Puerto Plata, D. R. — Dozens of leaders of the farmers’ movement in the province of Puerto Plata conducted a mass presentation of petitions to the governor of the province, Mrs. Eridania Gibre, on Tuesday morning, April 12. They demanded that she make good on the government’s pledge to distribute land to poor farmers. The action was sponsored by the National Farmers’ Union, which is part of the Farmers’ Alliance to Return to the Countryside.
The agrarian leaders, headed by the president of the Farmers Alliance in Puerto Plata, Mr. Vicente Silverio, said that they wanted to commemorate the International Day of Farmers’ Struggles. The farmers of Puerto Plata joined together with other organizations of the National Farmers’ Union, who are mobilized in the rest of the country, to demand land for small and medium-sized farmers by distributing some 100,000 tareas of land [this is about 24 sq. miles] owned by the State Sugar Council. They also demanded new laws to carry out agrarian reform, and the voiding of a contract with the mining company Barrick Gold and others.
In presenting the petitions, the president of the Farmers Alliance was accompanied by leading representatives of the Gregorio Luperon Farmers Association, the Union of Farmers Bloc of the mentioned locality, the Jose Augusto Puig Association, and the Association of Farmers Without Land in Saballo, Imbert, among others.
The agrarian leaders were received by representatives of the governor, who justified her absence because she was accompanying the president of the republic on a surprise visit he made to the businessmen of Puerto Plata.
In addition, the farm leaders demanded that the governor’s representative arrange a special audience for them with the president, so that the farmers of the area could propose the distribution of 8,000 tareas of land [about 2 sq. miles] that belong to the Monte Llano and Amistada sugar companies, in order to settle 300 families of the region on the land.
Background notes from our Dominican correspondent:
These are farmers who do not have sufficient land to enable them to live by working the land. In our country, the neoliberal or capitalist model preserves a political structure that concentrates wealth in the hands of a minority, who believe that their privileges are inalienable rights. One of the results is the permanence of thousands of marginal rural communities, inhabited by very poor farmers who are actually not treated as citizens by the institutions of the state. This excluded rural population is the basis for the strong current of migration to the largest cities of the country, where they form an impoverished majority in the surrounding neighborhoods, and for a Dominican diaspora in cities around the world.
Another effect of the neoliberal model is the privatization of public enterprises and the appropriation of large areas of land by corrupt methods. In the province of Puerto Plata, there are large expanses of land that are still the property of the state, or which were delivered in an onerous manner into private hands. The associations of farmers who do not have the means of production to support themselves, demand that the government give them the land to form cooperative projects for the production of food.
At the end of 1961, approximately 50% of the national wealth was owned by the state, because when the dictator Rafael Trujillo fell, his huge haciendas and corporations became state property. For the land in sugar production, the government formed a state corporation, the State Sugar Council. Now, with the change from an economy based in production to a service economy, this corporation has shrunk its holdings, selling its land to privileged groups, foreigners, and tourist enterprises, instead of distributing it to the farmers to form cooperative farm enterprises.
Note from MHI on the International Day of Farmers:
We just learned that April 17 is marked as the Day of Farmers by farm workers’ and poor people’s movements around the world. Today we received an invitation to a commemorative event in Cape Town from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shackdwellers Movement of South Africa, which explained that the date is the anniversary of the 1996 massacre of landless farmers at Eldorado dos Carajás in southern Pará, Brazil. On that day, 1,500 members of the Movement of Landless Workers (MST) blocked a highway in order to protest the state’s delay in land reform. The military opened fire, killing 19 farm workers, wounding hundreds (two more died later), and maiming 69.