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Some 450 sugar cane producers have staged protests outside the Cumanacoa Sugar Mill in Sucre State, eastern Venezuela.
The movement’s spokespeople allege that sugar cane growers have been “defrauded” by the company, currently run jointly by TecnoAgro (a private enterprise) and CorpoSucre (owned by the Sucre governorship). According to publicly released information, the sugar mill only paid 20 percent of the agreed-upon sum for the latest 21 thousand metric ton harvest.
The protests led to a dialogue table being set up with plant managers. However, the company’s proposal is reportedly far from covering production costs.
“What was offered to us will not cover cane cutting and transportation, there will be nothing left for us to buy food,” said Luis González, a local campesino leader, in a message to President Nicolás Maduro. “We want the presidency to send a commission and help us solve this issue.”
The campesinos staged symbolic actions on Thursday and Friday by blocking access to the plant’s gates and pledged to continue their fight until authorities address their concerns. On Friday morning, a CorpoSucre commission arrived on-site and vowed to regularize the agreed-upon payments for the sugar harvest.
The struggle in Cumanacoa has also been backed by four local communes Las 5 Fortalezas, Chávez y Maduro, Chávez por Siempre and La Patria Joven.
Jismelly Galíndez, sugar cane grower and Las 5 Fortalezas Commune spokeswoman said that the population is “very upset” at the lack of response from the company. She highlighted that sugar cane production is the region’s “economic backbone.”
“The contract we signed is being breached, and we are losing more than half of what we are legally entitled to,” she said in a video released on social media. She likewise denounced that producers have been banned from the plant and cannot supervise the output of molasses and refined sugar. Galíndez called for solidarity from popular movements. “Let us join hands in this struggle! As communards we cannot be afraid, this sugar mill is ours,” she concluded.
Also on location is the Argelia Laya Brigade from the Communard Union which has been building alliances with grassroots organizations in several parts of the country.
Carlos Terán, a member of the brigade and communard from El Maizal Commune, told Tatuy TV and Venezuelanalysis that the struggle for means of production is key in the current economic context.
“(Former President Hugo) Chávez was adamant in his defense of social property, the need to have land and factories in the hands of the people,” he stressed.
Both Terán and campesino spokespeople denounced the “strategic alliance” in the company. “It is only strategic for the private entrepreneur, because producers end up exploited and defrauded,” the communard pointed out.
The fight surrounding this factory began in 2005, at the high-point of nationalizations and struggles for workers’ control in Venezuela. After workers occupied the plant to rescue it, Chávez decreed the mill’s expropriation to benefit the working class and local small-scale producers.
Nevertheless, the co-management relationship with the Venezuelan Agriculture Corporation (CVA), a body with strong links to the agriculture ministry, was tense from the beginning, with complaints of lack of support for production. The company was briefly reactivated under the management of the Venezuelan armed forces before returning to the CVA and processing some 30,000 metric tons of sugar cane in 2017.
But with the economic crisis, the plant went idle again until the transfer of state assets to regional governments pushed by the Maduro administration in late 2020. In this case, the Cumanacoa Sugar Mill was handed to CorpoSucre, which months later entered a “strategic alliance” with the private TecnoAgro. The latter effectively runs the operation.
The sugar mill in Cumanacoa is one case among many strategic alliances with the private sector in which the terms and shareholding split are not publicly disclosed. In the sugar sector the Pío Tamayo (Lara State), Río Guanare and Santa Elena (both Portuguesa State) mills have recently entered this management model.