Venezuela: Legal shenanigans
22.03.05 | The Bolivarian government has developed the art of giving the appearance of legality to actions that are in no way legal and that, on the contrary, are grievous offenses against society.
One of the most recent examples of these “legal offenses” is the confiscation of 109,000 hectares belonging to five estates, Hato El Charcote, Hato Piñero, and Hato Borges in Cojedes state, Hato Coco in Nueva Esparta, and Hato Sáez in Miranda.
The “legal” justification given by the government for appropriating these estates is that their owners have failed to demonstrate uninterrupted ownership since 1840. Ergo, these properties belong to the Venezuelan State and, therefore, the owners are not entitled to any compensation either for the land or for improvements thereon.
This criterion being proffered by the National Lands Institute, besides establishing a grave precedent in that it ignores everyone’s right to property in Venezuela, is based on the violation of a fundamental precept of constitutional law, that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It is the State that has to demonstrate that the owners are not, in fact, the owners, not the reverse as the National Lands Institute is now claiming. It is practically impossible for anyone in Venezuela to demonstrate an uninterrupted chain of ownership that goes back to a Royal Charter granted 400 or 500 years ago. Apart from the unreliability of the country’s land records and the lack of precision when it comes to the descriptions of boundaries, the fact of the matter is that the majority of the land ownership records were destroyed during the Federation War (1859-62). In order to solve this problem, the following system for establishing ownership was devised: anyone who occupies a given piece of land for 20 years without anyone questioning his right to do so is the owner of that land, of whatever it produces, and of the property on it.
Now, with the stratagem of forcing landowners to prove the impossible, the National Lands Institute is confiscating some of the most productive agricultural and cattle-rearing land in Venezuela. The same legal contrivance could just as well be applied unilaterally to other urban and rural properties by those in power whenever they feel like it. It looks as though private property no longer exists in Venezuela.
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