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jueves, marzo 24, 2005

The Other Tenth (El Charcote y Hato Piñero)

On Tuesday, Venezuela's National Land Institute (INTI) officially took over parts of two large estates on the grounds that neither could prove ownership of all their land.

The amount of land involved is relatively small -- about 5,000 hectares of the 12,950-hectare El Charcote ranch, and "80 to 90 percent" of 80,200-hectare Hato Piñero. (Earlier articles said four farms are involved, however I'm not clear what happened with the other two.) But the symbolism these two estates have taken on, for both supporters and opponents of land reform, is enormous.

Venezuela's land reform law, which aims to increase agricultural self-sufficiency in a nation that imports the majority of its foodstuffs and to tackle the extreme concentration of arable land in the hands of a few wealthy families, was passed in November 1999 following great controversy. But for the next three years nothing much happened. Tuesday's ceremony, which included the presentation of land permits to 140 campesinos, marked the first redistribution of privately held land.

The farming families involved are largely squatters who have been living and working on the land for the last two years, in the hopes that they would be granted the legal right to remain. The documentation they received Tuesday does not give them title to the land - meaning they cannot sell their plots -- but affirms their right to work it and allows them to form farming cooperatives.

The putative owners of these lands, both of which claim their ownership documentation is adequate, have two months to appeal in court. Agropecuaria Flora, the subsidiary of the British Vestey Group that holds El Charcote, says it will appeal, as does the Venezuelan Branger family in possession of Hato Piñero.

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