[News] ‘Despotic Patrimonialism’ Emerges in Rural Venezuela - Campesino March: an analysis of their objectives

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 9 10:52:18 EST 2018


https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14142


  ‘Despotic Patrimonialism’ Emerges in Rural Venezuela: A Conversation
  with Gerardo Sieveres & Arbonio Ortega

By Cira Pascual Marquina – November 8, 2018
------------------------------------------------------------------------

/From July 12 to August 1st, a large contingent of Venezuelan 
//campesinos//marched across the country in what came to be known as the 
“Admirable Campesino March <https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13966>.” 
They walked from Guanare in Portuguesa State to Caracas to raise 
awareness about the many problems facing small farmers, including 
evictions, harassment and general neglect at the hands of state 
institutions./

/Here we learn about the march and its objectives in the voice of two of 
the Venezuelan campesino movement's most prominent leaders, Gerardo 
//Sieveres//and //Arbonio//Ortega./

*How did the Admirable Campesino March come to be? What got a group of 
**campesinos**to walk more than 400 kilometers?*

*Arbonio**Ortega: *Our march was triggered by the deep complexities of 
the campesino situation. Criminalization of our struggle, difficulties 
getting agricultural inputs, murder of campesinos, impunity, and the 
lack of attention from state institutions, whose main purpose is 
attending to campesino issues.

Months before we began our long march, we organized many meetings and 
assemblies to address the critical situation of campesinos throughout 
the country. In these meetings, we developed a plan or proposal for how 
to attend to the campesino situation. From there, we began to look for a 
channel to make our demands heard in Caracas. So we made a visit to 
Caracas. There, we called for an end to the criminalization of landless 
campesinos by the state, and we called for protecting the lives of those 
being threatened by the landowning class’ thugs. During the visit, we 
also requested that campesinos receive agricultural inputs, particularly 
fertilizers, much needed for the successful completion of the first corn 
crop.

Upon our return from Caracas, Jesus Leon and Guillermo Toledo, two 
campesinos active in the movement, were killed in Palo Quemao, a 
recovered farmstead1] in Barinas, in yet another case of landowner 
violence [May 12, 2018]. As the criminalization and threats against many 
campesino leaders continued, we began to hold meetings in other regions 
of the country. We went to Guarico, Cojedes, Barinas, Portuguesa and Sur 
del Lago, and out of those meetings emerged the plan to do symbolic 
takeovers or occupations of the regional offices of two state 
institutions: INTI [Venezuelan Land Institute] and Agropatria 
[state-owned and operated supplier of seeds and other agricultural 
inputs]. The last occupation was in INTI Barinas 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13902>. After that occupation, we 
were called by the head of the INTI to a meeting in Florentino [a 
state‐run agricultural investigation center]. The outcome was a plan and 
a series of agreements, but the institutions did not act upon those 
agreements.

It became obvious then that we had to develop another strategy to be 
heard. And thus, we decided to go to Caracas again, but in larger 
numbers, to demand that our voices be heard. In preparing the visit, we 
analyzed the Zamora Takes Caracas March [a campesino takeover of Caracas 
in 2006 to demand an end to impunity] and many campesino takeovers of 
Caracas that were carried out when Chavez was still alive. The social 
impact of the Zamora Takes Caracas March marked a seachange in the 
campesino struggle, but after that there was a sort of dispersion of the 
campesino movement and the cooptation of some campesino organizations.

So, analyzing the history of the campesino struggle in the years of the 
Bolivarian Revolution, and reflecting on the current situation, we 
decided that we would march to Caracas, as a collective sacrifice and as 
an homage to earlier campesino struggles.

*If I remember correctly, during those June and early July days 
**campesinos**faced more violence from the landowning class...*

*Arbonio**Ortega:* Right, around that time, in a recent recovery of land 
in a farmstead called “El Esfuerzo” in Portuguesa State, thugs of the 
landowning class burnt the school and some warehouses. They also burned 
the sheds where the campesinos were living, and that became yet another 
cause for us. With this situation in mind, and in light of the upcoming 
two month anniversary since the assassination of Jesus Leon and 
Guillermo Toledo, we decided that we were going to go to Caracas on foot.

We began walking on July 12 and along the way we found tremendous 
solidarity from the very poor people living by the side of the road. But 
also enormous barriers and hurdles were set up by government 
institutions: they made parallel “campesino” marches, broke promises, 
and launched smear campaigns.

 From that point forward, the story is well known. We walked more than 
400 kilometers from Guanare in Portuguesa State, and along the way 
campesinos from different regions of the country joined us, while humble 
people living by the side of the road gave us water and shelter.

Eventually we were joined by Reyes Parra, a campesino leader from 
Barinas State, from the “La Escondida” campesino homestead, a place 
where we had done an assembly with more than 300 campesinos days before 
the beginning of the march. His truck carried the water needed to keep 
us walking. After a while, he went back home to fix his truck, which had 
some problems. Immediately upon his return to the homestead, Reyes Parra 
was killed. But we were not going to give up!

We continued, and as we went on with our march, we met with campesinos, 
workers, social movements. Everybody who we found along the way gave us 
the strength to continue! People gave us shelter, water, food. The 
alternative media committed to covering the march, to make up for the 
blackout from the state media, which censored all coverage.

We continued to advance, and in Valencia the column began to grow very 
quickly. Many more people from around the country joined us and our 
voice was now being heard loud and clear not only through alternative 
media, but also through social media which began to come to our side.

We arrived in Caracas on August 1, and social movements received us with 
warmth and solidarity. That was very moving! We walked towards 
Miraflores and found all sorts of hurdles along the way, but eventually 
we were able to talk to President Maduro 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13975>.

So what triggered our march? The terrible situation of campesinos whose 
voices need to be heard. And it should be known that the problems 
remain, and that is why we have not left Caracas. We will stay here 
until there is clear evidence that solutions to the campesinos’ problems 
are on the way.

*What you call the Bolivarian Campesino Agenda brings together the 
grievances and requests of the **campesino**sector. How does this agenda 
develop?*

*Gerardo **Sieveres**: *For us, the Campesino March was a school. We 
began our long journey because of the problems in the farmsteads: the 
problem of the criminalization and judicial persecution of campesinos. 
We walked to call for an end to campesino assassinations and to impunity 
and finally to bring to the public eye the need to regularize land 
tenure. We also marched to demand access to agricultural supplies.

In the 23 days that it took us to reach Caracas, we engaged in a 
permanent conversation and debate. In every stopping place we debated; 
during the long walks we talked and analyzed; at night, after the long 
day, we reflected. Thus we began to make our demands more precise. Our 
demands began to include issues like the decentralization of Agropatria 
and Pedro Camejo [state company for agricultural production]. In the 
debate some would say, “No, those are actually decentralized,” and we 
would say “Yes, but we want them to be independent of the government, 
because the Agriculture Ministry is incapable of responding to our needs.”

After hearing our demands, the president committed himself to addressing 
(and finding solutions for) problems in five areas: land, production, 
justice, public services [institutional problems], and organization. In 
that meeting, he ordered, in a very emphatic manner, that the lands 
given to campesinos in Hugo Chavez’s government be given back to them.

After that, work tables were set up, but frankly for a long time, not 
much happened.

*Let’s move to the main points in the Bolivarian Campesino Agenda: the 
synthesis of proposals that come out of assemblies, debates 
**and**conversations before, during and after the Admirable Campesino 
March.*

*Gerardo Sieveres:* The first item in the agenda is “Land and New 
Territories.” Here we are talking about safeguarding the campesino 
population and its right to produce in the territory. Basically, we want 
to address the campesino population's integrity and right to organize. 
We are talking about establishing a network of all campesino farmsteads 
with a view toward creating integrated “Campesino Development Zones.” If 
we are able to unite campesino farmsteads, we will be safer and more 
efficient. All this, obviously, goes hand in hand with the issue of 
assigning tenancy of unused lands.

We have a singer and songwriter in Venezuela, Ali Primera, who is really 
a universal artist. In one of his songs he says that the people [pueblo] 
should be like a dried cow skin: when someone steps on a dried cowskin, 
the opposite end will rise up. That is what we understand as “campesino 
territoriality”: an integrated space for our struggles, but also with 
the long-term aim of establishing an economic campesino system. This 
economic system that would extend from the field to the stewpot. We are 
thus talking about having real power, about ensuring sovereign 
production and the satisfaction of basic food needs.

So this new territoriality is based on a productive model. And what is 
our model? Our productive model is the idea of “agricultural socialism,” 
basically Chavez’s proposal… which has, surprisingly, been abandoned. 
Really, nobody talks about his model!

The productive model that Chavez proposed is based on processes of 
collective “recovery” of the land and socially-oriented production, with 
all its implications. We, the campesinos, with the right granted by 
Chavez to produce in the land, we must produce to satisfy collective, 
social needs.

This brings us to the second point in our agenda, which is “Strategic 
Production.”

To understand this we have to go back in history. After the massacre of 
indigenous populations with the arrival of the Spanish colonists, a new 
culture emerged: the mestizo culture. Mestizo culture results from the 
mixing of the indigenous peoples with the colonizers. That is how our 
campesino culture emerges.

We have a long historical and genetic baggage of colonization, but we 
also have the historical and genetic baggage of indigenous 
rebelliousness, of liberty and of resistance. Thus we arrive at the 
issue of recovering our roots. Campesino production happens in the 
periphery, in less inhabited territories, in the more isolated places; 
campesino production is resistance production, but it is also sovereign 
production. In these isolated areas, we have the wherewithal to produce 
and satisfy social needs.

So when we talk about “strategic production,” we are talking about 
producing in a planned process to satisfy the needs of people, who are 
facing a profound crisis and the threat of imperialism, which wants to 
take what is ours.

So “strategic production” means organizing and planning the crops of 
cassava, yam, plantain, and corn: producing to satisfy the Venezuelan 
people's basic needs.

The third item is “Integral and Structured Justice of the Countryside.” 
Our proposal is that, given the justice system's inability to respond to 
the campesino's collective needs, a process of juridical self-protection 
should be implanted. We have to review the existing laws in this regard; 
for instance, the law recognizes the figure of the justice of peace in 
the barrio. Thus, we are proposing to build “peace courtrooms” at the 
local level, in the rural territories. In this system, the judge, 
hearing charges against a landowner who had a campesino killed, would be 
a fellow campesino, his peer.

This is very important, because the truth is that certain sectors of the 
government are using the judicial system to criminalize campesinos, to 
dispossess campesinos of their land. How do they do this? They make 
false allegations and eventually open legal cases.

For instance, on social media, government spokespeople are making false 
claims against us, saying that Arbonio burned a school... thus Arbonio 
should be put in jail because he is a threat to society! Why, because he 
is a thorn in the side of a power group that has nothing to do with the 
aims of the revolution. There is another person from the Campesino March 
who is being called a terrorist on social media, or myself, a humble 
campesino – now in social media some are claiming that I’m selling land! 
All these baseless claims are made on social media to threaten us. 
Basically, they are threatening to with press charges that would be 
founded on rumors that they have planted. They are, in essence, cooking 
up judicial “false positives.” They do similar things with landless 
campesinos who occupy unproductive land.

So, when we talk about Structured Campesino Justice, we are talking 
about a system that bypasses the current, corrupt judicial system which 
doesn’t want to be reformed… We are talking about establishing a model 
for and by campesinos, a system that will ensure justice and peace in 
the countryside. It’s the only way really. We [campesinos] are the only 
ones who know our reality.

All this must go hand in hand with the development of a campesino 
militia. The objective of this militia would be to protect our territory 
when facing the brutal landowner's threats, the narcoviolence of those 
who want to build drug corridors, or the new agrarian bourgeoisie's 
aggressions.

So those are the three main lines of our struggle...

*Obviously, all this must happen hand in hand with a profound reform, or 
even a revolution, within the existing institutions.*

*Gerardo Sieveres: *That is certainly the case. One thing that is 
important to underline is that when we met with President Maduro, he 
talked about the need to reform the government’s agricultural 
institutions. In this regard, what we say is that while the institutions 
must change, more than changing directors, we must strive to change 
their modus operandi, their internal logic.

And this brings us to Enrique Dussel’s recent visit and the founding of 
a Decolonization Institute. The truth is that our institutions are 
colonized by an “anti-people” logic. The first thing that must be 
decolonized in Venezuela is power, the power which resides in state 
institutions. The colonial behavior that operates in institutions must 
be eradicated. So let’s decolonize institutions!

We have seen the development of a “despotic patrimonial” logic 
colonizing institutions in the recent past, and it must end. This is the 
colonised practice that currently inhabits institutions. We say that 
institutions operate now in a despotic patrimonial manner because these 
spaces employ a deeply despotic logic. From the bottom to the top, there 
is disregard for the law, and they do with the patrimony as they wish. 
What should be done with this despotic patrimonialism in state 
institutions? Well, the state institutions must be decolonized, 
eliminating these practices.

*I assume that when you talk about “despotic patrimonialism,” you refer 
to the practices associated with the emerging landowning bourgeoisie, 
the so-called “revolutionary bourgeoisie”[2]?*

*Gerardo Sieveres:* Let’s explain this in three historical phases.

The historical struggle of campesinos has been against whom? First, we 
struggled against the feudal lord. Then there is a second moment in 
which we had (and still have) a very intense struggle against the 
oppressing landowning class. But additionally, we are now struggling 
against the despotic patrimonialists of the “revolutionary bourgeoisie.” 
They are the ones behind the terrible functioning of public 
institutions. That is the first block that must be overcome in 
decolonizing institutions with the new institute that President Maduro 
formed. He is our president, and we trust that he will take the right 
path in this regard.

*What is next?*

*Gerardo Sieveres:* We must defend with all of our strength President 
Nicolas Maduro. He entrusted his word to us, he committed himself to 
solving the campesino bloc's problems. Thus, those committed to 
Chavismo, with our decision to follow Chavez’s path clear as the full 
moon[3], we are committed to our president and his word. The commitment 
he made to us is a brake against the revolutionary bourgeoisie's logic 
of despotic patrimonialism, which is a cancer inside institutions that 
tends to take Chavez's project out of the picture. That bourgeoisie is 
breaking the moral backbone of our process. But the moral objectives 
cannot be broken, and we count on President Maduro for that! The rural 
and urban youth, all who have accompanied us, all revolutionaries, the 
social movements, we must all walk together towards reinstating Chavez’s 
vision.


    Notes

[1] A recovered farmstead is a plot of unused land claimed and occupied 
by landless campesinos. The 2001 Land and Agricultural Development Law 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5432> laid out the basis of the 
agrarian revolution and created the legal framework for granting 
landless campesinos the right (and conditions) for producing.

[2] Revolutionary bourgeoisie is a term used by Venezuelan Agricultural 
Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo which generated a large controversy 
within Chavismo, as it was interpreted as a defense of the emerging 
bourgeoisie.

[3] As Chávez’s cancer worsened, he named Maduro his choice in a 
possible electoral contest. “My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon 
– irrevocable, absolute, total – is… that you elect Nicolas Maduro as 
president,” he said in a dramatic, final speech in December 2012.

-- 
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