Caracas, November 24, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Officials from the Venezuelan National Land Institute supported by the National Guard, took over 31 farms around the country on Monday, totalling 48,000 acres (19,000 hectares) of farmland. The government said the landowners did not have legal titles or were not putting the land to adequate use.
Among the farms occupied was the La Milagrosa property owned by opposition leader and ex-presidential candidate, Manuel Rosales, in Zulia state. Rosales fled to Peru early this year in order to avoid corruption charges.
Agriculture Minister Elias Jaua denied the takeovers were politically motivated and clarified that the measure is perfectly legal under the 2001 Land Law which allows the government to take over lands deemed idle or not adequately used.
“La Milagrosa was taken over from the beginning of the year by a committee of the National Land Institute, who performed the respective assessments to verify the productivity of these lands, determining that they were abandoned and were in complete idleness,” he said.
“We are acting within the law. No one from the opposition or government may hide behind their political position to violate the laws of the Republic,” he added.
Jaua’s announcement came after the business group Fedecamaras, whose former leader Pedro Carmona led an illegal coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002, denounced what it called illegal farm takeovers in central Guarico state. Fedecamaras described the interventions as an “attack on private property.”
However, the measures are part of a “recuperation” policy of “unproductive land” whose ownership has not been legally verified, Jaua explained.
The agriculture minister announced that sixteen farms, totalling almost 20,000 acres, were taken over near the southern part of Lake Maracaibo, in the states of Zulia, Mérida, Trujillo and Tachira. A total of nine properties were recovered in Guarico state, and at least six in Barinas.
The government is examining the situation of a further twelve properties in Zulia to see if they are productive, the minister added.
The La Milagrosa property will become part of the Florentino Socialist Production Company, which involves 149 peasants who are supported by the state owned Venezuelan Agricultural Corporation.
Minister Jaua, the president of the National Land Institute, Juan Carlos Loyo, and Corpozulia president, General Carlos Martínez Mendoza, handed over the property in a formal ceremony on Monday.
The biggest single property recovered by the government was 6,000 idle acres near the Tiznado River in the state of Guarico. The government said agricultural production will be reactivated on the property and incorporated into a national strategic plan for food production.
Jaua announced that the government’s goal is to recover 300,000 hectares of unproductive land by the end of the year.
An estimated 2.5 million hectares of land have been recovered since President Hugo Chavez took office and the 2001 Land Law was passed.
More than 200 peasant leaders have also been assassinated since 2001 by suspected mercenaries contracted by large landowners resisting land reform.