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VENEZUELA

Land reform moves ahead

By Leslie Feinberg

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is reportedly about to sign into law an "agrarian revolution" that will dispossess many of the country's richest landowners and turn over their estates to poor farmers. According to a 1998 government census, 1 percent of the population of Venezuela owns 60 percent of the country's arable land.

The legislation could limit farm size in some regions to 250 acres and empower the state to expropriate idle land without compensation to the owners of giant estates and cattle herds known as latifundios.

"The latifundio is the enemy of the country," Chavez said in an October speech about land reform.

The landslide election of Chavez in 1998 sparked a political revolution that is showing signs of developing into a social transformation. Chavez enjoys a base of support among the 80 percent of Venezuelans who live in poverty.

Big landowners were already enraged when Chavez, flanked by visiting Cuban officials, parceled out 101,000 acres to 2,164 peasants in early September. The owners of the massive private estates vowed to fight the more equitable redistribution of the land.

"I believe it is the beginning of the Cubanization of Venezuela," stated Sisoes Valbuena, who bemoaned the loss of 360 acres of his family's 7,400-acre ranch to landless peasants during the ongoing land reform.

But peasants who have no land on which to eke out an existence have been emboldened by the call for an agrarian revolution. In the town of Machiques, squatters fought landowners recently when the rich owners of the estates tried to evict the poor.

Reprinted from the Oct. 25, 2001, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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