Venezuelan government seizes Vestey's estate
The Venezuelan government has
acted to expropriate part of an estate belonging to Lord Vestey, an English
aristocrat and meat tycoon, and redistribute it to landless peasants.
The decision to transfer part of the El Charcote ranch, in the central
Venezuela's Cojedes province, is the first expropriation in President Hugo
Chávez's land reform programme. Similar seizures of other large estates are
expected in the coming weeks. In Venezuela, fewer than 5 per cent of landowners
hold three quarters of the country's agricultural land. Of that, more than 22
million acres could be legally reclaimed by the state. Expropriation of land
deemed to be either unlawfully owned or idle is permitted by a law passed in
2001. Compensation is applicable in some cases, although it is unclear if it
will be granted in exchange for some of the Vestey land.
Mr Chávez recently said that the redistribution of land had become a priority
for his government. Only in the past few weeks has the executive begun to act on
the 2001 legislation. The land in question is already squatted by around about
1,000 poor farmers who have been farming the estate for the past four years in
the expectation of an eventual legal title to the land.
Writing in the Independent, Phil Gunson reports how President Chávez challenged
state governors to speed up land reform. He told them: "Make a list, of the big
haciendas in your state. I'll expect recommendations from each governor; let's
see who gets them in first."
Last month, accompanied by
soldiers and state police, State Governor Yánez , who like the president is a
former army lieutenant colonel, told a crowd of supporters in a field in the
heart of the El Charcote ranch. "Social justice is unstoppable," adding: "We
have not come here as communists to put an end to private property." Property,
he said, was "a right, but not an absolute right".
officials have repeatedly emphasized that they are not emulating the Cuban model
of land reform – but the U.S.’ own Homestead Act. Signed by President Abraham
Lincoln in 1862, that measure declared that any U.S. or intended citizen of at
least 21 years of age could claim up to 160 acres of government land.
policy, “Vuelta al Campo,”
(Return to the Countryside) is enacted as the Law on Land and Agricultural
Development (2001). This set limits on the size of landholdings, and taxes
unused property as an incentive to spur agricultural growth. It enables the
government to redistribute unused land to peasant families and cooperatives and
expropriate uncultivated and fallow land from large private estates for the
purpose of redistribution. The National Land Institute (INTI) was set up to
facilitate achieving these goals by establishing criteria to determine what land
could be redistributed and the eligibility of those applying for new land deeds.
After a slow start, the Chavez government has redistributed about 2.2 million
hectares of state owned land to more than 130,000 peasant families and
cooperatives (1 hectare = 2.47 acres).
of the Vestey estate is an escalation of this land reform, and is certain to
exaggerate still further the tension between the Venezuelan government and the
US.. The last few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of reporting in the US
press about Venezuela, almost all negative disinformation.
Indeed the Venezuelan government has recently
exposed plans by the
US government to
that there may be military action by the US against the government, President
Chavez has invited the "pueblo" to go to
the local garrisons and barracks to receive training in self-defence. This was
the first important step to gradually mobilizing the mass of the population for
military resistance. Last week, in the President's radio and TV program "Alo
Presidente," Chavez called on the "revolutionary squads" to prepare themselves
and organize the local populace.
A citizen militia was
established last year, initially with 50,000 members, but
by July this year
it should be in the region of 190,000-200,000. This supplements Venezuela’s
120,000 strong regular armed forces. New replacement weapons are being purchased
from Brazil and Russia for the regular army, which will free up 100,000 AK 47
assault rifles that could be used for arming the population.
In a recent
report on Venezuelan National Radio (RNV), it was revealed that the Bolivarian
University of Venezuela (UBV) will be located in the barracks and garrisons of
the armed forces. This popular university was created in June 2003 for sons and
daughters of the poor who has been historically excluded from the middle class
dominated educational elitist institutions such as the Central University of
Venezuela (UCV) and the Simon Bolivar university (USB). The implication is that
students from poor backgrounds are being trained in guerrilla warfare in
anticipation of US military intervention.