Several grassroots struggle organizations in the countryside have come together to demand that the Venezuelan authorities investigate and punish those responsible for the murder of peasant leader Carlos Bolívar. A militant in the state of Guárico, Bolívar was killed on March 2 by hitmen. He was one of the leaders of Coletivo Ezequiel Zamora, an organization that brings together more than 40 families who live and produce on the Los Tramojos farm, located in the city of Camaguán.
The crime motivated peasant organizations from several states of the country to protest in Caracas last Monday (13). Asking for “justice for Carlos Bolívar” and an “end to the murders in the countryside”, around 200 rural workers marched from the center of the city to the headquarters of the Public Ministry, to demand that the investigations proceed.
A commission of representatives of the movements was received by the Office of Human Rights of the Attorney General’s Office. After the meeting, activists stated that the MP welcomed the organizations’ demands and recognized that Bolívar’s death was a contract killing.
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On Tuesday (14), the MP confirmed that four people have already been arrested and two others have arrest warrants issued for their involvement in the murder of the peasant leader.
Andrés Alayo, leader of the Venezuelan Peasant Fight Platform, was received at the MP and explained to the Brazil in Fact what was discussed. According to the activist “there is good will on the part of the parties to advance”.
“The Public Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that Carlos Bolívar was the victim of hired assassins. There are some citizens arrested, the investigation is ongoing and all investigations will move forward until the culprits are found and we guarantee justice for comrade Bolívar. There is goodwill of the parties to advance. This makes us happy. Amidst the pain, we are glad that at least these steps allow bringing a little more peace to the countryside”, he said.
Dispute in Los Tramojos
Bolívar’s death occurred amid a legal dispute between the peasants and businessman José Elías Chirimelli for control of the Los Tramojos farm. Chirimelli has been trying for years to appropriate the 4,800 hectares that, since 2010, have been controlled by the workers.
That year, the peasants occupied the land that, until then, had been unproductive and started the production of cereals and beef. In 2011, they received ownership of the farm from the Venezuelan government, supported by the Land Law – approved in 2001 by former president Hugo Chávez – which aims to combat unproductive latifundia.
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However, in 2017, the families were evicted after Chirimelli claimed ownership of the land and gained support from local courts. The workers, in turn, gained government support and the public support of President Nicolás Maduro. During a meeting held in 2018 between the Chief Executive and various peasant movements across the country, the representative demanded that the Judiciary be quick to resolve cases such as Los Tramojos.
“We must build an agenda so that we immediately review and return the lands of all the projects handed over by Commander Chávez to the peasants, that is an order that I am giving,” the president said at the time.
The case, however, dragged on in court for six years and the solution only came in April 2022, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court recognized the invalidity of the documents presented by Chirimelli and ruled in favor of the families.
“On the one hand, a land thief is breaking the law. On the other, the Supreme Court of Justice is maintaining constitutional order,” argues Jesús Osorio, leader of the Marcha Campesina movement.
“It was clear that he forged documents, the court proved it and handed over the land to the peasants. We say to President Nicolás Maduro that we will be here, safeguarding the rights consolidated in our Constitution and that we cannot allow this type of person to do what he did to appropriate the lands,” he told the Brazil in Fact.
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The activist, however, explains that although the peasants won the dispute in court, they are “constantly threatened” by Chirimelli. The movements now ask that the businessman also be investigated in the case of the death of Carlos Bolívar.
“We are marching to demand that the government open a thorough investigation, especially against Mr. José Elias Chirimelli, the land thief who improperly appropriated 5,000 hectares of land and put more than 47 families in disgrace,” he says.
tensions in the field
Among the commitments reached by the movements with the MP is the installation of public hearings on violence in the countryside in several states of the country, which will have the participation of attorneys and popular organizations.
Peasant organizations denounce that, since 2018, 22 leaders have already been killed. According to lawyer Martha Grajales, coordinator of the human rights NGO Surgentes, the years of economic crisis aggravated cases of violence in the countryside.
“Right now, according to the available information, I believe that contract killings of peasants are not at their peak as they were in 2017 and 2018. of this type of crime”, he tells the Brazil in Fact.
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The lawyer also states that “in addition to the material perpetrators of this crime, we need to establish who ordered this murder, because it is not enough to arrest those who shot, we must know who is behind this death”.
Grajales also explains that disputes in the countryside are heavily influenced by the legislation passed in 2001 by then President Hugo Chávez, which frontally attacks unproductive latifundia and facilitates the delivery of titles to rural workers.
“We can even make several analyzes of how the land law was one of the triggers for the 2002 coup against Chávez led by hegemonic economic powers and conservative politicians”, he says.
Editing: Thales Schmidt