Commentary

Chavez’s Land Grab

If any doubts remained about President Hugo Chavez’s plans for Venezuela’s destiny, they have been erased by his decree to “rescue” unproductive lands and assign them to “groups of the population” and “organized communities” from rural areas. Private property is history, so Chavez is proceeding to strengthen the failed agrarian reforms of socialist Venezuelan governments from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, renaming them the “agrarian revolution.”

The new Land Law authorizes the government to expropriate land that bureaucrats consider underutilized and to do the same in those cases in which the government discovers an error in a title of land. Venezuelans already know the modus operandi of Chavez’s bureaucracy. In trying to obtain a birth certificate, an identification card, a passport, a certified copy of any legal document and even in registering the elderly to receive pensions, each “mistake” represents a potential source of income for each official, and at the same time, a delay of several months for each citizen’s request.

It is not a coincidence that the cattle ranch El Charcote has been chosen as the first victim in the declared war against large estates because of its extension of 13,000 hectares and its ownership. Lord Vestey, a well known British businessman and good friend of Prince Charles, who has a fortune of 750 million pounds, owns the estate, and up until the ’90s also owned an estate in Australia equal in land size to the entire United Kingdom. Sam Vestey, owner of the slaughterhouses chain Dewhurst, declared to the press that his great grandfather had first acquired the property in Venezuela in 1903.

According to Chavez’s concept of property, any land extension of more than 5,000 hectares (approximately 20 square miles) is considered a “large estate.” Because of this concept, the National Guard invaded El Charcote on January 8, carrying arms, while the governor of the state of Cojedes directed the operation from a helicopter. Urged on by the Chávez administration during the past four years, peasants had invaded two thirds of that cattle ranch. They are now first in line to benefit from the piñata.

This is just the beginning, given that the president of the National Institute of Lands recently declared that there are 10 million “idle” hectares in the country.

Chavez began his mandate in 1999 with 13 ministries and since then he has added 8 new ones. His presidential cabinet now has 21 ministries, three of which were created at the beginning of January. It seems that the inflation of ministries is advancing even faster than inflation of the bolívar. None of the high officials of the current Venezuelan government distinguished themselves before for any activity besides trying to undermine the capitalist system by promoting nationalism and Marxism in schools, universities, and media outlets. The Venezuelan tragedy is that none of them have the slightest idea of how to achieve prosperity.

Chavez knows that those who do not want to live under African-like poverty will make one of the only two choices that Fidel Castro’s subjects have had during the past four decades: show unconditional loyalty to the party or emigrate to a free nation. According to surveys, the strongest support for Chavez comes from the poorest sectors of the population and the president seems to believe that the more poverty he produces, the more support he will get.

Carlos Ball, a Venezuelan born journalist and editor for the press agency AIPE, is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.