It's funny how things come back to you, but I remembered, today, that a Spanish priest, who used to visit the villages in the Bobare area to say Mass in the 1980s, started researching land tenancy after hearing complaints by small landholders that they were being forced off their land by outsiders claiming legal possession with the help of local authorities and of course, the National Guard (GN).
Carlos tells the story of one Guatimosin Silva, who started annexing land in the 1980s using false legal papers. The clergyman, as I remember, started visiting registry offices to find title rights and papers to help the peasants.
One of the methods that Silva used was to circle a peasant hamlet with barbed wire and afterwards claim legal rights over the whole area, forcing people to evacuate their village, using bulldozers to smash houses and clear the area, supposedly for agriculture.
When he tried that in 1985 with Carlos' hamlet of Los Rastrojitos, Carlos and five others reacted at first legally (where they were doomed to failure) and then in physical resistance to any encroachment by Silva and his henchmen. The struggle led him and his colleagues to prison in 1995 after a shootout with Silva's hired guns.
Their release in 1998 saw Carlos joining the election campaign in which Hugo Chavez emerged as President of Venezuela. Carlos organized several cooperatives in the first two years, and engaged in direct action preventing any harvest or machinery from entering or leaving the area.
The land law and contact with the National Lands Institute (INTI) gave Carlos and colleagues the green light to tackle Guatimosin Silva for not working the land and for renting out vast tracts to third parties for gain.
INTI has reclaimed 1,470 hectares and the Ana Soto Zamorian farm has 318 hectares on which to toil.
The administrative process took a year or two to complete and the farm has been working fully for a year and a half. 180 hectares have been farmed and, already, on each 60 hectares there have been three cycles of production of peppers, melon, cucumber, onions, tomatoes and coriander.
Carlos Gutierrez told us that members of the farm have already planned for 2010.
One of the projects, which has already begun, is to grow grass fodder to feed goats, which has been the staple produce of all households in the area. A genetic center to improve goat herds will start next year and involve local villages, which are not necessarily in the Ana Soto farm.
The grass grown will be cut and put in bags to sell at moderate prices to all the villages. Soy and beans will also provide silage for the animals.
When we arrived, we found Carlos advising a visiting group of peasants from Falcon State and telling them about the next challenge Ana Soto faces in marketing its produce.
As spokesperson for the farm, Carlos is negotiating with the government's Mercal distribution and stores organization to fix a standard price for the whole year as one way of solving fluctuating seasonal prices.
I learned that the success of the farm has turned it to a point of reference for many peasant groups and agrarian reform projects ... Carlos says part of his job is to spread the message.