossible to obtain agricultural supplies and seeds from the state‐run company Agropatria, although the same products find their way into the private sector and into the hands of illegal traffickers.

In early April, Maduro recognised the problems facing campesinos in a public speech. From the Miraflores presidential palace, the president called on the National Constituent Assembly to investigate evictions of campesinos and handed out land titles, while proposing a future meeting of the “Campesino High Command.” At that time, Maduro said he would completely prohibit small farmer evictions in the future.

Despite the president’s pledge of support, the plight of Venezuela’s small farmers continues. On July 20, national police violently evicted campesinos from legally occupied lands in El Chavero, Barinas state. Formerly vacant, the land is now being used to grow corn and cassava.

For its part, the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ) has repeatedly denounced what it considers widespread state violence against campesino occupations and institutional neglect in addressing the acquired rights of small farmer families.

The Admirable March was initially focused only on farmers’ issues, but along the way the campesinos captured the imagination of a broad swath of the population. In this way, the marchers have been encouraged to broaden the scope of their demands.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]