Pedro Moreno has been leading the government's agrarian reform program in Lara State for the last five years and has already received death threats from landowners opposing occupancy of idle lands for production by peasants.
During the conversation, Pedro pointed out that the revolution in the countryside has been far from pacific or peaceful with the assassination of 281 peasant leaders since the land law came into force in 2001. A month ago, a peasant leader in Cojedes State, who had escaped an earlier assassination attempt, was riddled with 13 bullets.
During his time at the National Lands Institute (INTI), Pedro Moreno has drawn swords with the big names in the State: The Alvarez and the Herreras and Oscar Ferrer in Torres municipality, Marciel Garmendia in Simon Planas, the Tamayos, Oscar Sequera Yepez, Eduardo Gomez Sigala in the Turbio Valley and the Lozadas in El Tocuyo.
The big names or local oligarchs have spread their tentacles over the last century to reach all spheres of life in the State and it is only now that they have been challenged.
The Irish Smurfit company operating along the Pan American Highway has also felt the reforming hand of INTI relinquishing 1,200 of 6,000 hectares for the plantation of cereals.
Pedro was forthcoming with so many details about the state of agriculture in Lara that it was hard to keep up. I did inquire about the Turbio valley stretching from Barquisimeto to Yaritagua and accusations of oligarch Gomez Sigala that it was impossible to grow anything on land that had been used for sugar cane. Moreno replied that the sugarcane planters used a strong weed control that left residue in the soil, making it difficult to grow anything else for at least seven years. The government proposes to plant resistant Chinese beans instead. The greater part of the valley had been abandoned, Moreno declared, and at least 105 hectares have become a dumping ground for rubble. Sugarcane plantation covers just 115 hectares of the total 2,400+ hectares comprising the valley.
In El Tocuyo ( Moran municipality) INTI has faced resistance from peasants supporting local sugarcane owners and Pedro Moreno attributes it to centuries of servitude and a culture of subservience and fear, along with the usual scare tactics against Socialism. Although Moreno did not mention the word, it would appear that a feudal mentality is still alive in many El Tocuyo villages.
One of the biggest challenges facing INTI is solving the problems of around 83 families living around the Yacambu reservoir, which will serve the fertile Quibor valley, Barquisimeto and the dry dormitory satellite town of Cabudare. In a Capitalist set up, Pedro maintained, the solution would be easy: tell the people to leave and pay them off with them ending up in a shack in Barquisimeto. INTI is offering other locations in the countryside where they can get a job and produce.
When asked about difficulties and mistakes, Pedro Moreno admits that there was a certain amount of fear among predecessors to tackle the big names and teething technical and organizational problems, such as determining soil types for new production programs.
There was a lot of stuff to digest during the interview. The land reform is definitely the front line in the push towards Socialism based on people power, accountability and the Commune.
No doubt about it ... Socialism in Venezuela will depend very much on success in the countryside, securing food security for the country and welfare for peasants and small producers.
Patrick J. O'Donoghue