Communes and social movements have demanded that the government combat the assassination of rural activists in the mountains of western Venezuela, which they say is undermining communal organising in the region.
The assassinations are occurring in the mountains of the western state of Lara. In response to the latest murder of an activist in the region, a group of 21 communes and over 20 social movements, human rights groups and community media outlets released a statement on Saturday denouncing the situation of growing insecurity in the area.
“We want to denounce, nationally and internationally, the massacre that is taking place against the most humble campesinos (rural workers) and commune members who inhabit the Argimiro Gabaldón Communal Territorial Corridor,” the statement read.
The latest commune activist to be killed is Luis Fernando Mendoza (18), who was allegedly shot while riding a motorbike taxi home after attending an evening church service. According to a spokesperson of the Ataroa Socialist Commune, more than ten commune activists have been murdered in the area in recent months.
The communes and social movements claim that the deaths are due to a rise in criminal gangs and extortionist activity in the region, coupled by a lack of action from local authorities. Lara state is governed by Henry Falcon, a leader of the opposition.
Some activists also suggest that the murders by mafia-like gangs in the area could be more politically motivated. The region’s communes claim that the mountains of Lara are “the historical spine of political – military resistance in Venezuela and the most advanced territories of communal organisation and production”.
Rural land activists in Venezuela have also had to face violence from landowners, who have resisted the implementation of the Chavez government land reforms and redistribution. Rights groups estimate that over 300 campesinos have been killed by hired gunmen as a result of these disputes, while no landowner has been brought to justice for their alleged role in the murders.
The assorted communes, whose statement was published on alternative news site Aporrea.org, also said that while they recognised President Nicolas Maduro’s “goodwill” on the issue of citizen security, they were “indignant” at the silence from governmental authorities on the plight of rural activists in the mountains of Lara. They contrasted this with the swift action shown by the government after former Miss Venezuela Monica Spears was murdered earlier this month.
“Perhaps the life of an actress is worth much more than that of a campesino or commune activist. Perhaps in this country there are people with rights and others without fundamental human rights such as the sacred right to life,” the signatories argued.
The statement also made a series of requests of the Maduro government to improve citizen security in the region and support communal organisation.
These included improving the state’s security strategy and presence in the area, investigating mafia networks that pose a threat to communal organisation, encouraging sport and cultural activities to prevent youths from joining criminal gangs, and activating communal militias to protect communal territory.
Maduro proposes the “pacification of Venezuela”
In a speech yesterday during a military event President Nicolas Maduro reaffirmed his commitment to work toward greater citizen security and “peace” in Venezuela.
He also confirmed that a National Pacification Plan will be ready for implementation by 8 February. Maduro said the plan would create “territories of peace” throughout the country to help prevent crime.
The strengthening of the government’s citizen security policies come after the murder of Monica Spear and her ex-husband Thomas Berry in a roadside robbery caused a national reaction, particularly by private and public media.
Interior Affairs and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres yesterday hit out at what he called “false” statistics on Venezuela’s violent crime record. He referred specifically to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV) NGO, which claimed in a report that 74 per 100,000 inhabitants were victims of homicide in 2013, an alleged total of 24,763 people.
Minister Rodriguez said the number was “false…without scientific rigour” and that the real number was 39 homicides per 100,000 people. “In this we’re very serious, transparent and rigorous,” he stated in an interview on public television.
The figure of 39 homicides per 100,000 would represent a decrease on the figure of 45 per 100,000 inhabitants recorded in 2011 according to statistics by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
On Saturday, Rodriguez held a meeting with the opposition governor of Miranda state, Henrique Capriles, in order to discuss the government’s security policies there. Rodriguez is meeting with all state governors and many mayors to discuss the development of a common approach to citizen security.
After narrowly losing the April 2013 presidential election to Nicolas Maduro, Capriles spent most of last year claiming Maduro had won fraudulently and calling him “illegitimate”. However since the opposition’s defeat in last December’s municipal elections, Capriles has begun to attend some meetings between government and opposition politicians.
Maduro welcomed the meeting between Rodriguez and Capriles, saying, “That is the way…national union to construct peace [and] the definitive pacification of Venezuela”.
Minister Rodriguez also confirmed yesterday that authorities are in the planning phase of a new project to monitor and combat crime. Under the project, called the Comprehensive Monitoring and Assistance System, 30,000 security cameras will be installed across eight of the country’s cities.