Ten members of a commune in Portuguesa State were released on Tuesday following more than two months in custody.
The communards, nine men and one woman, come from the “Dios Es Fuente de Agua Viva” commune in Portuguesa State and had been arrested following a dispute surrounding the Piritu rice processing factory belonging to the state-owned Arroz del Alba company.
Their release came as a result of a mobilization on Monday, called by the “Encounter of Popular Struggles” platform, which saw dozens of representatives from popular movements deliver a communique to the Attorney General’s office in Caracas. Despite their release, a judicial process against them remains open, as well as arrest warrants against others.
The communique, besides calling for the communards’ release, demands an investigation into the handing over of Arroz del Alba to private businessmen and concerning the operations of the Piritu factory. Communards denounced that the new owners are importing rice with state-provided foreign currency and selling the product in Colombia.
“This action [handing the factory to private businessmen] contradicts Chavez’s legacy and decision to hand over means of production to popular power, and it is also an attack against the country’s food sovereignty,” stated the communique, which was undersigned by over 100 organizations from all over the country.
“We call for dialogue and coordination amongst all forces that struggle against imperialism […] and support the battle for food sovereignty headed by President Maduro,” it went on to say.
Nilver Alvarez, member of “La Caripucha” commune, also in Portuguesa State, took part in the Caracas mobilization and addressed those present. He explained that four communes in Portuguesa State had joined to form a “communal city,” a higher level of organization prescribed by the Venezuelan Law of Communes.
Alvarez thanked those present and explained the events that had taken place. According to him, communards from the communal city discovered over 200 tonnes of rice upon occupying the factory. They stood guard for 20 days to demand an investigation on the ownership of the factory and its activities.
“We did not remove a single kilo of rice from the factory, we are an organized community, we are not criminals. We were following the due process to demand an inspection,” Alvarez said.
He explained that they were also taking steps to have the factory placed under communal control, as social property, but that local authorities and security forces, after successive threats, arrested the 10 communards that stood guard at the time.
Alvarez added that Portuguesa State’s chief prosecutor wanted to bring charges of “sabotage,” and “conspiracy to commit crimes” but could only settle on “boycott.”
“For us, boycotters are the big businessmen who sell their products at inflated prices,” he complained, while adding that, according to information he received, the company started sending truckloads of rice to be sold in Colombia as soon as the communards were arrested.
This case was brought into the spotlight by former Education Minister Elias Jaua, who publicly denounced the situation and led the call for their release. In an article published in Venezuelan politics portal Supuesto Negado, Jaua accused local law enforcement and justice officials of not following Venezuela’s Homeland Plan and Popular Power legislation, which mandate the progressive transfer of services and means of production to communes and other popular power bodies.
“We have to denounce the growing criminalization of popular power,” Jaua wrote, adding that “capitalists and landowners” will not “risk their lives” to defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
Agriculture Minister Wilmer Castro Soteldo responded on his weekly public television program, inviting Jaua to join a high-level commission for agriculture, to offer his contributions, and calling on everyone to join forces to “increase production in the countryside.” Castro Soteldo had been at the center of another fierce debate in the Chavista camp when he proposed the creation of a “revolutionary bourgeoisie” as the way forward.
Privatizations have been a topic of recent debate amongst Chavistas, with popular movements spearheading a Twitter campaign with the hashtag “Privatization is Betrayal” (#PrivatizarEsTraicionar) and others defending the entry of private capital to raise production levels.