Venezuela: Becoming an Agricultural Power
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Land for the People
Food sovereignty and reconstruction of Venezuela’s abandoned agricultural industry are key priorities of the Venezuelan government. This week, President Chavez and groups of local farmers reinforced that goal by advancing land productivity
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez vowed last Sunday to deepen his government’s commitment to its agrarian reform by redistributing more land to small farmers and improving the country’s ago-industrial sector.
The announcement was made from the Rio Tiznados Socialist Agrarian Project in the state of Guarico where the Venezuelan head of state held his weekly television broadcast, Alo Presidente.
“We have to convert Venezuela into a true agro-industrial power”, declared President Chavez during his visit. “That’s why we need to recover land, equip ourselves with machines, quality seeds and provide training for campesinos”.
For decades, Venezuela has suffered from a lack of agricultural production owing to the preeminent position that the oil industry has occupied in the national economy since the 1920s and 30s.
Rural elites complicit in an import-oriented agricultural policy have maintained control over the majority of landholdings in unproductive extensions known as latifundios (land estates) and small farmers have been pushed to the margins of the land tenancy system.
The Rio Tiznados Socialist Agrarian Project in Guarico represents one of the many initiatives the Chavez government has implemented since the hallmark passage of the Land Law in 2001 to reverse this trend.
The project covers 6,700 hectares (16,556 acres) of high quality Type I and II soils which were previously controlled by a small group of families in the area who neglected to use the land to its full agricultural potential.
According to Land and Agriculture Minister, Juan Carlos Loyo, the land was recovered by the government eight months ago after the handful of families that professed to own the extensions “refused to cooperate with the Venezuelan state” in its goal to produce for the nation.
The land is now being cultivated by 73 families in different parcels and is producing 3.5 thousand kilos of corn per hectare.
“On the offensive!” Chavez exclaimed on Sunday. “Not a trace of a latifundio should exist in this land. Zero latifundio is the goal and we’ll continue to recover hectares that remain in the hands of the latifundistas and aren’t producing food”.
Apart from recovering lands, the Venezuelan government has been attempting to construct a new agricultural infrastructure in the country to facilitate the storage, processing and commercialization of food products grown on lands once belonging to the latifundio.
The Rio Tiznado Project in Guarico is an example of this policy as small farmers aided by the government are building irrigation systems, processing plants and storage facilities for their harvests.
In 2011 the Venezuelan government will inaugurate a fruit and vegetable dehydration factory in Rio Tiznado that includes a grain packaging plant and contains 9 silos with the capacity to hold 3,800 tons of grain each.
The agro-industrial complex also has warehouses as well as harvesters and tractors built in Iran and available to the Venezuelan campesino through an agreement signed between the Islamic Republic and the South American nation.
Fourteen kilometers of primary irrigation canals systems have also been constructed as well as 114 kilometers of secondary and tertiary canals.
Totumo Carajote, one of the small producers involved in the implementation of the project explained that the socialist vision of the initiative is to provide a better life for the Venezuelan farmer, free from the exploitation of the latifundio.
“Although the irrigation system has infinite potential, the living conditions for the area’s residents were terrible”, Carajote said. “That’s why the government redesigned the project to include the rehabilitation of 161 farmer’s homes, the repair of 28 kilometers of agricultural roads, and the improvement of basic services like clean water and electricity”.
The president of the Rio Tiznado’s Irrigation Socialist Business (Empresa Socialista de Riego Rio Tiznado), Nidia Loreto, noted that one of the most important goals of the project is to lessen Venezuela’s dependence on food imports.
“This is a revolutionary project to guarantee food sovereignty”, Loreto declared.
FURTHER LAND RESCUES
Chavez also called on Sunday for the rescue of 250,000 hectares (61,7763 acres) of land from the hands of the latifundio in the states of Zulia, Apure, and Lara with a special focus on the area south of Lake Maracaibo.
“Wherever there’s a latifundio, we’re going to take it to convert Venezuela into an agricultural power”, he declared.
We’re going to accelerate the agrarian revolution so that no latifundios remain in our country”.
Chavez called on members of the armed forces to aid in the identification and rescue of lands from the large landowners, many of whom have contracted assassins and paramilitaries to murder campesinos taking part in the government’s land redistribution initiatives.
“This operation has to be accompanied by the Armed Forces. Deploy them together with the campesinos and the producers because if we don’t, the mafias and the paramilitaries who are often protected by local counter-revolutionary functionaries will kill them”.
Since Venezuela’s land reform began in 2001, campesino organizations report that more than 300 farmers have been murdered at the hands of paid hitmen and paramilitaries, contracted by the country’s large landowners.