from Weekly News Update on the Americas
BARINAS: CAMPESINOS ARRESTED
Early on May 25, Venezuelan army soldiers carried out a surprise raid against campesino activists in the town of Sabaneta, Barinas state. The raid was carried out with the participation of agents from the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC, a unit of the Ministry of Interior and Justice) and the Rural Police. The army arrested 30 people, including at least 15 campesino leaders, two journalists and a minor. Those arrested included members of the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) Barinas regional directorate and FNCEZ national directorate members Simon Uzcategui, Armonio Ortega, Oberto Viera, Alexander Bolano and Inder Herrera. The activists were held at the army post in Sabaneta, and later transferred to the general police station in Barinas. Some were apparently physically mistreated by judicial police.
The 30 campesinos were freed late on May 25 after a protest by local campesinos blocked traffic along a three-kilometer stretch of the Jose Antonio Paez highway.
The FNCEZ had been holding talks with the vice president’s office to press for compliance with accords reached last year after several campesino mobilizations. The FNCEZ feels that bureaucratic problems are blocking the implementation of agrarian reform, and that the state security forces have failed to take effective action against Colombian paramilitaries acting in western Venezuela, or against landholders who hire professional killers to attack campesino activists.
FNCEZ members in Barinas had been holding public assemblies and distributing fliers urging an occupation of La Marquesena estate. The government confiscated the estate from large landholders, but instead of redistributing it to landless campesinos, set up the “Florentino Genetic Center,” an agricultural and livestock development project, on the site. The government accused the campesinos of acting against the project, even though no concrete action toward an occupation had taken place; the FNCEZ said the raid appeared to be a preventive operation carried out by military intelligence. Among other demands, the FNCEZ is seeking the repeal of Article 471 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes land occupations; they say it is contradictory with the struggle for agrarian reform.
The National Workers Union (UNT) issued a statement condemning the arrests of the FNCEZ leaders and expressing solidarity with the campesino struggle. (Aporrea.org, May 25 via Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales; El Universal, Caracas, May 26, 27) The UNT led a massive pro-government march on May 1, International Workers’ Day, in Caracas; a smaller opposition march that day, led by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), also numbered in the thousands. (Venezuelanalysis.com, May 2)
from Weekly Update on the Americas, May 28
THREE COUNTRIES SIGN ON TO ALBA
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias brought his plan for a Latin American trade pact closer to becoming a reality on April 29 when Bolivia officially joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) formed by Chavez and Cuban president Fidel Castro in 2005. The three governments didn’t immediately release the details of the two texts Bolivian president Evo Morales signed with Castro and Chavez during a meeting in Havana, but the pact was expected to combine lower tariffs with cooperation on social programs such as raising literacy rates. The new agreement came just one week after Venezuela’s April 22 announcement that it was leaving the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) trade pact.
Under the original ALBA agreement, Venezuela, which is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, has been selling Cuba 90,000 barrels of crude a day; Venezuela charges international market prices but receives payment in services and agricultural products instead of cash. The Associated Press reports that Venezuela-Cuba trade is expected to reach more than $3.5 billion this year–about 40% higher than in 2005. In the new three-way deal, Cuba is to send Bolivia doctors and teachers, while Venezuela will send gasoline and set up a $100 million fund for development programs and a $30 million fund for other social projects. Cuba and Venezuela also agreed to buy all of Bolivia’s soybeans; Colombia signed a free trade pact with the US on Feb. 27 that is expected to undercut Bolivia’s soybean sales to Colombia.
The BBC reports that “closer integration between oil-rich Venezuela and gas-rich Bolivia will give the new pact added weight.” “Now, for the first time, there are three of us,” Castro said after the signing. “I believe that one day all [Latin American] countries can be here.” (BBC, May 1; The Guardian, UK, April 30)
from Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 14
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #121
“Venezuela: the hip-hop revolution,” May 24
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution