Guayaquil, Ecuador, December 11, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government handed 69 land titles comprising 1,817 hectares to campesinos in Santa Inés, Barinas state.
Under the slogan “Free land, men and women!” campesinos received the land titles during a large popular assembly on Friday in the remote area. The event marked the 162 anniversary of the emblematic Battle of Santa Inés and 20 years since the approval of Hugo Chávez’ Land Law.
Grassroots movements especially celebrated a Supreme Court ruling in favor of 40 campesino families in the 4800 hectare Los Tramojos land stead in Guárico state after a protracted legal battle.
The Battle of Santa Inés took place on December 10, 1859, during Venezuela's Federal War (1859-1863). Venezuelan hero Ezequiel Zamora and his mostly peasant army defeated the conservative government’s troops under the banner of "Free Men and Liberated Land." While the XIX century countryside rebellion was frustrated, the Hugo Chávez government reclaimed the fight under the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999.
A number of government officials praised the Santa Inés people for upholding food production and promised more support. “We have set up a permanent technical table with the campesino sector to reinvigorate the agro-productive activities in the area,” announced Agriculture Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo.
The president of the National Land Institute (INTI), David Hernández, likewise pledged to continue working with rural movements. "The best way to honor the Land Law is together with the people. In Santa Inés, we listen and advance alongside the campesino movement, more committed than ever to defend national production," he wrote on Twitter.
Hernández added that the Nicolás Maduro government would continue democratizing the land, a process that began 20 years ago when former president Chávez launched the Land Law. The historic 2001 legislation laid conditions for campesinos to rescue over 60 percent of large idle estates and receive land titles, with small and midsize producers currently accounting for an estimated 70 percent of food production. The land redistribution process slowed down in recent years, with campesino organizations staging several high profile demonstrations to oppose policies favoring landowning interests.
Former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza also attended the Santa Inés commemorative event, where he delivered the land titles and visited different areas. On Monday, the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) announced that the high-profile official would be the candidate for the re-run of the Barinas governor election on January 9, 2022.
"It is a privilege to hear criticism, to be interpellated and feel the love of these giants of resistance and dignity. With the people's wisdom, we will find definitive solutions [to rural issues]," Arreaza wrote on social media.
Additionally, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab opened an agrarian prosecutor’s office to address campesino struggles and demands. The announcement comes after rural populations have staged several rallies in recent months to denounce a “landowner offensive.” The Campesino Struggle Platform celebrated the decision, stating it is a step towards "justice in the countryside."
Over 350 campesinos have been killed over the past 20 years, reportedly by hired assassins sent by powerful landowners. Campesino organizations have pointed the finger at the Cattle Ranchers Federation (FEDENAGA), a powerful guild pushing to reform the 2001 Land Law. However, the Maduro administration has promised to leave the legislation untouched.
In recent months, the country’s rural sector has emphasized that the majority of the targeted killings have gone unpunished, accusing local judicial authorities of working in complicity with powerful landowners to criminalize campesinos.
Venezuela’s rural communities have also been affected by fuel shortages that severely worsened in 2020 due to US sanctions. Campesino producers need diesel to power tractors and transport crops. The scarcity has led to fuel price hikes and reduced agricultural output.
Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.