Hundreds of Venezuelan campesinos shook the country's political landscape in July 2018 when they embarked on an 'admirable' march of over 400 kilometers, on foot, to draw attention to the issues they face in the countryside and demand a meeting with President Maduro. A meeting did take place, with Maduro expressly ordering their concerns be addressed. Working groups were subsequently set up with the vice president's office, but the impetus quickly faded. Almost a year later, campesinos denounce that problems of violent evictions, targeted killings and lack of support for small and midsize producers, continue unabated. For these reasons, they have returned to Caracas and set up a vigil outside the Venezuelan Land Institute (INTI) to force authorities to address their demands.
Around the lit fire, campesinos wait their turn to eat patiently. Similar discipline is seen in maintaining the space neat, the hammocks, sleeping bags and belongings tucked away, while the planning of sowing continues, comrades from different states arrive, others come and go, and phones keep ringing to explain what's going on.
A night's sleep on a hammock is felt in the morning. But it's not tiredness, rather a strength that keeps building up in order to collectively achieve justice in the countryside. After 13 days of vigil outside the Venezuelan Land Institute (INTI), the men and women of the Campesino Struggle Platform gave a press conference on site to inform about the progress made.
They reported that on Monday, July 8, they held another meeting with INTI President Luis Fernando Soteldo. They talked about the campesino congress, which has yet to take place, and this was something ordered by President Maduro during his meeting with campesinos in August 2018. The also informed about progress in the land struggle cases that have resulted in violence and evictions against campesinos.
Meanwhile, amidst the occupation and the hammocks, the National Guard makes its presence felt, walking by with weapons at hand without saying a word before disappearing down the trail towards one of their posts in the site's surroundings.
The cases of violence include at least 19 targeted killings of campesinos, even despite instructions from the president offering protection and securing campesino rights, the forming of a commission for this specific issue, in which both Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello are involved.
According to the commitment made by Soteldo in said meeting, INTI could settle 15 of the presented cases within four days, until Friday July 12.
'The campesino movement asks: what's going to happen with so-called landmark cases?' one of the movement's spokespeople asked, referring to three land plots in dispute: Los Tramojos (Guarico State), La Victoria (Zulia) and Agricola Yaracuy (Yaracuy). According to INTI, these cannot be assigned to campesinos because they need to be handled on a political level. The illegal evictions are reportedly linked to interests involving the governorships, and the Land Institute does not have the capacity to handle them.
'The Bolivarian Revolution cannot be held hostage to political whims… There are economic interests that favor large landowners over campesinos,' campesino leaders said in reference to these cases, which represent a breach of the rights of campesino families to work the land, benefiting private interests. As a result, they will remain firm in their struggle and with the constitution on their side. 'The predominance of large land estates (latifundio) is contrary to the interests of society,' it says in Article 307.
In light of all this, the Campesino Struggle Platform will continue their vigil outside INTI headquarters, waiting for the commitment to hand over land titles on July 12 to be honored.
It's important to highlight that the spokespeople pointed out during the press conference that they expect a prompt resolution of the three cases mentioned, which were plots legally assigned to campesinos by former President Chávez so they could live and produce.
To conclude, they stated that 'what Chávez gave us, no one can take away,' and called for solidarity and for unity in the struggles of the diverse social movements throughout the country.