CARACAS – More than 500 Colombians worked in near-slavery conditions on recently expropriated estates in northeastern Venezuela, Caracas’ minister for Agriculture and Land said Monday.
“It was the most surprising thing ... So far, we’ve got a tally of 1,150 rural workers who have been counted and more than half are from the neighboring country of Colombia, whom they had as practically slave labor,” Juan Carlos Loyo told reporters.
Venezuela’s National Land Institute, or INTI, last month expropriated 47 rural properties – comprising 25,000 hectares (61,728 acres) – in the Lake Maracaibo region.
On 27 of those 47 properties, Loyo said, authorities verified “terrible labor conditions, with the violation of human rights and the Labor Law.”
The minister announced that the peasants organized in the region, along with President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, had called “a rally” to support the expropriation and repudiate a weekend fire at the INTI headquarters in the western state of Zulia.
Chavez blamed the fire on Zulia landowners.
“We have proof that it wasn’t an accident,” the president said on Sunday, linking the deed to the expropriations in the Southern Lake Maracaibo area, a zone that extends over part of the states of Zulia and Merida, moves which are in keeping with the “agrarian revolution” he began in 2004.
Loyo said that INTI determined that the rest of the properties in December were those of small producers “who are disposed to involve themselves” in the government’s agrarian policies, just like peasants on other properties in the region. EFE