Chavez' land reform / food chain conference

Tracy Worcester tony at
Fri Sep 9 16:24:23 BST 2005

Revolution on Venezuela's estates

By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Washington

One of Britain's richest men, Lord Vestey, says he'll fight the Venezuelan
government to stop hundreds of peasant farmers taking over land on his
cattle ranches in South America.

The Vestey meat group is one of a number of big land owners affected by
President Chavez's controversial reform proposals, which he says are part
of a package of measures designed to help the country's poor.

In Venezuela's lush pastoral interior a revolution is under way.

The El Charcote ranch is three hours drive from the capital Caracas.
It stretches as far as the eye can see, and for the best part of a century
was the domain of one family.

Very handsome looking head cattle are idling in the midday sun. The herd is
6,400 strong, the property of an English lord. But the land on which they
roam is now being taken away.

Hundreds of peasant farmers have now moved onto the El Charcote ranch and
are determined to keep what they say is a birthright.

'Blood, sweat, tears'

Other countries in South America experienced land reform in the 1960s with
rich landowners relinquishing their big farms.

Now Venezuela's time has come. The first peasant farmers moved here four
years ago.
They say they're not squatters, or land invaders but honest hardworking
Jose Pena - who is 67 - spoke to me from the porch of his makeshift home on
El Charcote.

"If we were in your land you would have kicked us out. We are claiming what
is owed to us: the land of our ancestors."

At the 13,000-hectare ranch, 1,500 people now call El Charcote their home.
The government here unlike in Zimbabwe, says it is willing to pay
compensation if the Vestey family can prove it legally owns the land.

Farm manager Tony Richards maintains this is private property bought fair
and square more than a century ago, and that the squatters should leave.
"The amount of blood, sweat and tears that has been used on this farm, I
mean, to see that being destroyed in front of your eyes every day - and you
can't do anything about it - it's heartbreaking.

"This is private property, I think - all over the world - private property
should be respected."


Respect for convention isn't in the blood of Venezuela's leftist President
Hugo Chavez.

He sees himself as a latter day Robin Hood. In a country where less than 5%
of the population owns 80% of the land, it was Venezuela's poor who voted
him into the Presidential palace.

Johnny Yanez is close to the president and is the state governor in charge
of taking over Lord Vestey's land.

He told me that it is the poor who elected him and President Chavez and so
we have a responsibility to the poor.

For too long, he said, the rich have had it all their own way - to the
detriment of the majority of the people.

"We need to reshape our country, and land reform is an important part of
the process." 
Johnny Yanez is now a local hero. Earlier this year he handed out official
papers to a number of peasant farmers giving them the right to move onto El

The government has its eye on two more farms belonging to Lord Vestey and a
number of other big landowners now have unwanted guests on their ranches.

They too have no idea if they'll ever be paid compensation.

Wretched slums

Away from the countryside, President Chavez has other big plans to shake up

We caught up with him at a rally for party workers in Caracas where he
outlined new plans to help low income families with housing.

He sat at a large desk on a stage with advisors on either side of him.

In the audience filling the hall was a sea of people wearing white
tee-shirts and red baseball caps.

His supporters call themselves Chavistas - loyal followers who hold nothing
but contempt for those who attack their leader's policies, like those
critics among the wealthier classes who have tried unsuccessfully to topple

There's also deep anger against those in the Bush administration who see
Hugo Chavez as a dangerous left wing, anti-capitalist, ideologue.

But the more their leader is attacked, the more these people love him and
spontaneous applause followed pretty much every statement the president made.

The Chavistas point to the wretched slum areas of the capital Caracas as
proof that a president like Hugo Chavez is badly needed.

Eighty-three per cent of Venezuelans live below the poverty line, this in
one of the world's biggest oil exporters.

The president says he wants to use more of the country's wealth to fund
hospitals and schools.

Venezuela's poor believe they have a champion in Hugo Chavez, a man
determined to transform society - and he's not alone.

Big question

Across South America, a number of other leaders are implementing
controversial policies they say are designed to raise the living standards
of millions.

President Chavez along with his counterparts from Argentina and Brazil for
example are part of a Continent wide shift in political thought.

Dr Gregory Wilpert is an analyst and author who's just written a book
looking at Hugo Chavez's reforms.

"The change for more leftist governments throughout Latin America has come
about because for the past two decades neo-liberal economics has
essentially not delivered its promise of greater economic growth.

"Latin America has had relatively little economic growth, and inequality
has increased."

President Chavez also admires Cuba's Fidel Castro, but says Venezuela's
revolution is based on a new kind of socialism, not communism.

Dr Wilpert says: "In many ways the policies resemble typical social
democratic policies - social programs of feeding the poor or of providing
education to the poor all directed by the state and so on...

"But the government is trying to go beyond that as well."
Old certainties are being tossed aside in a corner of the world notoriously
resistant to change.

The big question is will land reform and President Chavez's other
proposals, actually make society more equal or simply further divide the

FOOD CHAIN CONFERENCE  17th October 2005

On a similar note come to a conference to hear the hidden stories behind
the food chain (not least food grown or reared on vast third world
plantations) and solutions through relocalising the food economy. 


To celebrate World Food Day this year, the Food Ethics Council, the Guild
of Food Writers, Action Aid, Sustain, and the UK Food Group are
co-organising a one-day event in London. Involving, farmers, chefs, farm
workers, academics, retailers, campaigners, broadcasters and writers, this
event will highlight hidden stories in the food chain. The event will be
chaired by Sheila Dillon, presenter of Radio 4’s ‘Food Programme’. With
speakers from around the world, this is set to be a challenging and
inspiring day which we hope many of you can take part in.


Speakers include:

·        Helen Browning, Soil Association

·        Oz Clarke, wine writer and presenter

·        Kath Dalmeny, The Food Commission

·        Jenny Jones, Chair of London Food for the GLA

·        Tim Lang, Centre for Food Policy, City University

·        Helena Norburg-Hodge, founder of the International Society for
Ecology and Culture

·        Stella Semino, Grupo de Reflexión Rural, Argentina

·        Fatima Shabodien, Women on Farms Project, South Africa

·        Geoff Tansey, writer and Rowntree Trust Visionary



We really hope that you can attend. Please forward this invitation to
colleagues who might be interested. The flyer and booking form are both
available at <>
Send your completed booking forms to Jonathan at the Guild of Food Writers
<mailto:jonathan at>jonathan at


Tickets will not be available on the door on the day. There has been a lot
of interest in this event already, so I urge you to book a ticket as soon
as possible!


Kind regards


Tom MacMillan

Executive Director

Food Ethics Council



Tracy Worcester
The Cottage
South Gloucestershire
Tel: +44 (0)1454 218491
Fax: +44 (0)1454 218039
Email: <mailto:tracy at>tracy at
Website: <> and

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