Interview with José Pimentel, Venezuelan peasant leader and land defender

By William Camacaro, Program Coordinator

We had the opportunity to meet with an iconic leader of the Venezuelan campesino movement in the city of San Carlos, Cojedes, Venezuela. José Pimentel is a well-known defender of land rights. For this reason Pimentel has been the target of at least three assassination attempts by large landowners.

While there is no consensus on the true number, it said that hundreds of peasants in Venezuela have been assassinated for defending their legally sanctified rights to the land they work. Some estimate that more than 500 peasants have been murdered for their compliance with the land law, while not a single person behind these assassinations is in prison.

One of the lands recovered by the Cojedes farmers under the leadership of Pimentel was a farm called El Charcote, a 12,950 hectare plot that Agroflora, a subsidiary of the Vestey Group, claims to own. The Vestey Group is a multinational corporation (founded by Lord Vestey, the 56th richest person in the UK) that owns 13 farms in Venezuela alone, as well as land across the entirety of South America.

In an article published in the New York Times on January 10, 2005, journalist Juan Forero mentions how productive that farm was long before the farmers took it. What the journalist does not mention is that all the production from that farm went directly to London and that all the products were organic. The “owners” of the farm, seeing that they were going to be expropriated, proceeded to kill its cattle and sell the meat in the UK while destroying the farm’s infrastructure. That same article accuses Venezuelan peasant leader José Pimentel of being an “invader”.

The last attack on Pimentel’s life was in the cafeteria of the National Land Institute (INTI) in the capital of the Cojedes state, San Carlos. In that last attack, he received several bullets in the chest and two shots in the head. His crying daughter told us that he had lost brain mass. After awakening from a months-long coma, Pimentel couldn’t speak or recognize his friends. He could not even sit on his bed. Three years after that terrible attack, I met with Pimentel expecting to see him in a wheelchair and struggling to speak. My surprise was to see a talkative, coherent man who waved his arms vigorously in the air, who drives his car without any type of device, who walks only with a cane and still organizes occupations of vacant land.

Pimentel has always said that the land is for those who work it. He adds that despite everything, “We cannot leave Maduro alone! We must shelter him and protect him! The revolution cannot die.”

José Pimentel is one of many anonymous heroes of the Bolivarian Revolution. His legacy will not be forgotten.