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Venezuelan Farmers Want Englishmen Out

National Land Institute director Eliezer Otaiza told Reuters the government would seize parts of El Charcote, run by British meat producer Vestey to develop state-sponsored agriculture projects.

The 2001 land law allows the government to expropriate land ruled as belonging to the state and nationalize private farmland judged idle or unproductive.

About the Demands of Farmers in Venezuela

The government of Venezuela finally begins to implement its program of expropriating land from the country's major landowners. To begin with, more than 100,000 hectares will be handed over to landless farmers.

Venezuela MapAlthough President Hugo Chávez once spoke of a 'war against the landed estates', the government now carefully avoids using the word 'confiscation'. It is simply 'retaking' land which, while it has always been 'public property', was dubiously 'occupied' by private landowners and businesses.

The measure marks the first practical step in putting the land reform law of 2001 into effect. It was the introduction of this legislation that was one of the main factors behind the mass protests against President Chávez which led shortly afterwards to a lengthy national strike and a short-lived coup against the head of state.

Having won last year's referendum on whether or not he should stay on as president, Mr Chávez now feels strengthened in pushing ahead with the reform, while the opposition remains deeply divided.

Previously, Venezuela's land reform was confined to paper, with the government having made no attempts to confiscate property from major landowners. However, it has redistributed publicly-owned land to some 130,000 farmers and their families. Nonetheless, those opposed to President Chávez fear that the new round of land redistribution is just the beginning of a program aimed at bringing full Cuban-style socialism to the country.

Meanwhile, the National Land Institute (INTI), which falls under the ministry of agriculture, says this is not an issue of confiscation. The INTI has carried out an investigation and identified property believed to have been in public ownership since as far back as 1840 and which is currently under-utilised or not productive at all. This has led the INTI to designate four 'fincas' or estates in the grasslands in the western part of Venezuela which satisfy these two requirements.

The reform is also having an impact on foreign firms, with British meat producer the Vestey Group about to lose land which has been deemed not to be in productive use. The company has protested against the plans, claiming it has documentary proof that it has been the rightful owner of the property since the 19th century. It will be allowed to keep approximately one third of the estate because this is actually used for raising cattle.

There is a tradition of land reform being a key item on the agenda of most left-wing governments in Latin America, where the existence of millions of landless farmers stands in sharp contrast with the existence of huge ranches and estates, many of them with vast tracts of land which are not put to any use at all. With a growing number of landless farmers in countries such as Brazil now moving to occupy land on their own initiative, it seems that organised land redistribution may be the best way of combating the scourge of rural poverty.

Source: Radio Nederland

About the Land Reform

Venezuelan Farmers Want Englishmen OutSince the Land Act was passed in December 2001, the National Land Institute has already distributed 5.5 million acres of land (2.2 million hectares) to peasant cooperatives. But up until now all the land distributed has been state-owned land and there have been no expropriations.

The new decree, called Decreto Zamorano, and passed on the anniversary of the death of Ezequiel Zamora, is aimed at the large landed estates (latifundia) that have been left idle or are poorly used. But even so, the Decree is not based on expropriation of private land.

A special land commission has been appointed to look into the issue of land ownership and usage. This commission will then issue reports on the following two aspects. The first is whether large landed estates which are privately used actually have proper land titles.

In Venezuela, over the years, there have been many cases of private landowners occupying land that belongs to the state and de facto appropriating it.

The other issue will be whether the land is being used or is being left idle.

If landed estates are found not to be productive, then they can be seized (with compensation) and distributed to peasant cooperatives.

Chavez has made it clear, both now and during the October 31st regional election campaign, that his preferred option is to solve this through negotiation with the land owners (in which they can give up land they do not use), but also that if no agreement is reached, the full strength of the law and of the army will be used to implement land reform.

Source: Jorge Martin, www.marxist.com

About Venezuela

Background

Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Ecuador).

For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms.

Democratically elected governments have held sway since 1959.

Current concerns include: a polarized political environment, a divided military, drug-related conflicts along the Colombian border, increasing internal drug consumption, overdependence on the petroleum industry with its price fluctuations, and irresponsible mining operations that are endangering the rain forest and indigenous peoples.

Venezuela is divided into 24 states, a Capital District, and the federal dependencies, which consist of 72 islands in the Caribbean and in rivers with many coraline formations.

Economy

Venezuela continues to be highly dependent on the petroleum sector, which accounts for roughly one-third of GDP, around 80% of export earnings, and more than half of government operating revenues. Despite higher oil prices at the end of 2002 and into 2003, domestic political instability, culminating in a disastrous two-month national oil strike from December 2002 to February 2003, temporarily halted economic activity. The economy remained in depression in 2003, declining by 9.2% after an 8.9% fall in 2002. In late 2003, President CHAVEZ committed himself to $1 billion in new social programs, money the government does not have.

Venezuelan Farmers Want Englishmen Out (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

An elderly woman stands in front of a graffiti which reads 'Englishmen Out' in the town of Las Vegas near El Charcote farm, 270 kilometers southwest from Caracas, March 23, 2005.

In Venezuela roughly 75 to 80% of the country's private land is owned by 5% of all landowners.

Regarding agricultural holdings, that figure drops to a mere 2% of the population owning 60% of the country's farmland, much of which is fallow. Because these stark statistics do not help one understand the extraordinary levels of both rural and urban inequality in Venezuela, perhaps the following analogy will.

Area : 912,050 sq km
Population : 25,017,387
GDP-per capita : $4,800 (purchasing power parity)
Oil production : 3.08 million bbl/day
Oil consumption : 505,000 bbl/day
Export commodities : Petroleum, bauxite and aluminum, steel, chemicals, agricultural products, basic manufactures
Import commodities : Raw materials, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, construction materials
External Debt : $32.51 billion
Internet users : 1,274,400

Source: CIA World Factbook


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