From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Sun Aug 29 2004 - 23:12:13 EDT

What this article doesn't mention is (1) that he said he'd give them 2 
weeks and (2) he was really pissed off talking about idle land (stressing 
its link to the failure to have food sovereignty)./m

Venezuela's Chavez Vows Tougher Land Reform
Sun Aug 29, 2004 06:08 PM ET

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, 
emboldened by a recent referendum victory, on Sunday promised tougher land 
redistribution as he pressed ahead with the "revolutionary" reforms at the 
heart of the nation's political conflict.

Chavez, a populist ex-army officer elected in 1998, ordered his military 
commanders to investigate "latifundios" or large rural estates and report 
idle land not in productive use as his government stepped up its drive for 
agrarian reform.

"In this new stage of the revolution, I demand strict application of the 
constitution and the land law," Chavez said on "Hello, Mr. President," his 
weekly Sunday television program. "I want a report on the estates under 
each military command... We going after the idle land to put it to work."

Land reform was one of a raft of new laws introduced in 2001 that sparked 
fierce campaigning by opponents who feared left-winger Chavez would copy 
Cuba-style communism in Venezuela. He says the reforms aimed to reverse 
years of neglect by previous governments.

Ranchers say the agrarian reforms threaten private property and have 
denounced hundreds of illegal land invasions by impoverished rural peasants 
who they say have been spurred on by the president's fiery rhetoric.

Chavez won an Aug. 15 referendum that international observers hoped would 
end the bitter confrontation over his presidency in the world's No. 5 oil 
exporter. He has since promised to deepen his social reforms, but 
opposition leaders have rejected the vote as a massive fraud.

The agrarian law defines a "latifundio" as a rural property larger than 
12,355 acres of good, but idle land. The law calls for punitive taxes on 
farmers not using the territory, after which the state may intervene. 
Critics say the law is vulnerable to political interpretation.

The land redistribution program calls for parcels of land to be handed over 
to peasant cooperatives who will farm with the help of cheap state credits.

Last year, the government said it planned to hand out 3.7 million acres in 
land to rural workers in the intial stage of its agrarian reform program.


Chavez, who survived a coup in 2002 and months of street protests and 
strikes, dismissed fears of expropriation and urged land owners to enter 
into talks with the government.

"We are not the enemy of rural estates, we are not going to burn them, we 
are not going to invade land. No, here we have a constitution and a land 
law," he said. "I call on all those who own lots of idle land, let's talk."

Since his referendum victory, the tough-talking nationalist has called for 
dialogue with business leaders to revive an economy battered by political 
conflict. But critics say his reforms have increased state control over the 
economy and made investors wary of Venezuela.

 Copyright Reuters 2004. All rights reserved.
Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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