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Venezuela: Some thoughts on the Government's confiscation of large farm states

By Miguel Octavio | The Devil's Excrement

26.03.05 | While I was away the Government finally took over the two largest farms it had threatened to expropriate ever since the land grab began in December. This culminates a process that began in November 2001 when the Chávez administration passed the land bill under the enabling bill which Chavez used to approve 45 different bills at that time.

Problem was, the original and bill called for some form of efficiency on the part of the authorities and the Supreme Court declared a couple of articles unconstitutional, which simply delayed the implementation of Chavez’ original land grab dream. Essentially, the original land bill mandated a national land inventory before the Land institute could begin evaluating the expropriation of land. Three years went by and despite the resources and time spent, the inventory was far from being completed and Chavez was getting impatient.

At the November meeting the President told his followers to act immediately and they did. Rather than follow the orderly process mandated by the Land bill, Governors, led by the Governor of Cojedes state began “intervening” large land states or latifundia, which forced the Land Institute to act. As it has become customary with the revolution, it was all made “legal” within the illegality of the whole process. Besides sidestepping the requirement of completing the inventory or proving the large farm states were not productive, two farms, British owned El Charcote and Venezuelan owned Hato Piñero were finally expropriated while I was away in the last two weeks. (There are others, but these two are good examples)

It was not easy to find the justification for taking the farms over. They were both productive and the owners had land titles going back as far as 1850. Thus, the legal justification became that neither could prove ownership as far back as 1840. Using this excuse, not only does the Government take over the land, but rather than expropriate it simply confiscates it. You see, if they never “legally” owned it, the Government does not need to pay for either the land or any facilities on it.

Why 1840? You might as well have said 1491. Basically, few people can prove ownership of land going that far back in Venezuela. Ownership of land in Venezuela is certified via registrars. Each time land ownership is transferred you have to go to the registry where land is transferred via hand written documents that refer to the previous owners. Moreover, reference points for boundaries can be as clear as “twenty paces to the East of the large mango tree”.

But the larger problem was that from 1858 to 1862, Venezuela had the Federation war, during which most land records were destroyed. In fact, this has been such a long standing problem in the history of Venezuela, that the law says that if you occupy land for twenty years without anyone challenging you, you are the rightful owner.

All of these details have been ignored by the Chavez administration, giving as usual an image of legality while acting in blatant violation of Venezuelan law. And it seems to play real well in Paris and Peoria.

The problem besides the illegalities involved for those living here, is that the same rules applied to most of the city of Caracas would simply say that the land where my building stands is also owned by the Government. It is simply a matter of waiting for the right time, much like it has been done with these farms and many other of the Chavez ideas that have been shelved in the past waiting for a more appropriate time to implement them.

In the end, the sad thing is that the Government will likely destroy the properties it has confiscated. After all, the Government is the biggest landowner in the country and does little with it. Mercal imports rather than promote local production. This Government has done very little to protect the environment. But it does not matter, the end justifies the means and the end is the “revolution”, cattle production is down significantly already at Hato El Charcote, it will go down to zero in a few years. Environmental projects at Hato Piñero will be forgotten, the species that have been protected by private efforts will suffer, but the Government will not care. The question is: will anyone remember?

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