[Marxism] Venezuela govt. issues leaflet on land reform aimed at US

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Dec 19 08:36:53 MST 2004


From: Venezuela Information Office




New legislation in Venezuela seeks to overcome years of injustice

 by reuniting the urban poor with their agricultural heritage.



Land ownership patterns in Venezuela are among the least equitable in
the world.  In colonial times, the Spanish crown allotted massive
estates, today known as latifundios, to wealthy families.  The peasant
farmers who cultivated the land, particularly the indigenous people who
had historic claims, were prevented from owning property.   


Today, 75 percent of the country's cultivatable lands are still in the
hands of just 5 percent of the population.  Landless campesinos continue
to toil on lands owned by others, but much of the country's agricultural
areas remain idle. 


Thousands of hectares of farmland sit idle



In the 1960s, many Latin America nations initiated programs to
redistribute portions of massive estates to peasant farmers.  Under the
new system, workers were given small plots, suitable for little more
than substance farming, but left without access to the roads, water
resources and tools they had utilized under the previous system.  


The redistribution programs failed even more miserably in Venezuela
because the timing corresponded with the country's oil boom.  When the
Venezuelan leadership of the era focused its resources on industrial
development, it de-invested in the nation's agricultural  sector.
Thousands of rural peasants flocked to urban centers for oil and
industrial jobs, and their newly-granted lands were quickly reclaimed by
the wealthy landholders.  Today Venezuela remains the most urbanized
country in Latin America, with 87 percent of the population living in
cities.  Crime-ridden shantytowns house thousands of urban families
while vast tracts of rural land remain underdeveloped.  Landless
peasants literally cannot go home again.



Aside from the obvious injustice of the current landowning system, the
enormous amount of unused land poses economic and developmental problems
for Venezuela.  Despite ideal growing conditions and fertile soil,
Venezuela today imports 70% of its domestic food needs.   By shutting
willing workers out of an agricultural economy, the current land system
impedes the potential for individual families to gain self -sufficiency,
and prevents the growth of a stable middle class.  At a national level,
the system prevents a logical diversification of the economy, further
pegging Venezuela's financial fortunes to the fluctuating trends of the
oil sector.


For these reasons, the Chavez administration has made land reform a
national priority, initiating a sweeping program to utilize idle lands,
allowing thousands of families to return to the countryside and
participate in the nation's economy.



Venezuela's ambitious Law on Land and Agricultural Development, passed
in 2001, is now in effect. The first phase of the law is to define and
categorize what constitutes idle land, and to determine who actually
holds title to each tract.  The second phase tackles the economic,
developmental and social problems in a variety of ways.  Most
significantly, the legislation: 


Provides incentives for individuals to return to the countryside and
choose agricultural work; 

Establishes a tax structure that penalizes cultivatable land left idle,
giving incentives for owners of large estates to make the land
productive or sell off portions to eager farmers.  (The tax system
excludes forested land, protecting biologically significant areas from

Transfers federally-owned lands to qualified farmers; and 

Exercises the government's right of eminent domain to divide unused,
privately-owned land for distribution to qualified farmers.  Land owners
are compensated for lost land. 

This last point has been controversial among the owners of latifundios.
Viewing it as an attack on their property rights, estate holders have
resisted mightily.  In the past 4 years alone, more than 150 rural
leaders have been killed for their advocacy of land reform.  Because
rural justice systems are still dominated by the wealthy elite, many of
these killings have never been brought to trial.


It is clear that this democratic experiment will be opposed by powerful
forces inside Venezuela and by the United States government.  As
Americans, it is our responsibility to make sure that our leaders
respect the right of Venezuelans to implement reforms without outside

How You Can Help Venezuela

.        Educate yourself about Venezuela:  go to www.veninfo.org or

.        Write an article, op-ed, or letter to the editor

.        Write a letter to your US Representative or Senator

.        Organize a presentation or film screening-contact
newsandaction at veninfo.org

.        Receive daily or weekly E-mail updates-contact vio at veninfo.org






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