Caracas, Venezuela, September 13, 2005—The recent spate of factory and land takeovers, some by workers and some by government security forces and some by both, have caused a storm of controversy over the legality of such takeovers. Chavez supporters, such as union leaders of the UNT union federation have supported the actions, while opposition leaders warned that private property is at risk in Venezuela. Venezuela’s attorney general, Isaias Rodriguez said that the issue is being politicized unnecessarily.
Venezuela’s Minister of Agriculture and Land, Antonio Albarrán, announced that in an effort to explain and clarify the Venezuelan government’s actions, it would meet with representatives of the Polar company, whose subsidiary Prombrasa, which includes silos and corn processing plant, was recently taken over by members of the nearby community and by former workers of the plant, with the help of government officials. The meeting is take place on Thursday. “We will act in strict compliance with the law and with a social and humanist sentiment,” said Albarrán. “The Ministry of Agriculture and Land has no plan for taking over [Venezuela’s] agro-industry,” he added.
Meanwhile, Fedecamaras, the country’s main chamber of commerce, issued a statement today, in which it said that it rejects the government’s actions to take over idle land and idle industrial installations throughout the country. The president of Fedecamaras, José Luis Betancourt, read his group´s oficial statement today, which demands, “the immediate cessation of arbitrary and illegal actions against private property and the restitution of affected property to its legitimate owners.”
The food and beverage company Polar denies that the plant or the silos were idle when they were taken over and is seeking a retraining order from the country’s Supreme Court. Polar’s legal representative said today that it will present proof to the Supreme Court that its silos are being used on a regular basis. According to the spokesperson, the company has payroll and delivery documentation that support its claim.
In addition to the Polar property government officials and workers have recently occupied a Heinz tomato processing plant, a meat-packing plant, and four haciendas.
Venezuela’s Attorney General, Isaias Rodriguez, said to the press yesterday that while Venezuela’s constitution guarantees the right to private property, this right is not absolute and must be weighed against the general interest. “Article 115 of the constitution guarantees the right to private property, but this right is subordinated to obligations and restrictions in accordance with public or general utility,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez also reminded that according to Venezuela’s labor law, businesses do not constitute property over which the owner can dispose of as he or she pleases, but is subject to workers’ rights. The central government has argued that in all of the recent takeovers the industrial plants or the land was idle and had been closed by businesses mainly to reduce competition and not because they were unprofitable.
Rodriguez warned, though, that the whole debate over the taking over of factories and land has become politicized when it should actually be a technical matter of applying the existing law. Also, he said that his statements on these matters cannot be taken as a judgment on the legality of the takeovers that have occurred. Rather, his office is currently in the process of evaluating their legality.