Venezuela Accelerates Land Reform
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009
By James Suggett
March 12, 2009
During a recent surge in land reform measures, Venezuela's National Institute of Lands (INTI) has taken public ownership of more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) of land claimed by wealthy families and multi-national corporations and is reviewing tens of thousands more hectares across the nation, with the intention of promoting new forms of "social property" and sustainable agriculture managed by either cooperative businesses or the state.
On Tuesday, Agriculture and Land Minister Elías Jaua met with Aragua State Governor Rafael Isea to discuss agricultural development plans for the Tacarigua Valley that runs between the coastal states of Aragua and Carabobo.
Jaua identified 3,000 hectares (7,410 acres) of soil in the valley that is very fertile but has been left idle or underutilized. The state plans to re-order agricultural production in the region by forming agrarian communes that produce crops that fit the natural state of the soil, accompanied by environmentally sustainable urban planning, Jaua explained.
Governor Isea said the government's goal is to steer agricultural development in the valley toward the "socialist" path. "The government wants to compel producers to generate new spaces and production units that allow us to advance toward the socialist model of production through the incorporation of social production enterprises," said Isea, adding, "We must establish a vision of collective property."
On Monday, the INTI and National Guard troops occupied a 2,800 hectare (6,916 acre) section of the privately owned Caroní farm in Barinas state. Speaking to the press, INTI President Juan Carlos Loyo declared, "These measures are based on the need to change the agrarian structure of our country from the private property of a few people to social property, that is, property of all Venezuelans, socialist property."
The plan is to construct a state-owned food producer and a technological research center on the recuperated lands, and eventually transfer control over production to a local cooperative enterprise run by members of the local community, said Loyo, who was accompanied by a local chapter of the national farmer rights organization Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers Front.
Meanwhile, INTI officials will calculate the value of the land in order to compensate estate owner Tobías Carrero Nácar, a powerful landowner and adversary of the government led by President Hugo Chávez, in accordance with the law.
Loyo emphasized that the "rescue" of these lands is based on the legal precept that the state is obligated to make sure the use of all lands contributes to the social well-being of the country.
Article 305 of the constitution obligates the state to intervene in land tenancy if necessary to guarantee food security, which is defined as a facet of national security. Also, Article 307 says, "The predominance of large landed estates [latifundios] is contrary to the interests of society." These two articles lay the legal groundwork for the land re-distribution procedures that are outlined in the Land Law of 2001 and the Law on Food Security and Sovereignty of 2008.
In a press release Monday, Carrero said he will take legal action against the INTI based on the argument that the confiscated lands do not surpass the legal limit of acreage that would classify them as a latifundio.
The Venezuelan government has also intervened in lands owned by multi-national corporations. Last week in the central Portuguesa and Lara states, government officials took partial administrative control of a plantation owned by one of the world's largest paper and cardboard packaging producers, the Ireland-based firm Smurfit Kappa Group.
President Chávez said the company's eucalyptus plantation between Lara and Portuguesa states "have sucked up almost all the water from the ground, and the rivers are running dry."
"We are intervening in this. We are going to exploit this wood in a rational manner, and then we are going to change it to another crop that is not eucalyptus," said the president Thursday.
Smurfit Kappa has not responded publicly to the Venezuelan government's decision. The company began producing in Venezuela in 1954. It now operates in 20 European countries and nine Latin American countries, and reported $7 billion in sales in 2008.
Also Thursday, President Chávez announced that the INTI has begun reviewing twelve large estates along a newly renovated highway between Lara and Portuguesa states, with the intention of constructing state-owned production facilities there.
Addressing the nation from a 2,300 hectare (5,681 acre) private farm called El Maizal in Lara state, newly appointed Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello explained that the road improvements should not just support the production of the landed estates in the region, but it should also bolster new initiatives toward socialist agricultural production.
Loyo reiterated the government's plan to intensify the "struggle against large land estates," in the next stage of the "Bolivarian Revolution" that Chávez has led as president for ten years now.
Since Venezuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment last month that will permit Chávez and all other elected officials to run for office without term limits, the Chávez administration has begun making ten-year policy plans, assuming Chávez is re-elected to a third term as president in 2012.
These plans include granting more than 600 land titles and corresponding low-interest loans and credits to groups prepared to cultivate some of the 60,000 hectares (148,200 acres) of land that the INTI has taken under public ownership in Yaracuy state since the Land Law was passed in 2001, according to the Agriculture and Lands Ministry.