A vigil, a march and an assembly. VA writer Ricardo Vaz reports on the campesino struggles that are shaking Caracas.
By Ricardo Vaz
Published on Venezuelanalysis, July 24, 2019
We will find the people’s army.
We will follow this Ezequiel Zamora.
His horse’s trail will light our destiny.
César Rengifo, “Un tal Ezequiel Zamora”
“A historical claim with over 527 years of struggle, which had its apex under the battle cry of ‘Free men and liberated land! Horror to the oligarchy!’ (‘¡Tierra y hombres libres! ¡Horror a la oligarquía!’) with the ‘knife-faced’ general, one Ezequiel Zamora . That’s what brings the campesino people to Caracas.” This is what Carlos Carles, an organiser from Caracas who is supporting the campesino struggle, and many others, told us during a protest in the agriculture ministry.
A year has gone by since the Admirable Campesino March, which saw dozens of campesinos march over 400 km to Caracas on foot to demand answers to the problems they face, and the injustices keep multiplying in the Venezuelan countryside. As a result, members of the Campesino Struggle Platform (Plataforma de Lucha Campesina) set up a vigil in the headquarters of the Venezuelan Land Institute (INTI) in Caracas at the end of June, demanding that the instructions issued by President Maduro during a televised meeting with campesinos on August 2, 2018, be fulfilled.
Zamora is a central figure in campesino struggles, in their flags and slogans. There is an unbroken thread of the poor from the countryside having their dignity stolen and their hopes betrayed dating back to Venezuelan independence. This longing for freedom found a leader in Ezequiel Zamora, and the bullet that killed him did not manage to silence the rebel cry “Oligarchs tremble!”, which would remain latent until finding a new voice.
Zamora, the “General of the Sovereign People,” was one of the historical figures claimed by Chávez, one of the three roots of the tree  that would become the Bolivarian Revolution. The symbolic role of Zamora can help us understand Chavismo as a project that revives and legitimates historical struggles of the oppressed in Venezuela. Campesino struggles do not embrace Zamora because Chávez recovered him. Rather, Chávez claimed Zamora because the struggles of Venezuelan campesinos are expressed in the historical figure.
“Campesinos are being evicted after years in the land. The law protects their rights over the land,” explained Jesús Osorio, spokesperson for the Campesino Struggle Platform, which has been leading the fight, during a popular assembly with social movements from Caracas. “Whatever belongs to the people we should not be begging for. We won’t make progress without demanding our rights with revolutionary conviction,” he concluded.
Osorio wrapped up by calling for a large mobilisation on August 2, to mark the one year anniversary of the arrival of the Admirable March in Caracas and reaffirming its demands.
One episode which summed up the increasingly tense relationship with the state was a demonstration in the Agriculture Ministry in Caracas on July 11. Around a hundred campesinos moved from the INTI vigil to stage a protest and demand a meeting with Agriculture Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo.
Police quickly reacted and tried to dissolve the protest, talking to campesinos who gathered in nearby Plaza La Candelaria and mediating with ministry workers who agreed to receive a delegation. Once this was achieved, the police commander offered to “escort” campesinos to the ministry, something which they rejected, since they did not simply want a meeting. Their protest was symbolic and they wanted the people of Caracas to be aware of it. Amidst all that, the security forces’ main concern was half dozen horses brought by campesinos , which would, according to the police, be used to “stage a show.”
The discussion went on until emotions flared up. Campesinos broke a police cordon that looked to contain them and hurriedly marched, horses in tow, towards the ministry, while police officers tried to contain them. They arrived at the ministry with raised firsts and singing the national anthem, and after moments of tension the campesino delegation went in to meet with the minister.