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bemildred Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 12:33 PM
Original message
Venezuelans on edge as government prepares to intervene
Will the defenseless, downtrodden British Company defeat the
evil, greedy peasants?

EL CHARCOTE, Venezuela - Hundreds of squatters have moved onto this vast cattle ranch and planted crops in hopes that the land will one day be declared their own, putting them sharply at odds with the British-owned company that claims rightful ownership.
The long-running dispute - like many others across Venezuela - is reaching a critical point as the government promises swift action on a sweeping plan to give ''idle'' land to poor farmers.
Most of the estimated 600 squatters farming plots on El Charcote Ranch arrived in the four years since President Hugo Chavez signed a law clearing the way for agrarian reform.
''I trust Chavez and believe he wants the best for us, but we are struggling, working land that may not belong to us in the end,'' said Santiago Arzola, 40, who farms melon, beans and sweet peppers to sustain a family of five.
A 1998 census found that 60 percent of Venezuela's farmland was owned by less than 1 percent of the population. The survey said 90 percent of farmland given to the poor under a 1960 agrarian reform had since returned to the hands of large landholders.

Salt Lake Tribune

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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:03 PM
Response to Original message
1. Oh, someone shoot me. Put me out of my misery.
So much ((((((( spin ))))))) I'm dizzy. Here's another one, from Financial Times:
Venezuela to seize aristocrat's cattle ranch
By Andy Webb-Vidal in Caracas and Henry Tricks in London
Published: January 7 2005 22:04 | Last updated: January 7 2005 22:04

Venezuelan authorities backed by troops are on Saturday expected to seize a 32,000-acre ranch owned by Lord Vestey, an English aristocrat and meat tycoon.

The move, the first in what is likely to be a number of Zimbabwe-style expropriations of big estates, appears to signal a renewed radicalisation in the leftwing government of President Hugo Chvez.

Lord Vestey, known as Spam to friends because his family's wealth comes from the meat trade, is one of Britain's richest men and a close friend of Prince Charles.

With interests that have ranged from overseas cattle ranches to a chain of butchers' shops, his fortune was estimated last year at 750m ($1.4bn, 1.07bn).

But the value of the Vestey Group has declined recently, and it has written down Venezuelan assets. The company had net assets of 78m in the last published set of accounts in 2003, down from 105m in 2002.

Venezuela Weighs Seizing British-Owned Cattle Ranch (Update1)
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuela will begin weighing this weekend whether to confiscate a 32,000-acre, British-owned cattle ranch under a government plan to give land to poor farmers, a state official said.

The ranch, located in Cojedes state 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Caracas, would be the first private property seized under the plan should the London-based Vestey Group fail to prove it owns the land legally and uses it productively, said Rafael Aleman, general secretary of Cojedes state.

``This is the first property to be assessed by the state in its war on large land holdings,'' Aleman said in a news conference today in Caracas.

President Hugo Chavez said in August, after he defeated an effort to oust him in a recall vote, that he would target land holdings of more than 25,000 acres for possible seizure and distribution to landless farmers. A decree Chavez issued in 2001 gives the government the power to expropriate private property it considers unused or poorly managed. The directive is one of 49 Chavez after Congress gave him a year, starting in October 2000, to make laws with legislators' involvement.

A commission made up of officials from the National Guard, the Agriculture and Land Ministry, the National Land Institute and the governor's office will evaluate Vestey's ranch, known as Hato El Charcote, Aleman said
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goforit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:11 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Thanks Judy Lynn!!!...Whata difference in stories!!! Very intriguing
Love the connection to Lord Vesty....P.Charles goodold friend.

I swear between Blair, Charles and Bush,...they make a great
El three Banditos!!!!

Boy I love the way Chavez gets under Bush's skin!!!

Little by little, chipping away at them!!!
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anarchy1999 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:20 PM
Response to Original message
3. Sorry, can't help, but we feel the same. This is an "oh, no" here we go
again moment. Chavez takes on Bush first and now a rich British royal. Trouble is coming .... at least we will all be able to focus on a new "threat".
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bin.dare Donating Member (517 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:36 PM
Response to Original message
4. more stories about real people ....
75,000 Venezuelan Peasants Win Land Titles

Monday, Apr 12, 2004 Print format
By: Argiris Malapanis - The Militant

SAN CARLOS, VenezuelaOn December 23 we took possession of this land, said Jubir Yauca at a new agricultural camp here. By the next day, about 250 peasants and their families had moved in. We are now undisputed owners of 39,000 hectares <1 hectare = 2.47 acres> of arable land. We have fenced it in. And we are on our way toward reclaiming the rest of the land that the big landowners stole from us by force.
Jubir Yauca, who spoke to Militant reporters March 16, is one of six brothers from the indigenous Yauca familythe last remaining members of the Yauca nation. With the help of many other peasants, the family recently succeeded, after two and a half decades of struggle, in gaining official recognition of the Yauca nations ownership of 150,000 hectares of fertile land outside San Carlos, the capital of Cojedes state in northwestern Venezuela.

(more on this story and others)
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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:44 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. This article you've posted really adds depth to this story.
There are 17 capitalist farmers who use the rest of the land, mostly for cattle grazing, Marcano said. Only two of them are very large terracogientes, he said, using a derisive term he coined meaning land grabbers. One comes from the family of former Gen. Jos Rafael Luque, who was governor of Cojedes under the Juan Vicente Gmez dictatorship in the early 1900s, and who forcibly expropriated nearly half the land of the Yauca nation, Marcano said.

We are preparing to go to court and get an order for them to either buy a portion of the land at going market prices from the Yaucas or pack up and leave, he added.

The peasants also won the support of some officials in the National Guard. Roseana Yani Lugo, a sergeant in the National Guard who comes from a farm family, volunteered to be their chief of security. This step, along with around-the-clock vigilance by the peasants, has so far kept the police and hired thugs of the capitalist landlords away, Marcano said.

Tulio Delgado, president of the Juan Yauca Agricultural Land Committee, said the peasants have received donations of food, water, and medicine from many people in the area. This is critical, he added, because we dont have electricity and water yet on the farm land.
It's so easy for people who know absolutely nothing about a situation to get huffy and pompous about it. You have to realize you don't know everything already in order to learn something. This article is really needed.

Thanks for this information.
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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 02:14 PM
Response to Reply #4
9. More from your article. This is so rotten....
About 65 percent of all food consumed in the country is imported from Canada, the United States, Brazil, and other countries. So every devaluation of the bolivar has had devastating consequences for working people.
Can you IMAGINE? A country that size having to import so much food. It's a crime. Previous officials were running it just like any colony, producing crops to send outside the country. This was dead wrong. The native-born people suffer in every case. They don't have the ability to afford imported food like the wealthy landowners.

Also from the article:
During a lunch break in a nearby town, Tortolero showed Militant reporters a truck passing by full of sugarcane cutters, all covered with soot from cutting cane in the fields where the weeds had been burned. These workers work mostly for capitalist farmersoverwhelmingly batistianos in this area, Tortolero said. These are Cuban capitalists who fled the Caribbean island and came to Venezuela after workers and peasants in Cuba overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 through a popular revolution.

The cane cutters are paid less than the minimum wage of 200,000 bolivars a month ($100), and face some of the worst working conditions, Tortolero said. We are trying to figure out how we can help them get organized and work with them, he stated. Thats one of the ways we can confront the power of the capitalists.
This should be interesting to people who didn't know that a lot of "exiles" from the corrupt Batista era also went to Venezuela, as well as South Florida. Some of them are wildly active in the ongoing anti-Chavez class war. One of them is Cuban "exile" Roberto Alonso, who was discovered with over 100 armed Colombian paramilitaries on his ranch next door to one owned by Gustavo Cisneros, media tycoon/friend of George H. W. Bush.

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bin.dare Donating Member (517 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 05:38 PM
Response to Reply #9
13. the nearly forgotten slum lands --- recognizing the barrio

GREGORY WILPERT, New Left Review, may-june 2003

However, after appearing to have all but forgotten this burning social issue in the first phase of his Presidency, on 4 February 2002the tenth anniversary of his original attempt to overthrow Carlos Andrs PrezChvez announced a new decree, by which his government would transfer the legal ownership of the barrios to their inhabitants. The timing of his speech, coming between the first general strike against him in December 2001 and the attempted coup of April 2002, makes it clear that, under a vitriolic barrage of media and oppositional attack, the government realized it was losing popular ground and had to regain it with a dramatic initiative. Some 7,000 families have benefited from the programme in the past year and, by the end of 2003, about 500,000 plots are due to be transferred.

Barrios in credit

But the decree could transfer only publicly owned land. Ivn Martnez, the director of the National Technical Office for the Regularization of Urban Land Tenancy, estimates that approximately one third of the terrain the barrios now occupy belongs to the state, one third is privately owned, and one third is indeterminate or contested. To transfer privately owned land to barrio inhabitants, a law has to be passed through Congress. Legislation to this end, a Special Law to Regularize Land Tenancy in Poor Urban Settlements, has been proposed by Chvezs Fifth Republic Movement ( mvr), and is due to be passed after extensive consultation with the communities that are to benefit from it. For this purpose, land committees have been created in every barrio, which send representatives to the National Assembly to discuss the law together with the legislators. According to Martnez, they have proposed numerous changes to the original draft, including provisions for the creation of communal property. This is one of the first laws in Venezuelan history that is being hammered out with those actually affected by it. Once in force, it will have a significant impact on the lives of more Venezuelan citizens than any other governmental programme save public education. As many as ten million Venezuelans, or 40 per cent of the population, could eventually benefit, even if Martnez reckons that the law could take up to ten years to implement in full.

The rationale of the transfer, as Martnez puts it, is first of all a recognition of the social debt which the state owes the population. For in the past half-century, the state constructed one million homes for its citizens; the private sector erected about two million; while the inhabitants of barrios, with infinitely fewer resources than either, built over three million. Considering that it costs about ten times as much to tear down a barrio home and build a new one somewhere else, it is clear that the barrios are part of the solution, not the problem, in Martnezs words. Andrs Antillano, an organizer in La Vega, one of Venezuelas largest, oldest and most politicized shanty-towns, who has worked together with Martnez on the draft of the new law, adds that it aims at recognizing the barrio as a collective subject with legal rights and profound transformative potentials. In other words, where De Soto and Primero Justicia view urban land reform as essentially a means to encourage the accumulation of capital in the barrios, Chvezs supporters see it as a path to participatory democracy and self-help in the communities.

The land committees necessitated by the decree and proposed law are composed of seven to eleven individuals, elected by a gathering of at least half of the families in any given community, up to a maximum of two hundred. The committees are then free to choose the polygonal of land, the territory of the community, they represent. At first sight, their function looks similar to that of the Bolivarian Circles that Chvez had created in 2001. According to their literature, these Circles discuss problems of their community and direct them towards the appropriate governing body, to find a rapid solution for them. While the media and the opposition demonize them as the shock troops of a totalitarian regime, the truth is that for the most part they do exactly what their pamphlets proclaimput on cultural events, paint murals of Simn Bolvar, organize workshops to discuss the constitution and build community centres. In this sense they have been a force for barrio transformation.

The difference between the Circles and the land committees, however, is that the former are, by and large, partisan groups of up to a dozen self-selected individuals who support the Chvez government and want to regenerate their country. The land committees, on the other hand, are democratically elected to represent a particular community of up to 200 families and do not have any political affiliation. By the summer of 2002 it was estimated that over 300 of them had come into being, representing about 150,000 people. They perform a wide variety of tasks, that fall broadly speaking into three areas: regularization of urban property titles; self-government of the barrio; and self-transformation of the neighbourhood. Additionally, but more temporarily, they participate in the formulation of the urban land law.

In the regularization of property titles, the committees take an active part in measuring the plots of land that each family occupies, and adjudicating disputes between them. Since the surveys have to be accurate, government officials work with them, training slum-dwellers how to use the necessary equipment. The process can be tricky because barrio homes often have such irregular shapes. The process of registration also involves designating which parts of barrio land should be communally owned, to provide recreational space. Once the land is registered, each family can claim their titles by providing proof of ownership, usually in the form of receipts for building materials or utility bills. The National Technical Office then provides a certificate which, once the property is ready to be transferred and if no one else claims title to the land within three months, can be exchanged for the actual property deeds. However, only dwellings built on safe landthat is, sites that do not endanger their inhabitants by too unstable or precarious a locationare eligible for such ownership. Those who live on unsafe terrain have the right to exchange their claim to property for a government-built home in a different location. Likewise, land invasions that have occurred since the decree of February 2002 cannot participate in the entitlement process, but must look to the governments public housing programme instead.

So far as the objective of self-government goes, the land committees embody much more manageable units than current administrative districts, which in Caracas can consist of over half a million citizens apiece. The committees provide partners for municipal agencies and utility companies, for joint improvement of public serviceswater, electricity, waste disposal or road access. They have even begun to form sub-committees to work on these different tasks, including the organization of cultural activities, enhancement of security, and embellishment of their neighbourhoods.

Finally, what is meant by self-transformation of the community? Under this heading, the land committees are charged with drafting a charter for their barrio that tells its history, defines its territory, sets out its ground rules and explains its values. The charter is meant to strengthen the communal identity of the barrio. The idea is that only a strong sense of collective identity will lead to a real community, and hence to the possibility of a purposeful change of its conditions of existence. Government officials hope, of course, that some of the benefits that de Soto describes will take effect in the barrios, as a real-estate market develops that allows people to use their homes as collateral for small business loans and thriving mini-entrepreneurship. But when asked what they most want from this programme, slum-dwellers regularly mention recognition. Nora, a participant in one land sub-committee said, we believe in the government here not because of the titles, but because we can now participate more in decisions that affect the community. Still, she adds, People are asking, why has it taken so many years for a government to meet this demand?
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On the Road Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:51 PM
Response to Original message
6. Notice This Buried Nugget:
"90 percent of farmland given to the poor under a 1960 agrarian reform had since returned to the hands of large landholders."

The Chavez policy that elicits such horror today is not that different from the 1960 land redistribution favored by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. That's how far things have changed in the last 40 years.

Having said that, it's important that Venezuela pay compensation if they take over productive land without compensation. It's not clear from the article, which mentions government assessors but uses words like "confiscate." Even Castro offered compensation to small businesses taken over by the government. To succeed, Venezuela needs more than oil and wealth redistribution -- it needs trade and investment.

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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 01:59 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Glad you pointed that out! Good grief.
It seems impossible that the Venezuelan government would NOT expect to include complete, honorable compensation. However, if it were acknowledged this is part of the transaction, it would be far harder to write half-assed, emotionally pitched anti-Chavez, heavily loaded, barely disguised propaganda pieces!

Facts would distort the effect some people are after.
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Mika Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 02:10 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. The Cuban gov (not Castro) settled all except US based biz and residents
Edited on Sat Jan-08-05 02:12 PM by Mika
It is the US government that prevents the settlement of expropriation claims made by US businesses and US citizens and residents by using the Trading With The Enemy Act. The Cuban government has settled all other claims with non US based biz and private interests.

BTW, Castro is not the Cuban government.

Even the Castro family owned farmland was nationalized.

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On the Road Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 02:33 PM
Response to Reply #8
10. Thanks for The Clarification
although I don't understand the insistence on it's not being Castro. Using the leader's name for a country's policies is a pretty common type of synechdoche. And for a policy this important in that government, I can't imagine it came from anywhere but the top.
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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 02:38 PM
Response to Reply #8
11. I read about that not long ago.Fidel Castro's father's ranch was the first
which was nationalized, something Americans don't seem to know. He had large holdings.
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Imperialism Inc. Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-08-05 03:09 PM
Response to Reply #6
12. These are non-productive tracts of land.
Edited on Sat Jan-08-05 03:10 PM by WakingLife
That is part of the law the squatters are using. The land has to be idle... or like the article says "idle" (not sure why they use quotation marks... the land is unused). Most of these lands were never purchased in the first place but appropriated or appended to existing estates by force or deception.
One positive side consequence of this law is that people with idle land have started using it productively. It is a win-win. Either more domestic production by the large land holders (read more jobs) or the poor get somewhere to farm and produce exports.
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On the Road Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-09-05 12:28 AM
Response to Reply #12
14. I Don't Doubt That They Were Stolen Generations Ago
but I would rather see the ownership challenged through the court system. Property rights are not absolute, but the government has to be careful about the appearance of simply confiscating private property. I would like to see Chavez's efforts succeed, but he has to walk a fine line.

I think the reason the article uses quotes around "idle" is that the land was used for grazing, which is not as intensively productive as other kinds of agriculture.
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