Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the creation of a new Peasant Militia, which will form part of the national Bolivarian Armed Forces (FAB) and also enacted the new Law of the Federal Government Council, during a ceremony to commemorate 151 years since the Federal War lead by peasant leader General Ezequiel Zamora in Venezuela on Saturday.
The peasant militia will be responsible for protecting poor farmers from mercenary groups organized and financed by ranchers and wealthy landowners, Chavez explained in his weekly column, “Chavez’s Lines” on Sunday. More than 300 peasant leaders and activists have been murdered since the government introduced the Law on Land and Agricultural Development in 2001 and launched a program of agrarian reform.
Some 1,505 farms totalling 2.5 million hectares have been recovered and redistributed under the agrarian reform program. However, “The landowning oligarchy launched a violent agenda against the rescue of the commons,” Chavez said.
Manuel Heredia, president of the National Ranchers Federation responded that “As an institution, we have never sought paramilitary groups to protect us,” but he did not rule out the possibility that individual members maybe be involved in financing paramilitary groups, saying, “If one of our members is proven guilty of a crime, then they should pay for their crime.”
Chavez argued, “Faced with the backlash against the peasants through an escalation of attacks, sabotage, and paid assassinations by the most retrograde forces in our society, the non-delegable duty of the Bolivarian national state and the revolutionary government is to protect the peasantry: to defend them with all means at its disposal.”
“The peasant militia has been created to fulfil that duty, placing emphasis on the protagonism and responsibility of the peasantry as a collective subject in function of their own defence,” the president continued.
Rebutting opposition sectors who have alleged that the new militias are paramilitary groups, Chavez explained that the peasant militias will form part of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, and “therefore, do not undermine it, nor are they intended to supplant it” and will be “absolutely regulated by the law,” adding, “What bothers and annoys those who spread such lies, is that the Armed Forces have been reunited with their original identity: the people in arms.”
The peasant militia will also assist the regular army “against any foreign aggressor,” wrote Chavez, who has warned that the U.S. military could invade Venezuela in order to seize control of its vast oil reserves.
“We have no plans to attack anyone, but we will turn Venezuela into a country that is able to defend every last inch of its territory,” the president told thousands of supporters on Saturday.
For Chavez, the peasant militias “are just a first sign of developing a popular armed force to safeguard our integrity and our sovereignty” and are “expressions of the new communal state; an integral part of the new structures of communal power that we are building.”
The peasant militias, which are active in rural areas, will complement the primarily urban-based Bolivarian Militias, which were incorporated into the reform of the Armed Forces Law that came into force on October 22, 2009.
Major General and Defence Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa described the peasant militias, which began training in the state of Cojedes last week as a “strategic arm for the defence of our republic.”
During the ceremony on Saturday, which was attended by a contingent of the new peasant militia, Chavez also signed the new Law of the Federal Government Council, which aims to decentralize a range of powers away from traditional municipal and state authorities and transfer those powers to grassroots communal councils, involving more people in the evaluation and approval of financial resources.
The Federal Government Council will consist of elected governors, mayors, members of the executive, as well as spokespeople elected in popular elections and representatives of the communal councils.
The new Law of the Federal Government Council “is a powerful tool for the construction of a socialist homeland’to give shape to a new geometry of popular, political, social, communal and military power” and to create a new organ of “revolutionary power to continue fighting against the oligarchy and empire, to continue building the independence of our nation,” Chavez declared.
As part of the ceremony Chavez also unveiled a new stature of Zamora in El Calvario Park in western Caracas and renamed the park, Ezequiel Zamora Park.
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This post was written by Kiraz Janicke