Archive for March 25th, 2005

Some thoughts on the Government’s confiscation of large farm states

March 25, 2005

While I
was away the Government finally took over the two largest farms it had
threatened to expropriate ever since the land grab began in December. This
culminates a process that began in November 2001 when the Chávez administration
passed the land bill under the enabling bill which Chavez used to approve 45
different bills at that time.

Problem
was, the original and bill called for some form of efficiency on the part of
the authorities and the Supreme Court declared a couple of articles
unconstitutional, which simply delayed the implementation of Chavez’ original
land grab dream. Essentially, the original land bill mandated a national land
inventory before the Land institute could begin evaluating the expropriation of
land. Three years went by and despite the resources and time spent, the
inventory was far from being completed and Chavez was getting impatient.

At the
November meeting the President told his followers to act immediately and they
did. Rather than follow the orderly process mandated by the Land bill,
Governors, led by the Governor of Cojedes state began “intervening” large land
states or latifundia, which forced the Land Institute to act. As it has become
customary with the revolution, it was all made “legal” within the illegality of
the whole process. Besides sidestepping the requirement of completing the
inventory or proving the large farm states were not productive, two farms,
British owned El Charcote and Venezuelan owned Hato Pińero were finally expropriated while I was away in
the last two weeks. (There are others, but these two are good examples)

It was not
easy to find the justification for taking the farms over. They were both
productive and the owners had land titles going back as far as 1850. Thus, the
legal justification became that neither could prove ownership as far back as
1840. Using this excuse, not only does the Government take over the land, but
rather than expropriate it simply confiscates it. You see, if they never
“legally” owned it, the Government does not need to pay for either the land or
any facilities on it.

Why 1840?
You might as well have said 1491. Basically, few people can prove ownership of
land going that far back in Venezuela.
Ownership of land in Venezuela
is certified via registrars. Each time land ownership is transferred you have
to go to the registry where land is transferred via hand written documents that
refer to the previous owners. Moreover, reference points for boundaries can be
as clear as “twenty paces to the East of the large mango tree”.

But the
larger problem was that from 1858 to 1862, Venezuela had the Federation war,
during which most land records were destroyed. In fact, this has been such a
long standing problem in the history of Venezuela, that the law says that
if you occupy land for twenty years without anyone challenging you, you are the
rightful owner.

All of
these details have been ignored by the Chavez administration, giving as usual
an image of legality while acting in blatant violation of Venezuelan law. And
it seems to play real well in Paris and Peoria.

The
problem besides the illegalities involved for those living here, is that the
same rules applied to most of the city of Caracas
would simply say that the land where my building stands is also owned by the
Government. It is simply a matter of waiting for the right time, much like it
has been done with these farms and many other of the Chavez ideas that have
been shelved in the past waiting for a more appropriate time to implement them.

In
the
end, the sad thing is that the Government will likely destroy the
properties it has confiscated. After all, the Government is the biggest
landowner in the country
and does little with it. Mercal imports rather than promote local
production.
This Government has done very little to protect the environment. But it
does
not matter, the end justifies the means and the end is the
“revolution”, cattle
production is down significantly already at Hato El Charcote, it will
go down
to zero in a few years. Environmental projects at Hato Pińero will be
forgotten,
the species that have been protected by private efforts will suffer,
but the
Government will not care. The question is: will anyone remember?

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