More on Vesty/Venezuela land rights dispute

Gerrard Winstanley evnuk at
Wed Jan 19 18:12:49 GMT 2005

Venezuela targets UK farm in land reform drive
Sat Jan 8, 2005 08:15 PM GMT

By Patrick Markey

HATO EL CHARCOTE, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan troops and police 
have escorted local authorities on to a cattle ranch owned by 
Britain's Vestey Group in the first government enforcement of a rural 
land redistribution law that critics say threatens private property.

Dozens of national guard soldiers and police lined up under the 
scorching sun on the edge of the 32,000-acre (13,000-hectare) El 
Charcote ranch on Saturday as officials ordered land inspections as 
part of left-wing President Hugo Chavez's agrarian reforms for the 

Government officials are demanding El Charcote hand over illegally 
held public land and idle property under a 2001 law that allows the 
state to take over and redistribute farmland judged unproductive.

"We are not here to expropriate, we are here to do justice. Those with 
land that is not idle, who have their documents in order and who have 
farms in production will enjoy our support," said Cojedes state 
governor Jhonny Yanez.

Four helicopters buzzed overhead while the governor ordered 
inspections of the ranch, where officials say at least 8,650 acres (3,
500 hectares) belong to the state.

Agroflora, the Vestey unit that operates El Charcote and other farms 
in Venezuela, said it owns the property and that the ranch is in full 
production. But it has welcomed the measure to clear up illegal 
invasions of its land by pro-Chavez squatters.

"We have completed our duties and we are ready to give them any other 
documents they need," Agroflora President Diana Dos Santos said at the 
farm in central Venezuela.

Some of the peasants on the land said they rejected the local 
governor's move to inspect the farm, fearing authorities could take 
away their plots. They appealed to Chavez for support and land titles.


The British government has asked Venezuelan authorities to help 
resolve the invasion problems at the El Charcote ranch.

Chavez, a populist former army officer first elected in 1998, says the 
law is a centerpiece of his self-styled "revolution" to end inequality 
in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

He says many private estates are left to waste, but critics fear the 
land drive is another step in turning Venezuela into a Cuba-style 
communist state.

At El Charcote, the land is dotted with wooden and tin shacks where 
poor Chavez supporters have laid claim to plots they say belong to the 

Nearby the farm's ranch hands corral cattle on horseback.

Local state police in riot gear kept back a group of squatters who 
were protesting the governor's measure by trying to block a rural road 
running through the farm.

"The governor cannot force us out. We want to rescue the land of El 
Charcote that is in English hands. They are the ones who invaded this 
land," said Alfredo Rodriguez as peasants waved machetes and chanted 
"Liberate the land".

El Charcote has become a high-profile test case for the law's 
application since Chavez won an August referendum vowing to deepen his 
social reforms. Officials say since December last year they have 
pinpointed at least 10 million hectares of idle land, some of it on 
private estates.

But local ranchers say the latest measures to hunt out unproductive 
private estates is riding roughshod over the law as local authorities 
ignore due process.

The land law was one of a dozen reforms implemented in 2001 that 
triggered nearly three years of political conflict including a brief 
coup and a crippling oil strike, until Chavez strengthened his mandate 
by winning the August recall vote.

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