<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Indigenous Rights Attorney Joe Castillo Assassinated in Venezuela

Within Hours of the Return of Lands to People, Another Defender is Shot Down

By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 30, 2003

CARACAS, VENEZUELA, AUGUST 30: Just hours before the Bolivarian government of Venezuela, led by President Hugo Chávez, is slated to deliver thousands of hectares of land to indigenous and peasant farmer communities, attorney and human rights defender Joe Castillo was assassinated.

On the night of Wednesday, August 27, in Machiques, in the state of Zulia, the attorney, his wife, and his one-year-old son were victims of a cruel attack. Two masked hit-men intercepted the car in which they were traveling. The attorney received 17 shots in his body; his companions remain wounded.

This, while indigenous and farmer leaders from throughout the continent – including Congressman Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism in Bolivia, Rafael Alegría, president of the International Movement of the Farmer’s Path of Honduras, Blanca Chancoso of the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE, in its Spanish initials), Egidio Bruneto, coordinator fo the Sin Tierra (“Without Land”) movement of Brazil, and president Juan Tiney of the Latin American Board of Farmer Organizations, from Honduras – witnessed the delivery of the lands during a meeting in Caracas.

On Sunday, August 31st, thousands of peasant farmers from the states of Barinas, Carabobo, Cojedes, Lara, Portuguesa, and Yaracuy, together with the international leaders, are expected to be present for the official delivery of lands to the people.

A Million Hectares

Today, during a joint press conference, the president of the National Land Institute (INTI, in its Spanish initials), Ricaurte Leonett, reported that the first phase of Plan Zamora has succeeded in delivering more than a million hectares to the preseant farmers, in addition to support with factories and economic resources to help the wholistic development of peasant farmer communities.

The second stage of the plan has the goal of delivering two million hectares of land by the end of the year.

Bolivian farmers’ leader and MAS director Evo Morales remarked that the delivery of lands in Venezuela is an example for the entire American continent. In Bolivia, in spite of the fact that a majority of the population consists of indigenous and peasant farmers, land is concentrated in few hands. Morales said that the defense of the land stems from the fight for territory, which he defines as subsoil, soil, and aerial space above the land.

CONAIE spokeswoman Blanca Chancoso of Ecuador said that continental unity will be necessary to defend it. In this hemisphere, land is not a gift, but simply returned to its rightful owners after five centuries of usurpation.

Rafael Alegría, of the Honduran and International Movement of the Farmer’s Path, said, for his part, that no fight against poverty will be effective without equitable distribution of land. Alegría remarked that the land is not merchandise, and that’s why the World Trade Organization, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and other “free market” entities must change their commerce policies and join with the struggle of society and the people together, prioritizing food supply security, which is not just the right to eat, but also the right to produce.

The Hit-Men

Mayté García, representative of the Association for Protection of Victims of Hit-Men in Venezuela, explained that the assassination of Joe Castillo occurred in Machiques, in the state of Zulia, when the attorney arrived home. With this crime, the number of people assassinated in this country by hit-men rose to 62: the majority of the cases have not occurred in silence.

The representative of the National Indigenous and Farmer Agrarian Board (CANEZ, in its Spanish initials), Braulio Álvares, together with representatives and farmers from throughout the continent, paid tribute to Castillo for his work defending human rights.

The MST spokesman from Brazil, Egidio Bruneto, referred to the Castillo assassination saying that, in other countries, government policies have the goal of physically eliminated some leaders who defend the rights of the people.

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