Communes and social movements have demanded the Venezuelan government combat the assassination of rural activists in the mountains of western Venezuela, which they say is undermining communal organising in the region.
The assassinations are taking place in the mountains of the western state of Lara. In response to the latest murder of an activist in the region, a group of 21 communes and more than 20 social movements, human rights groups and community media outlets released a statement on January 18 denouncing the situation of growing insecurity in the area.
Communes are government-promoted institutions of participatory democracy, mad up of elected representatives from neighbourhood-based communal councils. The communes are viewed as “building blocks” of a new, revolutionary state based on popular power.
The statement read: “We want to denounce ... the massacre taking place against the most humble campesinos [rural workers] and commune members who inhabit the Argimiro Gabaldon Communal Territorial Corridor.”
The most recent commune activist to be killed was 18-year-old Luis Fernando Mendoza, who was allegedly shot while riding a motorbike taxi home after attending an evening church service. A spokesperson for the Ataroa Socialist Commune said more than 10 commune activists have been murdered in the area in recent months.
The communes and social movements say the deaths are due to a rise in criminal gangs and extortionist activity in the region, coupled with a lack of action from local authorities. Lara state is governed by Henry Falcon, a leader of the opposition.
Some activists suggest that the murders by mafia-like gangs in the area could be politically motivated. The region’s communes claim that the mountains of Lara are “the historical spine of political–military resistance in Venezuela and the most advanced territories of communal organisation and production”.
Rural land activists in Venezuela have also had to face violence from large landowners. This sector has resisted the implementation by the government of Hugo Chavez ― and more recently of President Nicolas Maduro ― of land reforms and redistribution.
Rights groups estimate that more than 300 campesinos have been killed by hired assassins as a result of these disputes. However, no landowner has been brought to justice for their alleged role in the murders.
The statement recognised Maduro’s “goodwill” on the issue of citizen security, but was “indignant” at the silence from governmental authorities on the plight of rural activists in Lara. The statement made a series of requests of the Maduro government to improve citizen security in the region and support communal organisation.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]