Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez Takes First Step toward Agrarian Reform

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has taken the first step toward a radical agrarian reform, which could involve confiscating idle lands. Chavez also announced on Sept. 8 that he would resurrect the Ministry of Agriculture "to give greater importance and weight to agricultural development in the country.

"I have decided to create a new ministry, that of agriculture," said Chavez at a public function in the western state of Zulia, on the border with Colombia, during which he gave credits and land titles to small rural producers.

Chavez abolished the Ministry of Agriculture in 1999, folding it into the Ministry of Production and Commerce (see NotiSur, 1999-08-27).

During his lengthy speech, Chavez also said he would soon decree a new Land Law (Ley de Tierras) through the special powers granted him by the Asamblea Nacional last October, which are set to expire Nov. 13.

He said idle lands would be taxed and property titles the government gave to small producers would be revoked if the lands were not put into production. The goal is "to transform idle lands into productive lands," said Chavez.

Chavez said the new legislation would establish a land classification system, which would determine which lands would be affected. In some cases, lands could be expropriated.

"Today's act is a step toward the implementation of the Law of Lands and Rural Development by the revolution, so there can finally be justice in the distribution and use of land," said Chavez during the ceremony to award titles for some 42,000 hectares of property held by the Instituto Agrario Nacional.

Chavez called on large landowners who have idle land to voluntarily turn it over to the state, adding that, if they do not, they will find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He said land in rural Venezuela must once again become productive. Much agricultural production in rural Venezuela was abandoned with the arrival of the oil boom in the mid-1900s.

Noting that insufficient funding undermined previous agrarian reform attempts in Venezuela, Chavez said his government would provide loans and technical assistance to new farmers.

As part of his "vast strategic plan" to develop the central region of the country, Chavez also announced plans to build a new city south of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela's western oil hub, where the government hopes to resettle the poor from the hillside slums in Caracas.

"We must eliminate these large estates that have accumulated land and which now are mostly idle, underused, and in which nothing is invested," Chavez said in June. In their place, he said, the government would promote "population development centers."

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