Cooperativa Aracal sits in a fertile valley next to the Urachiche River in the State of Yaracuy, about 250 kms from Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.
The 2,500 acres that Aracal now occupies was previously “owned” by a group of Batista Cubans who arrived in the area in 1949. With the complicity of the local government, the Cubans gained control of the state land, removing the local campesinos (farmers) by force.
Since no legal title for the land could ever be produced by the Cubans, the campesinos had the right under agrarian reform laws from the 60’s, to attempt to reclaim the land. However, at this time, these laws were ineffective due to the shared interests of the large land owners and the local, state and federal governments.
This changed with the election of Hugo Chávez to the Presidency in 1998, and subsequent passage, in November 13, 2001, of a package of 49 laws covering land reform. Under these laws, a cooperative could be formed to reclaim the title of idle government land.
Thus, Aracal was established in 2002, as a cooperative of more than 500 campesinos, and the title to the land was finally won in 2004, becoming one of the first latifundios (large, idle plantations) reclaimed in Venezuela.
Four years later, in 2008, I visited Aracal, to document the story and life of the cooperative. I found that, under the guidance of 122 members, Cooperativa Aracal was producing more than 15 mixed crops, including a variety of fruits, vegetables and plantation wood; rearing about 90 cattle, used for milk and beef; and planning the construction of a fish farm. An artisanal laboratory, which focuses on biological methods of pest control, as well as a high tech bio-lab, focused on the creation of natural pesticides and organic fertilizers, also existed on the premises.
Construction was under way to build housing on the farm for members to form a small village with a school, medical clinic and market. The village would have its own Consejo Communal (governing council), the same as the neighbourhood councils formed throughout Venezuela to manage local issues.
Cooperativa Aracal is one of the examples of the Venezuela’s now numerous reclaimed farms, a showcase of the intersection of grass roots rural activism, and the government’s policies on agrarian reform, food security and sovereignty, sustainable farming, cooperatives, community councils, and an alternative food economy.