Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Impunity for Venezuela's big landowners

Venezuela's Land Law was enacted to reduce dependence on food imports, however, wealthy landowners believe they will lose profits if it is implemented - so they are threatening and killing those who attempt to implement the law [EPA]

For close to a decade, Venezuela has been the focus and the target of mainstream news coverage, as the scene of a heated political struggle over control of the country's destiny.

But the parade of pundits eager to criticise the country's elected president and simplify the country's political conflict as a rule ignore the deep socio-economic inequality that propelled President Chavez to power.

The Bolivarian revolution has made significant strides in improving the conditions for the country's popular classes and promoting an alternative regional bloc, while at the same time pioneering a unique form of participatory democracy.

Still, the Bolivarian revolution is struggling both from its own contradictions and against a long history of deeply entrenched social inequality, intensified by capitalist globalisation.

This is nowhere more clear than in the rural countryside of Venezuela, where vast tracts of land remain in the hands of a tiny grouping of extremely wealthy families.

Tierras Libres, a documentary released this year, tells a story that has been virtually blacked out by the international press - the murders of hundreds of Venezuelan peasants by hired gunmen and right wing paramilitaries. The peasants have been murdered for attempting to implement the Chavez government's land reform policy. The crimes strongly implicate wealthy landowners who vehemently oppose land reform.

In one scene from the documentary, we see a middle-aged woman, Doneila, whose husband, Hermes Escalona, was murdered in 2003 by gunmen as he was beginning to work some fallow land on a huge plantation.

Speaking directly to President Chavez on his weekly Alo Presidente television programme, she looks hopeful as Chavez promises to "heat up" efforts to bring her husband's killers to justice.

No justice for the poor

In fact, as the documentary shows, Chavez ordered his personal lawyer to come to her aid. However, the film next provides an update on Doneila's story years after her appearance with Chavez on national TV.

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