Caracas, November 1st 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has ordered the immediate nationalisation of the British agricultural company Agroflora – a subsidiary of Britain’s Vestey Group which focuses on the commercial production of beef.
During a live broadcast from state-television channel Vive, the Venezuelan president announced that the company’s 290,000 hectares of farmland would be expropriated and brought under direct “operational and administrative control” of the state through the country’s Food Security and Sovereignty Law. This legislation allows the government to forcefully expropriate land in “exceptional circumstances” relating to issues of national food security and the public good.
“This is social property, it cannot be converted, as they have done, into property for just a few people, so they can enrich themselves whilst polluting waterways and rivers,” said Chavez from the live programme in Aragua.
According to the Venezuelan president, the move to nationalise the business comes after a breakdown in compensation negotiations between the state and the Vestey group, due to the English company’s demands that reparations for the land be paid in US dollars.
“This is the option [forced expropriation], because they don’t want to negotiate and they are asking us for dollars, well, it’s going to have to be forced expropriation then,” said Chavez, who stressed that the company would still receive compensation from the government in Venezuela’s national currency.
“We’re going to undertake a fair evaluation and then we’ll pay them,” he added.
Despite this, the Ranchers Federation of Venezuela has criticised the decision as a “new attack against production and property” in Venezuela and stated that the British business had tried to maintain “friendly relations” with the government.
Classified as highly fertile type A1 lands, the eleven ranches currently used by the company for cattle grazing are most appropriate for the cultivation of basic food staples, such as coffee and vegetables.
“Extensive cattle farming of cows and buffalos should be done on a different kind of land where the animals can feed on quality pastures, but not on type A1 pastures, which are apt for a different type of agricultural activity,” commented Braulio Alvarez, PSUV representative in the National Assembly and former leader of the Ezequiel Zamora Peasant Front.
According to government estimates, the nationalisation of the land will increase the national distribution of meat and create extensive employment opportunities. Over 500.000 cattle workers are also expected to benefit directly from the nationalisation.
Social Production Business Created in Tacariguas
As well as the expropriation of Agroflora, the Venezuelan president also announced the creation of a “Social Production Business” (EPS) in Tacariguas on the border between Aragua and Carabobo state. Over 13,000 hectares of land currently used for commercial purposes will be expropriated to make way for the EPS, which will also require a degree of state-sponsored industrialisation.
“In Aragua, there will be 8566 hectares [expropriated] and in Carabobo 5190, which integrate 10 social productive companies. We have to keep going into all of these valleys and combating the latifundio [large landed-estates] and the use of the best lands in the Tacarigua valley,” stated the president, who also approved funds for agricultural projects in the Quibor valley and the expropriation of pig farms alongside the polluted Aragua River.
Of the ten social productive units that will make up the EPS are the Manuelita Saenz collective (210 hectares) and the Cacique Guaicaipuro collective (847 hectares).
Chavez confirmed that the lands had previously been in the hands of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie who were not using the terrain effectively and were damaging the environment and the region’s waterways.
The Need for Food Sovereignty
These expropriations are the latest step in the government’s policy to promote food sovereignty and increase domestic agricultural production in Venezuela, which suffers historically from a weak agricultural sector related to the high profitability of its oil industry.
Throughout the 20th century, there was an influx of foreign currency occasioned by the discovery of oil, rendering agricultural activities non-competitive and increasing national demand over and above the capabilities of national production. When Chavez came to power in 1999, Venezuela was almost totally reliant on imports in order to meet the population’s basic food needs.
Since then, the Bolivarian government has implemented a series of initiatives aimed at stimulating domestic agricultural production and stemming Venezuela’s historical reliance on expensive imports from the West.
Some of the government’s projects include Agropatria and mission AgroVenezuela, aimed at helping small rural producers and stimulating the production of staple crops and urban agriculture. The government has also encouraged South-South trade, with agriculture now constituting one of the main areas of trade between member countries of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America).
Yet, the Venezuelan president told viewers that the expropriations were not just a matter of increasing national production, but a further step towards creating a socialist society.
“Che (Guevara) got it right, this isn’t just about building houses, or cement blocks, or producing cornflower or clothes, it’s about producing something beyond all that, a new type of man, a type of new woman, a new society”.