(OPE-L) ps re venezuela

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat May 22 2004 - 12:23:10 EDT

The article that Rakesh shared with the list the other day
was from _The Militant_ (a newspaper published by the Socialist
Workers Party in the US).  Here's another recent article from the
same newspaper on a topic we discussed earlier this year --
land reform in Venezuela.

In solidarity, Jerry

    75,000 Venezuelan Peasants Win Land Titles     Big
farmers try to block implementation of agrarian reform law
that has already benefitted tens of thousands of Venezuelan
families. Malapanis reports extensively on how the land
reform is benefitting poor peasants in Venezuela.
  By: Argiris Malapanis - The Militant
Published: 12/04/04
SAN CARLOS, Venezuela—“On December 23 we took possession of
this land,” said Jubir Yauca at a new agricultural camp
here. “By the next day, about 250 peasants and their
families had moved in. We are now undisputed owners of
39,000 hectares [1 hectare = 2.47 acres] of arable land. We
have fenced it in. And we are on our way toward reclaiming
the rest of the land that the big landowners stole from us
by force.”
Jubir Yauca, who spoke to Militant reporters March 16, is
one of six brothers from the indigenous Yauca family—the
last remaining members of the Yauca nation. With the help
of many other peasants, the family recently succeeded,
after two and a half decades of struggle, in gaining
official recognition of the Yauca nation’s ownership of
150,000 hectares of fertile land outside San Carlos, the
capital of Cojedes state in northwestern Venezuela.
The Yaucas had announced they didn’t want the land for
themselves. They said they would distribute it to landless
peasants who have formed cooperatives and are ready to till
it. And that’s what they are doing.
Tens of thousands of peasants across Venezuela have made
similar gains over the last year, overwhelmingly through
hard-fought battles, taking advantage of provisions of the
Law on Land and Agricultural Development passed in November
This law has been one of the most controversial measures
enacted by the government headed by President Hugo Chávez.
Battles by peasants to implement it have stoked the fury of
most big capitalists and landlords and of their allies in
Between the fall of 2001 and the end of 2003, nearly 75,000
landless peasant families had obtained titles to 5 million
acres of land, according to figures issued by Venezuela’s
National Land Institute (INTi). More than 15,000 peasants
got titles in the last quarter of 2003, which indicates an
acceleration of land distribution. Many have also received
credit from government agencies at low interest rates.
These peasants, however, are confronting major obstacles in
their efforts to solidify their gains by expanding and
diversifying production. Low prices for their produce on
the market as well as the campaign by large cattle
ranchers, other capitalist farmers, and agribusiness to
slow down or prevent implementation of the 2001 law are in
many cases frustrating the peasants’ efforts and resulting
in setbacks.  
How Yaucas won their claim
About 400 farm families have been fighting for land in the
San Carlos area, after being promised titles and credits by
the government two years ago. Militant reporters first
found out about this struggle during a farm conference here
in July 2002. Many of the peasants who have now moved onto
the Yaucas’ land took part in that meeting.
In a follow-up visit there last October it became evident
that the struggle had stalled. The land claims of these
peasants were linked to settling the claim of the
indigenous Yauca family, which said it had proof that
150,000 hectares of land, including several large cattle
ranches, belonged to the Yauca nation and had been stolen
from them through violence by capitalist landlords backed
by the national government. The Yaucas’ petitions to INTi
had fallen on deaf ears, we were told then.
This time, Angel Sarmiento, one of the peasant leaders who
gave Militant reporters their first tour of the area in the
summer of 2002, took us directly to the new Juan Yauca
Agricultural Camp, established on land the peasants have
occupied since December. More than 200 peasant families
moved onto the land at the end of the year and fenced in
the portion that is not currently cultivated or used for
grazing by the capitalist cattle ranchers. About 50 of
these families were there on the night of March 16. They
eagerly talked about their initial victory.
Eduardo Marcano, president of the Asociación Cooperativa
Ayudantes de Zamora (Helpers of Zamora Cooperative
Association), said that he had been involved in the Yaucas’
land fight for nearly 25 years. His group is named after
Ezequiel Zamora, a leader of the Venezuelan independence
struggle against Spain who fought to expropriate land and
give it to the peasants. Zamora was killed in battle in San
“Thanks to the change we had in Venezuela with the new
president, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias,” Marcano said, “we
were able to bring to light the documents the big landlords
had hidden.” Last year the peasants convinced some friendly
lawyers to represent them. The lawyers argued that since no
state-owned lands were involved, the Yaucas’ petition was a
private claim that could be settled by the courts outside
INTi’s structure. The peasants’ direct action won
widespread support in the area.
A court recognized the Yaucas’ claim to the 150,000
hectares and has already given them ownership papers for
the 39,000 hectares they took possession of three months
There are 17 capitalist farmers who use the rest of the
land, mostly for cattle grazing, Marcano said. “Only two of
them are very large terracogientes,” he said, using a
derisive term he coined meaning “land grabbers.” One comes
from the family of former Gen. José Rafael Luque, who was
governor of Cojedes under the Juan Vicente Gómez
dictatorship in the early 1900s, and who forcibly
expropriated nearly half the land of the Yauca nation,
Marcano said.
“We are preparing to go to court and get an order for them
to either buy a portion of the land at going market prices
from the Yaucas or pack up and leave,” he added.
The peasants also won the support of some officials in the
National Guard. Roseana Yani Lugo, a sergeant in the
National Guard who comes from a farm family, volunteered to
be their chief of security. This step, along with
around-the-clock vigilance by the peasants, has so far kept
the police and hired thugs of the capitalist landlords
away, Marcano said.
Tulio Delgado, president of the Juan Yauca Agricultural
Land Committee, said the peasants have received donations
of food, water, and medicine from many people in the area.
“This is critical,” he added, “because we don’t have
electricity and water yet on the farm land.”  
‘Land or death’
Ester Agudo organizes an all-women committee in charge of
dividing up the land among the peasants, and other
projects. Most of the peasants have been taking part in
literacy classes and will soon start courses at the nearby
National Institute for Cooperative Education to improve
their skills in planting and harvesting a variety of crops,
she said. Two years ago, about 75 percent of the peasants
among the 200 families involved in the new land acquisition
were illiterate, Agudo said. “Now everyone is in classes,
and our goal is for all of us to get at least the
equivalent of a high school diploma,” she added. They plan
to grow corn, rice, yucca, vegetables, and other crops, as
well as raise cattle and other animals.
“We are very happy with what we’ve accomplished so far,”
Agudo said. “We’ll continue the fight. Our motto is land or
death. But we have bigger plans.”
The plans include building an air-conditioned warehouse on
the land the peasants won so they can store their produce
and be able to sell to the new network of government
supermarkets called Mercal. Reynaldo Arvelo, a local
engineer the peasants recruited to their side, said he was
close to securing financing to start the project this
spring. “We also plan to build a processing plant to make
animal feed,” he said.
Militant reporters visited a number of Mercal stores that
have now sprung up across the country. Prices of all basic
food items in these stores—from rice to cooking oil and
powdered milk—are 20 to 50 percent lower than in the
regular market. Chicken, for example, which is available
two or three times per week at most Mercals, costs 2,000
bolivars per kilo ($0.47 per pound) compared to 3,600
($0.85 per pound) at privately owned supermarkets. The
Mercal stores have in many workers districts replaced food
distribution at subsidized prices run by the National Guard
until recently. The only problem, a number of workers said,
is that the government has imposed rationing, so everyone
has a limit on the quantities of each item they can
purchase per month at these stores. The Mercal network,
however, is a big help to millions of working people, we
were told, as inflation has continued to climb, partly due
to the devaluation of the bolivar, the local currency. The
bolivar is now exchanged at 2,700 to the U.S. dollar on the
black market as opposed to 1,920, the official exchange
About 65 percent of all food consumed in the country is
imported from Canada, the United States, Brazil, and other
countries. So every devaluation of the bolivar has had
devastating consequences for working people.
Peasant leaders in San Carlos, as well as elsewhere, said
they have demanded the government make large-scale
investments to develop a domestic food processing industry,
which would accompany a more radical land reform and
diversification of agricultural production, to minimize
dependency on food imports. Marcano said that as a result
of these demands the government asked the Central Bank last
fall to release $1 billion from its foreign currency
reserves to initiate such investments. It doesn’t seem that
anything substantial has yet begun on this front.  
Challenges at Los Cañizos
The contradictory character of the gains peasants have made
through stiff battles for land became a little clearer
during a visit to Los Cañizos farm cooperative in the
Veroes municipality of Yaracuy, a largely agricultural
state north of Cojedes.
Some 400 farm families live in Los Cañizos. In a visit
there last October, Militant reporters learned that most of
these families obtained titles to their land after a
16-year-long struggle, which included pitched battles with
the National Guard before Chávez’s election to the
presidency in 1998. Thirty-five of these farm families were
also organized into the Los Cañizos co-op, which received
credit last year and was able to buy their first tractor
from FONDAFA, the government institution providing such
Napoleón Tortolero, the co-op’s president and a central
leader of the struggle there, said March 16 that membership
in the cooperative has dropped by nearly half, to 18 farm
Victor Torrelles, another of the peasant leaders at Los
Cañizos, said that this is largely due to the slow progress
in getting promised government aid. The initial credit of
77 million bolivars ($40,000), half of which was used to
buy the tractor, was not enough to complete the well
drilling and buy pumps for irrigation, even though peasants
have found plenty of water underneath their land, Torrelles
said. This has meant smaller crops and mounting frustration
at the ongoing inability to make a living income. Another
factor in the squeeze they face from the workings of the
capitalist market is that they have to buy all their seeds
and fertilizers from companies in San Felipe, Yaracuy’s
capital, “controlled by the escuálidos,” as Torrelles put
it, which charge them exorbitant prices. Escuálidos, “the
squalid ones,” is a term commonly used here to refer to
supporters of the pro-imperialist opposition. It will take
time to get funding to start their own greenhouses where
they can grow their own seeds, Torrelles and Tortolero
“Construction for new housing units has also slowed down,”
Tortolero said, “because local contractors siphon off
government funds allocated for such projects to enrich
themselves.” Forty new houses were completed as of last
year in Los Cañizos, only 10 percent of what’s needed, and
no new ones are on the horizon now. To confront the
problem, the cooperative has undertaken an initiative to
demand that the national government provide peasants with
the necessary materials and leave it up to them to build
the houses with local labor, “or brigades like those in
Cuba,” Tortolero said. Torrelles said he worked in
construction for 15 years and there are many more like him
in the area with the necessary skills to do the job.
Despite the problems, these militant peasants did not seem
discouraged and continued to point to some gains. Gregorio
Gómez is one of the newest members of Los Cañizos co-op,
growing sugarcane on his 10 acres of land. He proudly
showed his tractor, which he received this year with credit
from FONDAFA, the second tractor in the cooperative. “I
never would have had the resources to do this myself,” he
said. At the same time, he pointed out, electricity has yet
to reach his farm shack, about two miles from the rest of
Los Cañizos community, which was electrified last year.
“It’s a struggle,” Gómez said.
Tortolero said the goal of the Ezequiel Zamora National
Agrarian Coordinating Committee—the national farm group the
militants at Los Cañizos belong to—is to distribute land to
300,000 landless peasant families across the country. Until
the year 2000, about 1,000 big landowners controlled 85
percent of land under cultivation—a total of 75 million
acres. Some 350,000 hard-pressed peasant families, who
owned between 3 and 50 acres each, produced some 70 percent
of vegetables and other major crops. In 2001 the national
government announced the nationalization of another 75
million acres of idle but arable land and promised to
distribute it to peasants.
The struggle for land is only part of the class
confrontation in the countryside, however.  
Need to organize farm workers
During a lunch break in a nearby town, Tortolero showed
Militant reporters a truck passing by full of sugarcane
cutters, all covered with soot from cutting cane in the
fields where the weeds had been burned. These workers work
mostly for capitalist farmers—overwhelmingly “batistianos”
in this area, Tortolero said. These are Cuban capitalists
who fled the Caribbean island and came to Venezuela after
workers and peasants in Cuba overthrew the U.S.-backed
dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 through a popular
The cane cutters are paid less than the minimum wage of
200,000 bolivars a month ($100), and face some of the worst
working conditions, Tortolero said. “We are trying to
figure out how we can help them get organized and work with
them,” he stated. “That’s one of the ways we can confront
the power of the capitalists.”
The need to organize farm workers and treat them as
principal allies in the struggle to end class exploitation
was also evident during a March 15 visit to the Bovares
municipality of Lara state, west of Yaracuy.
Damacio Arrieche, who farms a small plot of land in
Bovares, told Militant reporters that some 200 peasants
like him had gained land titles in that area in the last
two years, as a result of struggles to implement provisions
of the new agrarian reform law. “But none of us have been
able to get credits yet,” he said. “Our conditions are
similar to those of farm workers. We are trying to figure
out ways to organize and work together.”
The principal product of Bovares is pineapple, grown
largely on hill slopes. Many of the pineapple producers are
middle farmers, like Edicxon Izarra, whose father owns
nearly 200 acres of prime pineapple-growing land and
employs about 20 workers. This is a very labor intensive
crop, where workers have to bend a good part of the day to
tend to the low pineapple bushels or harvest the fruit. “We
try to treat our workers well,” Izarra said, who explained
that his family members are strong supporters of the Chávez
government. “Those who want can get a plot of the land and
be responsible for the production and harvest, so they can
get the income from the sale at the end, in addition to
their wages.” Izarra said his father pays these workers
about 6,000 bolivars ($3) per day, about half the minimum
“This is part of what we are fighting against,” Arrieche
Despite these challenges, most peasants interviewed said
they would take up arms, if needed, to prevent the
opposition from toppling the Chávez administration.
“These people were in the government for 40 years before
Chávez,” Tortolero said. “If they return, all the land
titles, tractors, and every other little thing we’ve gained
the last few years will be gone. These people sent the army
and the police against us, and even poisoned the streams
around here when we took over land and refused to leave. We
won’t let them come back.”
Part of this struggle, Tortolero, Arrieche, and Marcano
said, is organizing to counter the economic power of big
farmers and agribusinessmen, a number of whom are part of
the governing party or support the Chávez government and
have their interests protected in return.
At the new Juan Yauca Agricultural Camp outside San Carlos,
the peasants there were upbeat about their initial victory,
and ready for the next stage of the battle—taking on the
big cattle ranchers by forcing them either to buy the land
and pay the Yaucas for it, which would enable the peasant
cooperatives to quickly develop their land, or pack up and
leave the area. This will be a higher mountain to climb.
Olivia Nelson and Natalie Doucet contributed to this

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