New stage in Venezuelan land reform

Sixteen landed estates will be expropriated for Venezuela's land reform program, announced President Hugo Chavez on March 25, during his television program Alo Presidente. The total area of land that will thus become available for redistribution to peasants and agricultural cooperatives will exceed 330,000 hectares in the states of Apure, Anzoategui, Barinas, Guarico, Portuguesa and Aragua.

The estates, which are all considered to be idle, are located throughout the country, explained Chavez, and will be used primarily for cattle ranching, due to the type of land involved. The effort represents a "true attack against latifundios [large idle landed estates]", said Chavez. He also added that landowners that own productive land do not need to worry, because cultivated land will not be touched by the government.

Speaking about the estate known as Hato Calleja, from which his program was being broadcast and which comprises 24,883 hectares, Chavez said, "Starting today it will pass on to be what it always should have been: social property and social production for the satisfaction of the needs of the people".

Chavez also announced the implementation of a new Integral Agricultural Development Plan for 2007 to 2008, which is supposed to contribute to Venezuela's "food sovereignty." Currently Venezuela imports approximately 70% of its food needs. The Chavez government aims to increase agricultural production so that Venezuela no longer has to rely on imports to cover the country's basic food needs.

The plan involves state support for strategic food categories, including rice, sugar cane, cacao, soy, coffee, cattle, fish and corn.

"The objective of this plan is to promote the new production model on the base of principles of agrarian socialism and of social property", said Chavez.

In one of the estates that was being expropriated in the state of Apure, General Wilfredo Silva said the army had repelled an attack by armed individuals that day. The attackers escaped and are now being tracked, said Silva. In the process the military discovered a small plane, which the general suspects is used for drug smuggling. Chavez said that all too often large landowners are "hiding crimes, drug trafficking and smuggling".

According to official figures, the government has so far redistributed over 2 million hectares to more than 150,000 families over the past five years. Most of this land, however, has come from land the state owns. With Chavez's latest announcement, land reform is poised to shift towards the redistribution of privately held land.

In connection with the new push for land redistribution, Chavez also announced that the constitutional reforms he is proposing will include a section for the introduction of social or collective property. "It's property that belongs to everyone and it's going to benefit everyone", said Chavez.

Last January, Chavez announced five "motors" for the introduction of "21st century socialism" in Venezuela. Constitutional reform is one of the five motors. The other four were the enabling law, which allows Chavez to pass laws by decree for a period of 18 months, education reform, the reform of political-territorial jurisdictions within Venezuela, and the "explosion of communal power".

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