Venezuela: Land Nationalisation to step up a gear?

Mark mark at
Thu Jan 24 17:50:04 GMT 2008

>From the report copied below:
"The president of the National Land Institute announced [on Sunday 20th]
that the government redistributed some 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) of
land in the last year and that they would continue with this in 2008."

"This year the expropriation of land will be projected to the development
and production of cattle-producing farms around new milk-processing
plants," Chavez said.....

Chavez Announces Project to Combat Food Shortages in Venezuela
January 21st 2008, by Chris Carlson -

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez focused on the persistent shortages in
the nation's supply of milk and meat products during his Sunday TV and
radio show Aló Presidente yesterday. The president inaugurated a
"socialist" milk processing plant, as well as an agro-industrial complex
with the goal of increasing national production and solving food shortages
in the country.

"We have to raise national production of meat and milk," said Chavez
during the show. "We are going to transform Venezuela into a true
superpower in food production."

The show was aired Sunday from a rural town near the Colombian border in
the western state of Zulia where the Chavez government plans to install a
"mega-project" for the production of milk and other products. The pilot
program is meant as a solution to persistent food shortages that have
affected the country since last year.

The president began the show by awarding land titles to local farmers,
emphasizing the damage that concentrated land ownership does to national
production, and insisting that the government carry forward with land
reform policies.

He also announced a new program of low-cost credits to small producers as
a way to increase investment in the agricultural sector.

"I have approved an extraordinary amount for the agricultural sector,"
said Chavez. "We are going to increase short-term credit, with low
interest, and we are going to raise food production in Venezuela."

President Chavez also announced the creation of a cattle-producing complex
in the region that will provide inputs to a "socialist" milk-processing
plant inaugurated nearby.

The milk plant, which Chavez claims to be one of the largest in Latin
America with a capacity of 1 million liters of milk per day, was bought by
the Venezuelan government from the Italian multinational Parmalat for BsF.
800 million (US$ 372 million) after the company abandoned it.

Chavez said the plant is now operating, but producing only 60 thousand
liters per day, which is 6 percent of its capacity. The Venezuelan
government hopes the plant will be producing 400 thousand liters per day
by next month, and 800 thousands liters per day by 2009.

The Venezuelan president explained the reasons for the shortages of milk
and beef products that the country has experienced over the last year.
Chavez referred to a chart showing how national milk production has
remained relatively equal in recent years, whereas national consumption
has exploded in the last two years. He insisted that it is the same
situation with beef, forcing the country to import large amounts of milk
and beef.

Chavez explained that world milk consumption had also grown by 20 percent
in the last 10 years, in part due to China's increased consumption of
milk, whereas milk production has only grown by 1 percent, causing
world-wide shortages.

The Venezuelan government has made the claim that these shortages, as well
as government price controls, have led to speculation on the part of large
dairy producers who sell their production to producers of cheese and other
goods in order to avoid the price controls.

In response, Chavez threatened to expropriate dairy farms that refuse to
sell their production, or who sell it abroad. At the same time, he
announced a 40 percent increase in the price of milk to help milk

"I am aware that the price of milk is coming up short. That's why I am
willing to elevate it a little to benefit all the primary producers," he
said, but he issued a warning to large milk companies.

"I am going to warn the large milk-processing companies: Any producer that
doesn't sell their milk to the nation will be treated as a traitor," he

But ultimately the government strategy is to increase national production
through the construction of these "socialist" milk-processing plants,
along with cattle-producing zones in the surrounding areas to supply them.
The milk plants are placed under the management and control of the local
communal councils in the surrounding communities, with support from the
national government in the form of credit and technical assistance.

The strategy also includes a continuation of turning unproductive land
over to small producers for the production of crops or livestock. The
president of the National Land Institute announced yesterday that the
government distributed some 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) in the last
year and that they would continue with this in 2008.

"This year the expropriation of land will be projected to the development
and production of cattle-producing farms around these milk-processing
plants," he said.

Chavez assured that the nation's supply of cattle had already increased
from 10 million head to 12 million head, and that by next year this number
would reach 16 million. He assured that Venezuela would become a cattle
"superpower" in the near future.

"We want to strengthen national production so we are fully supplied by
February of 2009," he said.

Venezuela head signs land decree
By Iain Bruce
BBC News, Caracas

11th January 2005

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has signed a new decree on land reform
which he says will bring justice to the rural poor.

The plan should gradually eliminate the country's giant estates.

President Chavez said that less than 5% of the country's owners occupy
nearly 80% of the land.

He now wants to implement concrete steps to turn Venezuela's four-year-old
land reform law into a practical reality.

The decree sets up a national land commission which will aim to repeat
throughout Venezuela the kind of state inspection begun on Saturday at a
British-owned ranch in the west of the country.

More than 10,000 peasants from across the country came to hear the
president's announcement, which many of them believe is long overdue.

Venezuela Announces War Against "Latifundios"
January 14th 2005, by Jorge Martin

At a mass rally of 10,000 people on Monday January 10, Venezuela's
president Hugo Chavez announced a new decree aimed at speeding up land
reform. He was speaking in front of a massive banner with the slogan of
19th century peasant war leader Ezequiel Zamora "Free land and men - War
against the latifundia". This comes after the Christmas period, during
which a number of regional governors, elected in the October 31st
elections, passed regional decrees along the same lines.

Since 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 (latifundio) 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.

On the face of it, this is in fact quite a moderate decree and in its
wording is far from a wide-ranging threat to private property, as has been
presented by the Western media. The Financial Times for instance has
talked of "what is likely to be a number of Zimbabwe-style expropriations
of big estates", when referring to the intervention at the El Charcote
estate. The FT chose to describe this move, which took place on Saturday
January 8th, as "seizure", when in reality what happened is something else
completely. The El Charcote estate is owned by AgroFlora, a subsidiary of
the British Vestey Group. The Vestey group, belonging to the family of
Lord Vestey is a major meat and food multinational which has been
operating in South America for decades.

The El Charcote estate has 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of land and
produces some 450,000 kilos of beef every year. The Venezuelan government
argues that a large part of this land is not actually owned by the Vestey
group and that they are illegally using property belonging to the
Venezuelan state. Local peasant leaders argue that the land was bought by
dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in the 1930s and that subsequently, all land
owned by the dictator was passed over to the Venezuelan state. Vestey
Group administrators complain that parts of the ranch have been occupied
by peasants since 2001 when the Land Act was passed. The intervention at
the El Charcote estate was carried out by the governor of Cojedes, Johnny
Yánez, with about 200 national guardsmen and police along with helicopters
which will allow them to survey the ranch.

As part of a regional review of land ownership the Cojedes regional
governor sent a commission of enquiry to El Charcote. The ranch has not
been "seized", as the Financial Times claims, but rather there has been an
"intervention". There is now a technical team on the ranch which will
investigate the claims of the British group over the land titles and
whether the land is being used to its full capacity or whether parts of
the ranch have been left idle.

As Chavez explained in his speech on Monday, the structure of land
ownership in Venezuela is scandalously unfair. A 1998 census found that 60
percent of Venezuelan farmland was owned by less than 1 percent of the
population. Chavez yesterday said that nearly 80 percent of the country's
land is owned by 5 percent of landowners. Meanwhile, the smallest
landowners representing 75% of agricultural holdings have to share 6% of
the land. The 1998 census also revealed that 90 percent of farmland given
to the poor under a 1960 agrarian reform had since returned to large
landholders. "A democracy that permits such a situation of injustice will
lose its democratic character and will end up turning itself into a
pantomime of democracy. A revolution that permits this injustice cannot
call itself a revolution," said Chavez.

This is at the same time that Venezuela, despite having large extensions
of very fertile land with a benign climate, imports about 60 to 70% of all
the foodstuffs that it consumes. Some have called it a "harbours'
agriculture", since most agricultural products come from ... the harbours
through which they are imported. For instance, every quarter, 14,000
tonnes of black beans (caraotas) and other pulses, which are an important
part of the staple diet of poor Venezuelans, are imported. Production of
caraotas actually collapsed in the 1990s, from 31,376 tonnes in 1988 to
18,627 tonnes in 1999, while the Venezuelan population increased by 20%.

In fact, agriculture is one of the most extreme expressions of the
backwardness and parasitical character of the Venezuelan oligarchy, this
reactionary alliance between capitalists, bank owners, landowners and
multinational corporations that has ruled the country since it achieved
independence. For them it is preferable, and more profitable, to live off
the state and oil resources, gamble on the stock exchange, buy government
bonds, invest their money abroad, and import luxury goods, than it is to
develop national production in any field.

In these conditions it is difficult to see how an amicable agreement can
be reached with the landowners to voluntarily distribute land to the
hundreds of thousands of land hungry families that need it. The struggle
for the land has been one of the most contentious issues of the Venezuelan
revolutionary process so far. It was the passing of the Land Act in
December 2001 (together with the Hydrocarbon Act and others) that
triggered the opposition to organise the April 2002 military coup against
the Chavez government. The hopes of thousands of peasant communities were
again lifted during the regional election campaign last October, when
Chavez delivered belligerent speeches against the latifundio and
instructed the Bolivarian gubernatorial candidates to tackle the problem
of land reform straight away.

No meaningful land reform possible within the boundaries of private property
The president of the ranch owners association, Betancourt, reacted
strongly to the decree, saying in an interview on the Globovision
television station that "If they eliminate private property rights, they
will also be eliminating the peace in Venezuela''. This is an ominous
threat. Some 100 peasant leaders and activists have been killed in
disputes over land property with big landowners in the past 4 years. In
some areas along the border with Colombia ranch owners have for some time
armed white guards modelling themselves on, and sometimes getting advice
from, the infamous paramilitary gangs from neighbouring Colombia.

If you have a situation in which 5% of landowners control nearly 80% of
the land, then it is clear that one cannot carry out a land reform policy
that will please both the owners of large landed estates and landless
peasants. Even the Cojedes governor, Johnny Yanéz, had to say that private
property "is a right, but not an absolute one, since the collective
interest, public need, and food security are parameters that must justify
this private right".

This is not just about land. If the conflict over land reform deepens, as
it is bound to do, and land is expropriated and given over to landless
peasants, then workers in industry are bound to draw similar conclusions.
Instances like that of the Venepal paper mill, which the owners declared
bankrupt and the workers took over and are now demanding to be
nationalised under workers control, will spread. On the other hand,
Venezuela's landowners are an inseparable part of the Venezuelan ruling
class. An attack on them will be rightly seen by the capitalists as an
attack on the very principle of private property of the economy.

The analysts of the ruling class can clearly see the implications of these
moves. According to business analysts Bloomberg, Benito Berber, an analyst
with HSBC Securities in New York said: "The erosion of private property
rights may undermine long- term economic growth as capital inflows slow
and investors lose confidence in the country's future".

The problem is precisely that, as in other areas of the progressive
government of Chavez, any social justice measures implemented, no matter
how "moderate" they might be, clash head on with the vested interests of
the owners of industry, capital and the land. We must remember that, even
though the Bolivarian revolution has not directly infringed on the rights
of private property, the capitalists and landowners have attempted the
violent overthrow of the government on several occasions. The fact is that
the basic needs of the working people of Venezuela (to free health care
and education for all, to a roof over their heads, to decent food on their
table, to means of earning their livelihood) are in direct contradiction
to the existence of the capitalist system based on private profit and the
benefits of a wealthy minority. And this is why the very existence of a
revolutionary movement in Venezuela is seen by the oligarchy, rightly, as
a threat to their interests.

The Bolivarian revolution should understand this basic fact and move to
wrest from the oligarchy the levers of economic and political power they
still control as the only guarantee for the victory of the revolution.

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