Thursday, March 23, 2006

All's well that ends well 

About six months ago the hysteria of the week was that the Venezuelan government was supposedly promoting land take overs and destroying the last vestiges of private property by confiscating land holdings. Exhibit A was the government effort to assume control of land owned by the British magnate Lord Vestey.

However, yesterday it was announced, in the type of news that tends not to get much attention in the opposition controlled media, that Vestey and the Venezuelan government amicably settled the whole affair:

A British landowner has reached an amicable settlement with the Venezuelan government over a land dispute.

The Venezuelan terrain, owned by Lord Vestey, one of Britain's wealthiest men, had been occupied by landless peasants for several years.

The deal was signed by Venezuela's agriculture minister and a subsidiary of the British meat producer Vestey.

The firm is handing over two cattle ranches of about 55,000 hectares to the authorities in return for some $4m.

The subsidiary, AgroFlora, gets to keep its remaining 10 farms.

The deal draws a line under a bitter legal row over who owns the 300,000 hectares of land being farmed by the company.


This is a landmark agreement, as it is the first time the government of President Hugo Chavez has persuaded a foreign company to surrender agricultural property on friendly terms.

Mr Chavez's government has been carrying out a major land reform to give landless peasants the right to work unused land.

This redistribution programme has had mixed results. Some Venezuelan landowners are still putting up a legal fight, while others have given in to pressure from the president's supporters.

The government is pursuing a strategy of negotiations with the big landowners. So far, it has managed to expropriate around three-and-a-half million hectares by using these tactics.

Land invasions and illegal squatting are now prohibited by the authorities, who favour amicable settlements.

The end result is that previously landless farmers get the land they need. Lord Vestey gets fairly compensated for land he wasn't using much in the first place. And the Venezuelan laws are upheld and even reinforced. Sounds like a win, win, win situation.

Once again, what was a supposedly a huge crisis turned out to be not much of a problem at all. Bet you won't hear the opposition mention that though.


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