As a result of an order signed by the judge of the agrarian court of Socopó, Orlando Contreras, the eviction of the peasant councils fighting for the rescue of the lands of Hato Las Mercedes, municipality Pedraza of the State of Barinas, has been taking place since Thursday, May 23.
The land dispute in the area has been going on for more than 7 years. The 14,812 hectares of the farm have been the subject of a resolution by the National Land Institute (INTI) since March of last year, which establishes the rescue in favour of the peasants on half of the estate, 7777 hectares. Half of the land belongs to the peasant community and the other half to Inversiones Rizsa SA, represented by Ignacio Riera. Complying with the legal requirements of the case, this resolution was communicated by the press of the State of Barinas to the general population of the area and to each of the parties to the conflict. Already in May 2015 there was notification of the beginning of the regularization of the lands, first step of the partial rescue concretized in favour of the community.
The spokespeople for the campesinos argue that Judge Contreras’ order is an arbitrary act, which takes precedence over the resolutions of a national body such as INTI, with the sole objective of favouring the interests of the Riera Zubillaga family of the aforementioned investment company.
Some 15 vehicles of the security forces presented themselves this Thursday, May 23rd, with the eviction order. On Friday morning, it was carried out by members of the Bolivarian National Guard and members of the Barinas police. Two of the eight Peasant Councils that are organized in the area were evicted and it is feared that progress will be made on the others, as stated in the order signed by Contreras, who stipulates the total eviction of land belonging to the peasant community.
The spokespersons denounce that there are beaten peasants and other detainees who remain on the lands of the presumed owners, at the same time that they ask that the eviction be stopped. They also describe that the barge (flat boat) that crosses the river is being controlled by employees of the landowner, determining who can or cannot access it. The importance of this is that it is the only communication between the Santa Marta sector of the Ignacio Briceño Méndez parish and the rest of the municipality.
The Peasant Councils “I am of the people”, “The Battle”, “Agriculture and Bolivarian Breeding”, “Arm of Maduro”, “Jerusalem” and “In the Union is the Force”, are still in their plots. The councils “La Bomba” and “Las Guasimas” were evicted on the grounds that they were outside the area corresponding to the community delimited by the INTI in the distribution of land; the fact that they were occupying land that was outside the agreed area is not justification for the violent actions of the security forces, even less is a pretext for taking advantage of the situation and advancing on land that was legitimately granted to the peasant community, as the Riera Zubillaga family hopes. This advance is what the families of Hato Las Mercedes are firmly facing at this moment.
The situation has its precedent in March 2017, when the inhabitants of the property were removed from the land, observing how hundreds of hectares of their crops were destroyed and some of their cambuches, precarious dwellings in the middle of the plot, were burned.
The spokespersons, in a letter addressed to President Nicolás Maduro, marked the need for him to pronounce himself in favour of the peasants and thus be able to comply with their directives to produce in order to solve the economic emergency. They also request the immediate intervention of Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo and the president of INTI, Luis Soteldo, as well as the intervention of the governor of the state Barinas Argenis Chávez and the Attorney General of the Republic Tarek William Saab to investigate the aggressions, the irregularities in the detentions and to guarantee the physical integrity and the right to due process of the peasants.
The land dispute in Barinas is a reflection of what is happening in different states in Venezuela. The peasants are committed to the productive reactivation of the countryside in order to continue defending sovereignty and peace. It is urgent to advance with the democratization of the lands, to put them in the hands of those who work day by day with the conviction of producing to confront the blockade and the attacks on our country.
Prensa Corriente Revolucionaria Bolívar y Zamora
Translation by Internationalist 360°