Venezuela Makes Deal with Spanish Landowners

The Chavez government sealed a deal in which Spanish landowners, who had been complaining about illegal land invasions, were compensated for their land, which will now be turned over to local peasants.

Caracas, Venezuela, May 4, 2006—Venezuelaagreed on Tuesday to pay 6.8 Billion Bolivares ($3.16 million) in indemnizationto 12 Spanish agricultural producers in exchange for their estates in theVenezuelan state of Yaracuy. Total landsequal 1,154 hectares, whichPresident Chavez has assured is fertile and will be distributed to “poor campesinos.”

Discussions on Tuesday’s agreement began in December of lastyear, between the Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI) and the SpanishEmbassy. INTI President, Richard Vivas,announced that it would take approximately 20 days for the payments to be made.

The purchase of the lands comes after nearly a year ofcomplaints, on the part of the Spaniards, of increasing land invasions. According to the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (CANEZ), conflicts betweenlandowners and invading campesinoshave been numerous lately, leading to the murder of 164 campesino leaders in recent years at the hands of paramilitariesworking on behalf of landowners.

According to Vivas, “These lands belonged toAfrican-American groups who in 1732 fought on this property against thecolonial system. 200 years later, Gómezhanded the land over to a communal society from the Veroes municipality. Byright this 20,400 hectare extension, belonged to them. That is why we are nowrecuperating this land.”

“These lands were originally communal,” continued Vivas, “andtheses producers bought shares on the land, and that is what we are nowrecognizing and paying.” Vivas verified that the payments also cover the cost of the additionalproperty on the lands such as the homes, sheds and plantations.

In the name of the Venezuelan Agrarian Law, the Venezuelangovernment is currently carrying out a campaign against unproductive landholdings larger than 5,000 hectares. Tuesday’s land purchase was for various plots between 20 and 235hectares in size.

According to Vivas, the government has declared 1.5 millionhectares “idle and of state origin” since last year. As of last month, Venezuela had paid 20Billion Bolivares in indemnizations to agricultural producers, includingEngland’s Vestey Group, which last month agreed to sell one of its ranches, andcede another to Venezuela.*

According to the Spanish news outlet, Terra, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called Spanish President José Luis RodríguezZapatero directly with news on the agreement, “because the European press andthe political right had had a field day over this issue saying that the ‘tyrant’Chavez was invading land and taking it from the Spaniards.” “They even utilized this to accuse Zapateroof supporting a dictatorship- not mine,” added Chavez.

In response to Tuesday’s accord, Spanish ambassador toVenezuela, Raúl Morodo declared, “we have achieved a satisfactory agreement,and we have resolved a problem with legal and historical difficulties. We arrived to the most reasonable, quick andefficient way of solving the problem- that is the indemnization. At no point did this case alter the excellentrelation between both countries.”

While relations remain “excellent” between Venezuela and theEuropean nation, the same cannot be said for all of South America. According to yesterday’s La Jornada, “The Spanish government today summoned the head ofBolivian affairs in Madrid,Alvaro del Pozo, to express to him their “most profound worries for the meansin which the President of your country, Evo Morales, nationalized the gas andpetroleum, and for the consequences for bilateral relations.”

Bolivia’s nationalization of itshydrocarbons a few short days ago has sent shockwaves around the world. President Chavez has supported Morales’nationalization decision, commenting that Bolivia “knows what it is doing” and“Morales is president of a free and sovereign country.”

Seealso: LandDispute Between English Company and Venezuelan Government Resolved