by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
In mid-December 2010, Venezuelan officials and troops began seizing 47 private ranches, taking over big areas of agricultural land.
Venezuela ranks 121 among 125 economies in the ranking of protection of property rights, tied with Chad and Zimbabwe and just above Ivory Coast and Bangladesh which rank last, according to the 2010 International Property Rights Index (IPRI).
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has intensified land takeovers, resulting in expropriations of landlords' properties.
In addition, the Bolivarian National Guard is accused of using violence to evacuate the owners and the families in the estates, even though the government denies it.
Chavez has justified the expropriations by stating: "Let's not forget that Bolivar has also a deep passion for justice and equality. There was no better way to honor his memory than taking over 47 large estates on December 17, in the South of the Maracaibo Lake. These 47 large estates show the extreme inequality regarding land distribution […]. The Bolivarian policy and revolution finally put an end to this monstrosity." The government argues that the lands' takeover is actually a fair action, which pays off a social debt to farmers who have been exploited.
On January 8, 2011, Chavez ordered his militias to expropriate even more: two acres in a western district of Caracas to build, he said, housing for families made homeless by the recent floods.. The Polar, a top food processor and distributor, and a brewing company, complained that the move was a real expropriation as the land was to be used for expanding a Polar-funded center for children's nutritional needs.
"This center has offered a valuable support to the community for more than 15 years, and the expansion plans require the land to continue the treatment of children and pregnant mothers of this and other needy communities," said a statement released by Polar. Chavez, however, refuted the accusation of expropriating lands, and mocked Polar, saying that a brewery company cannot claim to help people, as it is "responsible" for the death of people, due the abuse of alcohol.
This is not the first time that the Venezuelan government and the leadership of Polar – which has been accused of helping the opposition – have entered into a clash. In a move against private industry and capitalism last April, Chavez seized land from Polar, taking over three sugar mills. On his show, "Alo Presidente," Chavez then attacked the young owner of Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, listed at number 125 on Forbes's world's most-rich-list, saying: "It seems that Mendoza wants to be president […] the filthy rich ones want to run as candidates."
The attacks on Mendoza and his property seem not to have an end. Last July, Chavez declared that he could nationalize Polar in a socialist war against the capitalist class: In 2010, Chavez nationalized more than 200 companies. "Careful, Mendoza," he said, behaving like a dictator, "You'll end up with nothing;" and added, "Lorenzo Mendoza wants to be president, and the Yankees are guiding him."
Although Chavez might claim that the takeover of lands is for redistributing wealth among poor people, it seems clear that the reality is different. Chavez seems willing to be taking advantage of his power to remove or intimidate anyone who could be considered a threat to his leadership, even going against the Constitution, as the Church itself hints.
From the press:
- The Church is concerned about takeovers; Cardinal Urosa: Chavez should respect the Constitution
- Expropriation of land from Venezuela's top food processor and distributor, Polar
- Chavez orders his supporters to "intensify" the takeover of urban lands
- Chavez creates a commission that will draft a decree to regulate lodging houses and janitors' labor conditions
- Civilian-military operation to recover lands
- Minister of Agriculture with pistol and Che Guevara T-Shirt
January 10, 2011
The Church is concerned about takeovers; Cardinal Urosa: Chavez should respect the Constitution
Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino expressed […] his concern about takeovers ordered by President Hugo Chavez.
"The problem of seizures is very serious. Even if it is true that it is a capacity of the State, authorities must follow the procedures provided in the Constitution; and apparently (these procedures) have been disregarded in some cases," Cardinal Urosa Savino warned.
Expropriation of land from Venezuela's top food processor and distributor, Polar
On Saturday night [January 8], Chavez issued a decree ordering the temporary occupation of an area of 10,900 square yards, located in the low-income neighborhood of Antimano, west Caracas, where a Child Nutritional Care Center of the food giant Polar is located. When asked about it, Urosa Savino said: "in the case of this charity, it is an institution that is doing a great social service. [The occupation] is a worrying development. I would like to urge the executive office to reflect on the issue of expropriations." […] El Universal (Venezuela)
January 10, 2011
Chavez orders his supporters to "intensify" the takeover of urban lands
"The rich took the Valley (of Caracas)". This statement, made by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, leads people and the militia to seize abandoned urban plots of land.
In his 368th radio and TV show, "Alo, Presidente" [Hello, President], Chavez ordered his supporters to "intensify" the takeover of urban lands that could be used to build houses.
"A commission should be established soon, and the militia must occupy abandoned plots of land," said the Venezuelan president. He insisted that "the poor were forced and deceived into living in the most fragile hills, with steeper slopes, prone to more landslides, with no aid for planning and engineering."
Chavez therefore urged the Venezuelan people to ask themselves why landslides occur in 23 de Enero (a poor neighborhood located in west Caracas) rather than in the East (and more affluent part of Caracas)?
Chavez creates a commission that will draft a decree to regulate lodging houses and janitors' labor conditions
Chavez added that land occupation must be based on the principle that "the owners of the Valley are the people who reside there."
Chavez also said that arson in the National Lands Institute office in the northwestern state of Zulia is not going to intimidate him. "Now, we will intensify our efforts, you'll see (...) We will intensify the recovery of lands in the entire country, and in this particular case, south of Lake Maracaibo. [We want] land to produce on, land for the people, rather than land for those landowners."
The Venezuelan president also created a commission that will draft a decree to regulate lodging houses and janitors' labor conditions. El Universal (Venezuela)
December 17, 2010
Civilian-military operation to recover lands
Minister of Agriculture and Lands Juan Carlos Loyo headed a civilian-military operation on recovery of lands in Lake Maracaibo, western Zulia state.
Loyo said that they were taking steps to vanquish the last frontier of large estates in Venezuela against a little group that cannot understand ongoing changes in the country.
In a live broadcast, the minister delivered a speech to all of the 138 military officers who would take part in the recovery of more than 40 farms in Zulia state.
Minister of Agriculture with pistol and Che Guevara T-Shirt
"We are going to rescue the best lands for our people," Minister Loyo said on state television, noting that some of the lands are underwater from recent torrential rains.
"Right now, you are part of an army, of a collective... that is going to liberate lands," Loyo added.
Loyo wore a pistol on his belt and a T-shirt with an image of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara as he addressed a group of officials and soldiers. El Universal (Venezuela)
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