Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has ordered the expropriation of the British agricultural company Agroflora.
The company is a subsidiary of Britain’s Vestey Group that focuses on the commercial production of beef.
Chavez said the company’s 290,000 hectares of farmland would be expropriated and brought under direct “operational and administrative control” of the state through the country’s Food Security and Sovereignty Law.
This law allows the government to forcefully expropriate land in “exceptional circumstances” relating to issues of national food security and the public good.
Chavez said: “This is social property, it cannot be converted, as they have done, into property for just a few people, so they can enrich themselves whilst polluting waterways and rivers.”
Chavez said the nationalistation came after a breakdown in compensation negotiations between the state and the Vestey group, due to the British company’s demands that reparations for the land be paid in US dollars.
“This is the option [forced expropriation], because they don’t want to negotiate and they are asking us for dollars, well, it’s going to have to be forced expropriation then,” said Chavez, who stressed that the company would still receive compensation from the government in Venezuela’s national currency.
Classified as highly fertile type A1 lands, the 11 ranches used by the company for cattle grazing are most appropriate for the cultivation of basic food staples, such as coffee and vegetables.
According to government estimates, the land nationalisation will increase the national distribution of meat and create extensive employment opportunities. More than 500,000 cattle workers are also expected to benefit directly from the nationalisation.
Chavez also announced the creation of a “Social Production Business” (EPS) in Tacariguas on the border between Aragua and Carabobo state. More than 13,000 hectares of land being used for commercial purposes will be expropriated to make way for the EPS.
This will also require a degree of state-sponsored industrialisation.
Chavez said: “We have to keep going into all of these valleys and combating the latifundio [large landed-estates] and the use of the best lands in the Tacarigua valley.”
He approved funds for agricultural projects in the Quibor valley and the expropriation of pig farms alongside the polluted Aragua River.
Chavez said the lands had previously been in the hands of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, who were not using the terrain effectively and were damaging the environment and the region’s waterways.
These expropriations are the latest step in the government’s policy to promote food sovereignty and increase domestic agricultural production in Venezuela, which suffers historically from a weak agricultural sector related to the high profitability of its oil industry.
When Chavez was first elected in 1999, Venezuela was almost totally reliant on food imports.
The Chavez government has implemented a series of initiatives aimed at stimulating domestic agricultural production.
But Chavez said the expropriations were not just a matter of increasing national production, but a further step towards creating a socialist society.
“Che [Guevara] got it right, this isn’t just about building houses or producing cornflower, it’s about producing a new type of man, a type of new woman, a new society”.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]