Venezuela News Summary #77

Venezuela News Summary #77 (March 11- March 17, 2009)

I. Venezuela Accelerates Land Reform
During a recent surge in land reform measures, Venezuela’s National Land Institute, INTI, has taken public ownership of more than 12,000 acres of land and is reviewing tens of thousands more acres across the nation. The land was previously claimed by wealthy families and multi-national corporations. With the newly acquired land, the Venezuelan government plans to promote new forms of “social property” and sustainable agriculture managed by either cooperative businesses or the state. Last week, Land Minister Elías Jaua met with Aragua State Governor Rafael Isea to discuss agricultural development plans for the Tacarigua Valley which runs between the coastal states of Aragua and Carabobo. Jaua identified more than 7,000 acres of soil in the valley that is very fertile but has been left idle or underutilized. The state plans to re-order agricultural production in the region by forming agrarian communes that produce crops that coincide with the natural environment, accompanied by environmentally sustainable urban planning. The meeting between Jaua and Isea came just one day after the INTI and National Guard troops occupied nearly 7,000 acres of the privately owned Caroní farm in Barinas state. The government plans to construct a state-owned food producer and a technological research center on the recuperated lands. They will eventually transfer control over production to a local cooperative enterprise run by members of the local community. INTI officials said they will calculate the value of the land in order to compensate the powerful estate owner Tobías Carrero Nácar. Article 305 of the Venezuelan constitution gives the state the power to expropriate large landed estates if necessary to guarantee food security. In a press release last week, Carrero said he will take legal action against the INTI based on the argument that his confiscated lands do not surpass the legal limit of acreage that would classify them as a latifundio. The Venezuelan government has also intervened in lands owned by multi-national corporations. Last week in the states of Portuguesa and Lara, government officials took partial administrative control of a plantation owned by one of the world’s largest paper and cardboard packaging producers, the Ireland-based firm Smurfit Kappa Group. Last Thursday, President Chávez announced that the INTI has begun reviewing twelve large estates along a newly renovated highway between the states of Lara and Portuguesa, with the intention of constructing state-owned production facilities there. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4289

II. Venezuelan Farmer Rights Organizations Unite to Oppose Assassinations by Landed Elite
Several Venezuelan campesino organizations united forces last week to prevent further assassinations of rural community organizers. The groups also marched to demand that the national government end impunity for those responsible for these crimes, and to support the government’s land reform and food security measures. The new campesino front plans to team up with student activists, community councils, local fishing organizations, and some state security forces to prevent any further assaults on rural community organizers. Since Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez passed the land reform law in 2001, more than 200 rural activists have been murdered during their campaigns to carry out the law. Braulio Álvarez, a National Assembly legislator and coordinator of the Simón Bolívar Farmers Front, said further investigations could reveal that that the actual number of politically motivated assassinations of campesino leaders is more than 400. The formation of the new front comes on the heels of last week’s assassination of Mauricio Sánchez, who had been leading the struggle for land reform in southern Zulia state. The campesino organizer, Nelson López, was also shot 15 times in the back two weeks ago in Yaracuy state. The government has arrested those suspected of having carried out the murders, but the farmers are calling for a national investigation of what they say is a network of large estate owners and private cattle rancher associations who gave the assassination orders. Venezuelan Agriculture Minister Elías Jaua promised to solicit a national investigation. Over the past two weeks, in addition to taking over thousands of acres of idle land, the Agriculture Ministry had also nationalized two privately owned rice processing plants that were caught hoarding food and evading price controls. The campesino organizations marched through Caracas last week to support the government’s expropriations, and to demand an end to impunity for those who ordered the campesino murders. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4293

III. Venezuela Transfers Administration of Ports and Airports to National Government
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced this Sunday that the administration of Venezuela’s ports and airports will be transferred from the state governments to the national government. Chavez said the move was in order to defend national sovereignty and combat corruption, contraband, and drug trafficking. The executive order came under a provision to the Law on Decentralization which the National Assembly approved last week. The transfer of authority back to the national government comes in the wake of last November’s state and local elections, in which candidates from Chavez’ United Socialist Party of Venezuela won a dozen and a half governorships, but opposition candidates won five governorships in several key states. Among the opposition states are Táchira, oil-rich Zulia along the Colombian border, the industrial state of Carabobo, the capital state of Miranda, and the island state of Nueva Esparta. The opposition governors have pledged to disobey the transfer of authority, saying it violates the 1999 Constitution. In Táchira, Governor César Pérez said he will challenge the reform in the Venezuelan Supreme Court and the Organization of American States. In Zulia, where state legislators provoked the Chávez government last year by proposing a feasibility study for autonomy, Governor Pablo Pérez said he is ready to go to jail “to defend Zulia.” Legislators called the reform of the Decentralization Law “a coup d’etat.” In response, Chávez ordered the Venezuelan Navy to take control of Zulia’s Maracaibo Port and Carabobo’s Cabello Port. He said any governors who attempt to impede the transfer of authority “will end up in jail,” because quote, “no authority can oppose the constitution and the laws of the republic.” Chávez explained that since the ports and airports were transferred to the states two decades ago, complicit or weak state governments have allowed criminal networks to increase their control over these facilities, creating a quote, “issue of national security.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4297

IV. South American Nations Form Regional Defense Council
Defense ministers from Venezuela and eleven other South American nations formed the South American Defense Council last week at a summit in Chile. The council will be a diplomatic forum to diffuse regional conflicts, increase transparency in military expenditures, and to promote military cooperation for regional security needs. A declaration signed by the ministers at the summit said the council aims to construct a “zone of peace” on the South American continent, and quote “a South American identity in defense matters that contributes to the strengthening of Latin American and Caribbean unity.” The declaration also establishes a commitment by each member nation to respect the territorial sovereignty of other member nations, and for the protection of democratic systems of government. The council will meet at least once a year, and among its tasks will be the identification of common security risks. The council will also build a network for sharing military knowledge, policies, and technological innovations. This includes linking up military training academies and founding a new “South American Center of Strategic Defense Studies.” The new defense council is an arm of the South American Union of Nations, UNASUR, a political integration was formally constituted last May. Its member countries are Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Surinam y Guyana. The United States is not included in the defense council, but the council discussed the possibility of U.S. participation as an observer if the U.S. changes its policy toward Cuba. The twelve ministers at the summit in Chile agreed to meet again in Quito, Ecuador, within half a year to evaluate the progress of the agreement signed last week in Santiago. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4290

V. Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) against Venezuela
Every once in a while we like to bring you part of an analysis piece, printed on the Venezuelanalysis website. The following is an except from an article written by Eva Golinger, originally published with Axis of Logic, and entitled “Psychological Operations against Venezuela”.

Eva Golinger writes, “A secret document of the US Army Intelligence Center, recently declassified through the US Freedom of Information Act confirms that the Pentagon’s powerful psychological operations team is employing its forces against Venezuela. The 2006 document analyses the border situation between Colombia and Venezuela. The small part of the text of the secret document which was left uncensored explains how the Plan Patriot (previously known as Plan Colombia) has successfully pushed the activities of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas into Venezuelan territory. The arrival of the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group in Colombia in 2006, and the strategy of pushing the FARC and the Colombian civil conflict into Venezuelan territory cannot be taken as a coincidence; for it is exactly the moment when the US State Department and the Pentagon also started to publicly accuse Venezuela of collaborating with terrorism, specifically by referring to alleged dealings with the FARC. In the first semester of 2006 Washington added Venezuela to a list of “countries that do not fully collaborate in the struggle against terrorism”, and then imposed sanctions against the South American nation that resulted in the prohibition of the sale of US arms to Venezuela. At the same time, the international press started to associate Venezuela with terrorism. Articles and editorials published by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, El País of Spain, El Tiempo of Bogota, and the Miami Herald, all repeated time and again [affirmations about] the alleged link between the Venezuelan government and the FARC in Colombia. This despite never providing any conclusive proof. All the evidences were based on “anonymous” sources, “high-level officials in Washington”, and “analysts”, without giving any concrete names, data or facts… Psychological operations are considered by the Pentagon to be their “most powerful weapon” to date. Through screens, broadcasting stations, newspapers, posters, design of clothes and objects, they transmit their purposeful and well planned message to subtly exert influence on public opinion and perceptions about topics of interest. It is the new battlefield where all of us are forced to assume a role, because nobody escapes from information and communication in today’s world. It is the struggle for truth and justice against lies and manipulation.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4296