Caracas, January 4, 2005—Several state governors of Venezuela have either recently passed or are in the process of drafting decrees to accelerate the country’s land reform process. The decrees are meant to eliminate large landed estates (latifundios) and to clarify ownership and usage of agricultural land in Venezuela.
In late 2001 the Chavez government had passed a controversial land reform law, which was aimed at redistributing land holdings of over 100 to 5,000 hectares (250-12,500 acres), depending on its quality, to landless peasants. So far the government has redistributed state-owned land to over 130,000 peasant families, of about 10 hectares (25 acres) each. Except for disputes over which land belongs to the state and which to private landowners, no privately owned land has yet been officially redistributed.
Venezuela’s land reform law specifies that large landed estates, especially if they are not being cultivated, are to be redistributed. In response to the decrees being passed in several states, Venezuela’s Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, said, “The struggle against the latifundio makes social and economic sense, which is why it is of the highest interest to the state.” The Chavez government hopes to increase both social justice and “food sovereignty” via the land reform program. Venezuela currently imports 60-70 of its food stuffs and agricultural production makes up merely 6% of the country’s GDP.
In Cojedes state, in Venezuela’s North West, the recently reelected pro-Chavez governor Jhonny Yánez Rangel, passed a decree that called for the “intervention” of uncultivated private land. The decree does not specify what it means by intervention, but says that the state government will intervene in “all lands, urban and rural land, public and private, that presumably is uncultivated or classified as part of the latifundio regime…”
Other pro-Chavez state governors, such as in Monagas, Yaracuy, Apure, Barinas, and Portugesa, have either passed similar decrees or are in the process of drafting them. While they vary in how they would be applied, they all involve the creation of technical commissions for identifying and redistributing the land.
Meanwhile, Vice-President Rangel has convened a special meeting to coordinate the efforts taking place in the different states. Also involved in this meeting was Eliecer Otaiza, the director of the National Land Institute (INTI), which is responsible for the land reform. Otaiza said that his institute recently conducted a study and now estimates that there are about 500 estates with uncultivated agricultural land, of which 56 would be classified as latifundios, the large landed estates that used to dominate Latin American societies. In Venezuela latifundios are defined as estates of over 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). “We hope to issue 100,000 land grants within the next six months,” said Otaiza.Land owners whose land is expropriated under the 2001 Land Law would receive market value compensation. Despite this, opposition leaders have criticized the law as being “communist” and as a violation of private property rights.