Police harassed and detained peasants protesting in the offices of the National Land Institute


Caracas, July 17th of 2019

On July 16th, agents belonging to the FAES (police commando forces) and the anti-drug unit of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) arrived to the headquarters of the National Land Institute (INTI) to harass the group of peasants that has been protesting there since June 26th, and to dismantle the action pushed forth by the Platform of Peasant Struggle. The FAES agents arrived displaying high calliber weapons and taking pictures. They then attempted to break into the encampment laid out by the Platform members. 

The peasants are demanding the return of the lands from which they were evicted by agents of the National Land Institute at the service of old an new landowners, the elimination of the probation regimes suffered by peasants sentenced over land struggles, justice for the victims of assassinations ordered by old and new landlords (over 19 in the past year, and over 300 in 20 years of Chavista governments), and the development of a national sowing plan with peasant participation.

Later that day, two agents of the anti-drug unit of the PNB detained the peasants José Candelario Pérez and Eulalio Esqueda, following a criminal complaint filed by the landowner Wilfredo Villavicencio, who six days before had forcefully evicted the families living in the “Las Ventanas” lands in Guárico state, which he claims are his property. Political and media pressure allowed the release later that evening of the two arrested peasants, who returned to the sit-in at the INTI headquarters. 

In the midst of the police harassment, the members of the Platform of Peasant Struggle detained a bodyguard of the INTI President, Luis Soteldo, who carried an ID card issued by the SEBIN (political police), and had infiltrated the protest to gather information. For that reason, the spokespeople for the Platform of Peasant Struggle demand the resignation of Luis Soteldo, who, according to their denunciations, is an ally of old a new landowners. 

These conflicts are happening because the Agriculture Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo has been deploying plans to return lands to the old landowners, while at the same time, high-ranking military officers have been receiving lands and violently evicting peasants, who often are chavista activists and sympathizers.

The support of the military apparatus maintaining the Maduro government implicates economic concessions to senior officials of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), among which is the handing over of lands to consolidate latifundio (vast, unproductive land-holdings), while the peasant movement is barred from obtaining social gains through negotiations and petitions to the chavista government.

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