Source: ALBA TV / The Dawn News / May 13, 2018
The spokespersons of the communal council “Robert Sierra” warned several weeks back that, “There are a number of heavily armed people inside the premises, who are supposedly doing security work. We denounce and we have informed public opinion of their presence and that our lives could be in danger.” They are from the Palo Quemado group land (Arismendi, Barinas), they said, “We have denounced it in different instances but without results”.
On May 11, two members of the community, Jesús León and Guillermo Toledo, were kidnapped by a paramilitary group. The next morning, they were found dead on the highway Las Calenturas, with gunshots in head and chest.
According to community’s testimonies, on Friday afternoon, a group of heavily armed people reached the peasants’ camp with a list of names and photos of the members of the community. “There, they grabbed one of the fellows, handcuffed him and put him in the van. The second one was grabbed on the road.” Another group, armed with shotguns, helped in the prosecution of other peasants on the list.
The communal council “Robert Serra” consists of 56 families that have been part of a process in the last 5 years of recuperating idle lands in the Hato Palo Quemado, a large estate of at least 4,800 hectares.
On the same premises, the National Land Institute in March 2017 finished a partial rescue procedure: some 336 hectares were allotted to 7 peasant organizations. However, this process of regularization of lands did not include the lands where this communal council works.
On those lands, the community had a production of 200 hectares of different crops: banana, kidney beans, black turtle beans, corn, pumpkin and cassava, until November 23, 2017, when they were evicted in an unusual and violent manner. That day nine members of the community were arrested and later prosecuted “for alternation of public order and state of drunkenness”, still to be presented.
The eviction was perpetrated by a joint commission of Barinas state police and the Venezuelan National Guard of Arismendi city, who, as the community reported, without showing the eviction order and without giving any explanations, “entered our houses, demolishing and destroying them, burning our belongings and necessities like the agricultural vehicles and the motorcycles”.
On the same day, the members of the community claim to have received death threats by the alleged owner of the lands, Carlos Eduardo Pardi Moncada, representative of the commercial entity Agropecuaria Mañongo C.A., who is now held responsible for the assassination of the two peasants.
The death of Jesús León and Guillermo Toledo adds to more than 300 Venezuelan peasants killed in the fight for right to land. The majority of cases occurred in the first few years of effectiveness of the Law of Land and Agriculture development (2001) to which the Creole oligarchy responded with violence, promoting the killing and the use of paramilitary bodies to threaten, to displace and to assassinate peasants.
In the last year and a half there has been a rise of such violence, characterized by a wave of evictions through paramilitaries and also through both state and local security bodies. Its severity has demanded the intervention of President Nicolás Maduro, who on April 9, has pronounced in a firm manner in support of peasants, has stopped the wave of evictions and has ordered a detailed investigation of the facts by National Constituent Assembly. The case of rescuing Palo Quemado is one of them.