Venezuelan People’s Militia Occupies Estate Once Used by Colombian Paramilitaries
An Aporrea TVi exclusive this month interviewed members of the Bolivarian militia who have occupied and begun community projects on the Daktari estate, El Hatillo, which was once used to train Colombian paramilitaries as part of a plan to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Alternative media outlet Aporrea.org talked to engineer and rural commander of the militia in the area, Pedro Marcial, who explained that the Bolivarian militia, together with local farmers, is working on a range of projects to convert the estate into a “model of sustainable production”.
“There’s a community initiative of control over the land because of what it represents symbolically, we’ve taken away the paramilitary flag and replaced it with the eight starred flag [the Venezuelan one],” he said.
Marcial explained that the militia spent two years putting together plans to occupy the estate, but have only actually occupied it since May this year, because of other work they are involved in, “and the amount of logistics involved”.
He said they have the support of members of the community, and that while initially some were put off by their “strong political position supporting the socialist process”, now other people and farmers, “the real people from around here” are becoming more and more involved in the projects.
The farmers and militia, around forty people in total, meet once a fortnight on the estate, but Marcial explained that other organised farmers in El Hatillo meet in other areas as well.
The militia and farmers are developing a range of projects, including a rural market exclusively for local products, a fruit pulp processing plant, a seed propagation project, cultivation areas, and a civic-military centre.
“And recently the people from Mercal [state run food distribution], the food ministry, the ministry of communes, and INTI [the land institute] visited us about a project across the whole rural area, a project focused on agroecology and the family, oriented towards housing, but productive housing,” he said, adding that he was coordinating with the various institutions in order to get financing and get the projects running.
Marcial said the whole area of El Hatillo, just 20 kilometres from Caracas, is a protected area, meaning housing must include 2,500m of land. However, according to Marcial, many of the richest people are concentrated in the area and violate the norms, “the rural spirit of the area”.
Pointing off into the forest, he said there was a mountain on the other side that is undergoing urbanisation, “violating the protected area...their plans are for business...in metal rods and concrete...and once they fill up that mountain they’ll come over here...their strategy until now has been to starve out this area, to starve it of services, they don’t even collect the rubbish ...in order to maintain their business and get fat...until they can carry out their plans for steel rods and concrete here... that’s why the farmers are coming to us...for having lived years of repression and abandonment”.
The militia are also requesting that an environmental emergency be declared in the area. “The rural areas have a strategic importance for the integral defence of the nation,” he said.
When the militia initially occupied the estate, it included some land further down that is under the administration of the church, “it’s flat land with infrastructure, that was originally for the community, over thirty years ago, but the church institution ‘Fe y Alegria’ never worked for the community...they abandoned it...they have industrial ovens and fridges and more, and here there aren’t any facilities, so it was worth recovering both areas together,” Marcial affirmed.
“But when we made the plans, as a community, as the communal council and as a ‘battle room’ [PSUV] they found out and suddenly they started to work there,” Marcial said, explaining that the land administered by Fe y Alegria belongs to the state, as all protected areas do, “but they are just there, and we want to do everything legally, but they are owners of the infrastructure and we can’t just kick them out, so we have to live with them and cooperate, or go through a process of buying their infrastructure, expropriating it.”
Marcial said it was possible that the Fe y Alegria facilities were used to support the paramilitaries in 2004, because of the lack of facilities on the Daktari estate and according to information given to him by locals.
“Here in El Hatillo there’s still a paramilitary presence...less than a year ago they attacked a family, and they even introduced themselves as paramilitaries to the family...they are still here, scattered around, and the church is supporting them”.
“Not just that but the church has its project to return to Puntofijismo [two party power sharing agreement signed in 1958].”
“We [the militia] are from the people...we’re from around here, and this is a process that came out of a grassroots initiative. We, the organised people, saw the difficult political situation that people are living here, there’s a lot of division, there’s a lot of individual interests...the communal councils are open and democratic so anyone can participate and the right-wing is involved, but violently...so we decided to organise ourselves in the militia, it was our own decision”.
“When they realise that there is a group of committed people who aren’t going to betray the people...because it’s been five years of betrayal, from the supposed Chavista [pro Chavez] councillor and in the municipality, to the various factions...as we consolidate, over the next two or three years, we’ll have the strength we used to have, because this is a Chavista area, they [the oligarchy] brought in people from outside to represent them,” Marcial concluded.
The 2004 Capture of the Paramilitaries on the Daktari Estate
In May 2004 Venezuelan authorities raided the Daktari estate, where around 130 Colombian paramilitaries were, according to the authorities, training to assassinate President Hugo Chavez, and provoke confrontations within the National Armed Forces.
According to one Colombian senator, Gustavo Petro, at least one of those captured had previously participated in a paramilitary massacre, and the case of the Daktari estate showed that there were plans at the time for paramilitary infiltration in Venezuela.
Later, two Venezuelan army officers and 38 suspected Colombian paramilitaries were let go as there was insufficient evidence against the Venezuelans and the court felt the 38 Colombians were forced into preparing the coup against their will. When arrested by the Venezuelan security forces, many of the Colombians said they had been offered money to come and work on the Daktari estate, but on arrival were told they were to train for a coup. They said they were told they and their families in Colombia would be killed if they did not cooperate.
In 2007 the last of these detainees were pardoned by Chavez and sent to Colombia as a gesture of good faith.
The estate was owned by Roberto Alonso, who is a Cuban-born legal resident of the US, an opposition leader in Venezuela, and, according to Venezuelan authorities, a creator of the 2004 civilian resistance plan “Guarimba”.