Land Reform Begins in Venezuela
|December 29, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
Land Transfers Help Recipients But Not Everyone
Land Reform in Venezuela
Land reform is probably the most important issue in all of South America. Taking land by force and giving it to landless people is a temporary move that will have some good effects. In the long run, however, the only nonviolent way to achieve land justice is to adopt site value taxation, so that all citizens enjoy the benefits of natural resource values equally.
Here’s an interesting article on this topic, circulated by the Narco News Bulletin.
by Alex Contreras Baspineiro
“The only way to end poverty is to give power to the poor”
— Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela
Land in Venezuela — as in most of this continent — has been in the hands of big landowners, politicians, and mercenaries, for centuries. Today, through the revolutionary Agrarian Reform process, this land is being handed over to peasant-farmers, or campesinos. The land, which had become a commodity rather than a common good, and which served to illicitly enrich the powerful, will begin to be used for communitarian activities and rural development.
The winds of change are now blowing over Venezuelan territory. On August 31, President Hugo Chavez handed over land deeds to campesino representatives from the states of Barinas, Carabobo, Cojedes, Lara, Portuguesa, and Yaracuy at the Cuara Farm School in Jimnez de Quibor, Lara. The farmers were also given plows and tractors, as well as new credits for farming. The small farmers, who have spent years fighting for land ownership, celebrated the revolutionary conquest. A huge number of Venezuelan children, women and men, carrying flags, placards, and copies of the Venezuelan constitution, converged at this historic event. Later, Chavez broadcast his famous “Al Presidente” television and radio show from the festivities.
The peasant-farmers who had fought for years to recover their land made the land transfer into an act of justice, said Braulio glvarez, a representative from the Ezequiel Zamora National Agrarian Board.
The Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI in its Spanish initials) is carrying out the land distribution under the co-called “Plan Zamora.” The plan is named in memory of Eziquiel Zamora, the 19th century Venezuelan peasant leader who struggled for land reform, social equality, and human rights for the poor.
In the first phase of Plan Zamora, more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) were transferred to campesinos, benefiting more than 40,000 families. The government handed over 31,437 land deeds, 121 farm machines and 30 billion bolivars (US$20 million). The second phase of the plan will be to distribute two million hectares by the end of this year.
The Eziquiel Zamora National Agrarian Board brings together 22 campesino, indigenous and small business organizations in a horizontal organizing structure.
Along with this change in agrarian policy, other processes going on in Venezuela must be emphasized here. The literacy project known as the Robinson Mission hopes to teach 1.5 million Venezuelans to read and write. The Barrio Adentro (“in the slums”) program provides free health care to more than 200,000 people. Basic, secondary and university education, as well as many other public programs, have improved.
A Difficult Process
The land distribution process has not been easy. Powerful business and political interests have tried every way to stop justice from being done. In the last few years, mercenaries have killed 79 people for defending their land. Marginalized peasant-farmers have begun to seek ways to pressure the authorities into hearing them.
INTI director Leonel Ricaurte said that land distribution affects the powerful groups that governed Venezuela many years ago. The ITNI is known for its hard work, strength and transparency.
There is a festive atmosphere in many farming communities here due to the land transfers. A day before the big event, hundreds of campesinos met in Comunare Rojo (in the state of Yaracuy) to express their support for the revolutionary process. With music, poetry, and songs — but also with a profound commitment — they demonstrated that they would defend their lands, even if it meant giving their lives.
Rafael Alegra, of the Honduran and International Movement of the Farmer’s Path, said, for his part, that no fight against poverty will be effective without equitable distribution of land. Alegra remarked that the land is not merchandise, and that’s why the World Trade Organization, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and other so-called “free market” entities must change their commerce policies and join with the struggle of society and the people together, prioritizing food supply security, which is not just the right to eat, but also the right to produce.
Venezuela’s small farmers are moving ahead with a genuine rural development program after years of injustice. As the campesino and indigenous leaders from around our America say, “la tierra es vida” — “land is life.”
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