Chávez Vive! The March Goes On!

Ricardo Vaz

The Marcha Campesina Admirable burst onto the Venezuelan political scene in July and August 2018, raising the issue of injustices in the countryside. After a year of unfulfilled promises, the peasant struggle resurfaces as a dynamizer of popular struggles, joining forces with other popular movements to defend Chávez’s legacy.

On August 1, 2018, the Marcha Campesina Admirable arrived in Caracas. After 20 days and more than 400 kilometers “on foot” to make visible the injustices in the Venezuelan countryside and to demand an audience with President Maduro, a police cordon was waiting for them on Urdaneta Avenue.

Once the tension was resolved, a moving presidential assembly took place on August 2, where Maduro declared his support for the peasant cause and ordered that the problems faced by the people in the countryside be addressed: access to land, access to seeds and supplies for planting, an end to the dispossessions of land and hired killings, justice for the victims, restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and all its entities, revision of the agrarian tribunals, and the declaration of an agrarian “state of emergency,” among others.

After the meeting, working groups were formed together with the vice-presidency and the National Constituent Assembly. However, the working groups quickly became an obstacle, and the lack of answers led to a hunger strike in protest. One year after the march, tragedies continue to multiply in the Venezuelan countryside and progress on the issues raised with the institutions has been minimal or non-existent. Thus, a month ago, the Plataforma de Lucha Campesina (Peasant Struggle Platform), one of the organizations that has been promoting the struggle in the countryside, organized the return of dozens of peasants to Caracas to hold a vigil at the National Land Institute (INTI). vigil and a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Agriculture on July 11 forced Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo and the INTI officials to meet with the peasants. These meetings resulted in the delivery of some land titles and the promise to meet some of the demands of the peasants. However, structural problems persist, the interests of old and new landowners remain intact, and the offensive in the countryside is increasing, often in complicity or with the explicit support of government institutions.

The issue of sicariato and impunity became evident days after the meeting with Maduro in early August 2019, with the murder of Kender Marquez, 16, in Barinas. Cases such as Orlando Reyes Parra (Barinas), Luis Fajardo (Mérida), José de la Cruz (Zulia), followed until the massacre in Ticoporo (Barinas), which killed six CRBZ activists just a week ago. Altogether there have been 23 victims of land violence in the last year, seven of them march participants, and more than 300 since the enactment of the Land Law in 2001.

A transversal element to all these cases is the impunity prevailing in the crimes, with very few exceptions (case of the arrest warrant of the landowner Ricardo Mora, intellectual author of the assassination of Reyes Parra, who has not been extradited by the Colombian government). Tragically, to the cries for justice of the peasant people, the Venezuelan State turns a deaf ear.

The impunity around the cases of sicariato is not circumstantial but a reflection of a policy of important sectors of the State that is connivant and in some cases allied to the large estate counteroffensive that is advancing on fertile ground. In disputed territories, such as Sur del Lago, attacks by armed groups in the service of landowners to threaten and intimidate peasants are frequent.

To this must be added the cases where threats and dispossession are the responsibility of the State’s own security forces. Similarly, agrarian institutions and judges lend themselves again and again to defend the interests of the landowners, with dispossession orders that go against the law and judicialization processes as a method to stop the peasant struggle. Today there are several hundred peasants in the regime of presentation, and this recent phenomenon is not accidental.

As for access to land, President Maduro’s instructions on the August 2 broadcast have yet to be fulfilled, with hardly any media coverage and so many broken promises. The Platform for Peasant Struggle alone currently has 111 cases on the table, and in 93 of them the titles of land remain without decision on the part of INTI. Some cases fall into something that the peasants refer to as a “political framework,” in the sense that the land dispute touches on the interests of governors, mayors, or people close to local power. Examples of this would be Los Tramojos (Guárico), La Victoria (Zulia) and Agrícola Yaracuy (Yaracuy).

The recent example of Hato Los Tramojos is emblematic. With an area of 4800 hectares, the land was handed over to the peasants by Chávez in 2010. After more than six years of production, the land was taken from them and handed over to a landowner. For two years the peasants claimed their right to the land through legal channels, without success, until they simply decided to reclaim it last May. The attempt ended in repression, and that was the last straw that motivated the peasants to return to Caracas.

As for the Plan de Siembra and the State’s support for peasant production, the data are not very encouraging and the peasants warn that the risk of an even more serious shortage is very real. According to the Plataforma de Lucha Campesina, more than one sowing cycle has been lost. In 2018, a plan was presented to plant 45,000 hectares of legumes that did not receive any support from the State. This year a plan was presented to plant 37,000 hectares, of which 12,000 were approved. However, they only received seeds for 5,000 hectares, and supplies for only 1,750 hectares. This reality extends to agrarian communes and thousands of small producers, who nevertheless produce 70 percent of the food consumed in Venezuela.

This happens while agrarian policies boast of “unrestricted and permanent support” to large private actors, new and old large landowners or agro-industrial entrepreneurs, whether in the allocation of land or in access to seeds and inputs. This orientation permeates the official discourse everywhere, with a line in which not even the strengthening of the CLAPs or the “Fairs of the Sovereign Countryside” or the “Plan of Attention to the Victims of the Economic War” is proposed without the greater participation of private businessmen, with all that this implies.

The constant atrocities and attacks have not been met with a passive response on the part of the peasant movements. Between denunciations, protests and marches, up to the (symbolic) seizure of the INTI in Barinas first, and now in Caracas, the peasant people continue to struggle and in defense of the legacy of Comandante Chávez.

As happened with the Marcha Admirable (Admirable March) last year, the peasant struggle is once again shaking Chavismo and making visible its contradictions and (class) disputes in its crudest and most violent expressions. The current moment is one of progressive deflation of the imperialist coup, and in parallel a window is once again opened to fight for the hegemony of Chavism, in discourse and practice.

In this context, the peasant movement, with its banners, operates as the driving force of the struggle, joining forces and coordinating with the urban popular movements. The challenge is to accumulate strength and to combine the different battle fronts, labour fronts, communal fronts, peasants, feminists, in order to reconstruct Chávez’s socialist horizon.

Thanks to Andrés Alayo, Cira Pascual Marquina and Gerardo Rojas for their contributions and suggestions.