Venezuela: Maduro Sides with Campesinos against Big Landowners

From Miraflores, the president distributed 44 thousand hectares of land to farmers and pledged to halt evictions. 

President Nicolas Maduro gives a collective land title to campesino leader Yendi Eraso Gonzalez
President Nicolas Maduro gives a collective land title to Yendi Eraso Gonzalez, campesino leader from Merida state. (Prensa Presidencial)
By Cira Pascual Marquina

Caracas, April 10, 2018 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gave out collective land titles to campesinos Monday, while calling for justice in recent cases involving homesteader communities who have been forced off the land.

Speaking at a ceremony in honor of assassinated Colombian progressive leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan at Miraflores Palace, Maduro pledged to give over 44 thousand hectares to homesteaders by April 18. He also ratified his support for campesino communities in their recent struggles with landholders and state security forces, who have been cracking down on land occupations.

“I have asked the National Constituent Assembly to open an investigation and report within 15 days about these illegal and repressive evictions of campesinos,” the president said, adding, “I completely prohibit the eviction of campesino communities.”

Present at the event was Yendi Eraso Gonzalez, one of the victims of a recent eviction in Merida State that landed 32 campesinos and one baby in El Vigia jail for ten days. On receiving the collective land title from Maduro, Gonzalez, a member of the United Broad Campesino Front of Merida State, spoke out in gratitude but also called for further justice.

“We ask, Mr. President, that you carry out the relevant investigations and that these cases [of campesino evictions] don’t go on occurring,” she declared.

The campesino leader went on to denounce how community homesteaders, protected by the 2001 Land Law authorizing occupations of unused land, “are being called land invaders and terrorists, and we only want to produce and get this country on its feet.”

Much of Venezuela’s fertile land is unused and concentrated in large estates, while ninety percent of the population lives in cities and depends on food imports. Revolutionary campesino groups have for years fought to democratize ownership through land occupations.

Gonzalez also had hard words for Agropatria. She claimed that the institution, which is Venezuela’s state seed and agrochemical supplier, is denying key farm supplies to homesteaders on grounds that they do not hold proper land titles.

Following her declarations, Maduro made clear that he does not want any large landholders or their accomplices to hold positions in Venezuela’s Bolivarian government.

“If someone has a pact with landholders and uses public forces to evict people as happened in El Vigia… I’ll throw the book at them and kick them out of the revolution,” he warned.

Maduro advised that the campesino movement needs to “pass from a resistance mentality to the mentality of producing, taking the offensive and power.” He said that campesinos should not let themselves be taken prisoners, adding that it was “a word to the wise.”

Eager to highlight his government’s commitment to democratizing land access, Maduro said that the land should belong to those work it, pointing out that, with the 44 thousand hectares to be distributed in April, the total amount of land handed out during the revolution would surpass 6 million hectares.

Looking to the future, Maduro called for an April 25 meeting of the Campesino High Command to foster agricultural development and asked campesino organizations to clarify their proposals for how to productively use the 6 million hectares allocated by the state. He said the government will then respond with funding both in Bolivares as well as in Venezuela’s new crypto-currency, the Petro.