Sunday, May 07, 2006

Venezuela Makes Deal with Spanish Landowners By: Michael Fox

Venezuela Makes Deal with Spanish Landowners

By: Michael Fox -

Caracas, Venezuela, May 4, 2006—Venezuela agreed on Tuesday to pay 6.8 Billion Bolivares ($3.16 million) in indemnization to 12 Spanish agricultural producers in exchange for their estates in the Venezuelan state of Yaracuy. Total lands equal 1,154 hectares, which President Chavez has assured is fertile and will be distributed to "poor campesinos."

Discussions on Tuesday’s agreement began in December of last year, between the Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI) and the Spanish Embassy. INTI President, Richard Vivas, announced that it would take approximately 20 days for the payments to be made.

The purchase of the lands comes after nearly a year of complaints, on the part of the Spaniards, of increasing land invasions. According to the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (CANEZ), conflicts between landowners and invading campesinos have been numerous lately, leading to the murder of 164 campesino leaders in recent years at the hands of paramilitaries working on behalf of landowners.

According to Vivas, "These lands belonged to African-American groups who in 1732 fought on this property against the colonial system. 200 years later, Gómez handed the land over to a communal society from the Veroes municipality. By right this 20,400 hectare extension, belonged to them. That is why we are now recuperating this land."

"These lands were originally communal," continued Vivas, "and theses producers bought shares on the land, and that is what we are now recognizing and paying." Vivas verified that the payments also cover the cost of the additional property on the lands such as the homes, sheds and plantations.

In the name of the Venezuelan Agrarian Law, the Venezuelan government is currently carrying out a campaign against unproductive land holdings larger than 5,000 hectares. Tuesday's land purchase was for various plots between 20 and 235 hectares in size.

According to Vivas, the government has declared 1.5 million hectares "idle and of state origin" since last year. As of last month, Venezuela had paid 20 Billion Bolivares in indemnizations to agricultural producers, including England’s Vestey Group, which last month agreed to sell one of its ranches, and cede another to Venezuela.*

According to the Spanish news outlet, Terra, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero directly with news on the agreement, "because the European press and the political right had had a field day over this issue saying that the 'tyrant' Chavez was invading land and taking it from the Spaniards." "They even utilized this to accuse Zapatero of supporting a dictatorship- not mine," added Chavez.

In response to Tuesday's accord, Spanish ambassador to Venezuela, Raúl Morodo declared, "we have achieved a satisfactory agreement, and we have resolved a problem with legal and historical difficulties. We arrived to the most reasonable, quick and efficient way of solving the problem- that is the indemnization. At no point did this case alter the excellent relation between both countries."

While relations remain "excellent" between Venezuela and the European nation, the same cannot be said for all of South America. According to yesterday’s La Jornada, "The Spanish government today summoned the head of Bolivian affairs in Madrid, Alvaro del Pozo, to express to him their "most profound worries for the means in which the President of your country, Evo Morales, nationalized the gas and petroleum, and for the consequences for bilateral relations."

Bolivia's nationalization of its hydrocarbons a few short days ago has sent shockwaves around the world. President Chavez has supported Morales' nationalization decision, commenting that Bolivia "knows what it is doing" and "Morales is president of a free and sovereign country."