Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the creation of a new Campesino Militia, which will be under the command of the national Bolivarian Armed Forces (FAB). Chávez made the announcement during a ceremony to commemorate 151 years since Venezuela’s Federal War lead by peasant leader Ezequiel Zamora. The Campesino Militia will be responsible for protecting peasant farmers from paramilitary groups organized by ranchers and wealthy landowners, Chávez explained in his weekly column, “Las líneas de Chávez” on Feb. 21. More than 300 peasant leaders and activists have been murdered since the government introduced the Law on Land and Agricultural Development in 2001, launched an agrarian reform program.
Some 1,505 farms totalling 2.5 million hectares have been redistributed under the agrarian reform. “The landowning oligarchy launched a violent agenda against the rescue of the commons,” Chávez said. “Faced with the backlash against the peasants through an escalation of attacks, sabotage, and paid assassinations by the most retrograde forces in our society, the non-delegable duty of the Bolivarian national state and the revolutionary government is to protect the peasantry: to defend them with all means at its disposal.”
Manuel Heredia, president of the National Ranchers Federation, responded: “As an institution, we have never sought paramilitary groups to protect us… If one of our members is proven guilty of a crime, then they should pay for their crime.”
Responding to charges that the new militias are paramilitary groups, Chávez said the peasant militias will be “absolutely regulated by the law,” adding: “What bothers and annoys those who spread such lies, is that the Armed Forces have been reunited with their original identity: the people in arms.” (EFE, Feb. 24; VenezuelAnalysis, Feb. 22)