Venezuela running on empty promises
27.12.04 | Recovering from Christmas, I look for newspapers to give me new information, but no such luck. Venezuelan newspapers at this time of the year get thinner and original content is minimal, they are basically all empty, except for sports. Most good opinion writers are away on vacation. All of the papers are full of stories about the best in 2004. News in 2004. Month by month in 2004. My Sunday ritual of reading the newspapers is reduced to a few minutes of learning about Chavez returning from his China trip early and some details about the impact of the Cojedes decrees in that state and nationwide.
Interesting that economic reporter Victor Salmeron is covering the issue of land intervention. He usually is involved with more technical economic issues and is by far the best economic reporter in Venezuela. His article paints a picture of lands invaded by people looking for homes, meat production down and myths dominating Venezuela’s rural areas. The British are painted as the bad guys, raising cattle to send abroad for the English to eat (even the queen is mentioned as eating their meat!); while the reality is the cows are sold young to other ranches due to the insecurity. Chavez is definitely the hero, with the Governor disliked thoroughly. Meanwhile, the guy who runs the cattle farm says most invaders are from other states and whenever they have meetings they arrive in the latest car models.
Meanwhile in China, Chavez reaffirms he is a Maoist, in a country that has moved so far from Mao that is almost unrecognizable. What an empty slogan by our President. Chavez hails the decision to create a new state steel company to replace the now privatized Sidor, in another giant leap backwards that Venezuelans will end up financing. Another brainless project in the name of sovereignty.
On Cojedes and land intervention, Chavez says that if those whose land was intervened don’t want to negotiate, then they would receive the full weight of the law. Funny, I thought the process began with the law, not the other way around. But such is the fate of those that live in a country where Chavez is the law, or at least its interpretation.
But the truth about farmlands is slowly getting out. As I have said before in this blog, the Government is the biggest landowner, but it wants to start with giving away only private land. According to the latest Government report quoted in today’s El Universal, the National Institute of Land is the biggest landowner with 8.6 million hectares of arable land in 1,492 farms. Given that the same report says only 2.1 million hectares in all of Venezuela are under cultivation, this gives you enough of a perspective.
In fact, the Government’s own report shows how cynical the whole thing is. The land Bill makes large states the target for distribution to the peasants. A large state is defined, according to the law and tradition as one having more than 10,000 hectares. Well, 53 Government-owned states have a total of 5.9 million hectares, making the average Government farm at least ten times larger than what the law wants to redistribute in the private sector. So, why not start there? Stupid question, ownership is power and that seems to be the only thing the Chavistas want.
This is what is so incredibly cynical. If the Government began to aggressively give away one third of the land in its hands, it would be giving away over 100% of the area currently under cultivation in all of Venezuela. If they really believed in their project, that would be truly revolutionary. But the truth is that they do not believe in it and they know that the “conuco”, the basic farm unit of the Venezuelan peasant, is not sustainable, is not competitive and it does not provide enough crops to even support a family of four. That is why invaded lands are as empty of crops today, if not people, as they were five years ago when they were invaded. That is why agricultural production is down in the last five years. That is why meat production is also down in the last five years.
But the revolution continues with its empty promises. Despite the huge oil windfall, the economy has shrunk in the last five years. Despite the huge political capital, Chavez has been able to convert relative little into concrete results. In fact, the problems of Venezuela are in the cities where 89% of the population lives. In 1998 Chavez campaigned saying he would give title to the land of the “ranchos” where the poor live in barrios in most Venezuelan cities. To date, one opposition Mayor has given title to more people in his municipality than Chavez or any of his Mayors in all of Venezuela.
Up to now, the revolution has blamed the opposition for the lack of results and people have bought the story. Unfortunately, populism sells and I am not sure people will realize anytime soon how empty the promises are. Revolutions can run on empty for quite a long time…
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