Cross-posted at DailyKos.

In the most significant action taken against privately held land since the 2001 Land Reform, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez — in a “War to the Death” against large estates — has seized a 32,000 acre British estate and handed out work permits to 140 poor families . . .
Reports the

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCaracas, Venezuela, March 23, 2005—Yesterday, in the most significant step yet since Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez declared “death to idle crop lands,” the Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI) officially re-appropriated parts of landed estates:  El Charcote and Hato Piñero, due to a lack of documentation for proving their alleged ownership. A ceremony presided over by the Minister of Agriculture and Land, Antonio Albarrán, was held at the El Charcote ranch, during which the Venezuelan Land Institute distributed 140 land permits to poor farmers. The ceremony was attended by the entire Land Institute, as well as the governors of the states of Cojedes, Monagas, and Apure.

Passed in November, 2001, the Land Reform produced an uproar, both nationally and internationally, as to whether the Venezuelan government was infringing on property rights. This controversial issue was largely left on the back burner due to the fact that between its ratification and early January, 2005, only public lands were redistributed. …

[PHOTO ABOVE and its CAPTION: “Intervention of El Charcote began last December. Now, the lands will be rescued.”, whose headlines read: “Endogenous development center to be established in 60 days / Government rescues idle lands at El Charcote ranch” ]

The BBC adds:

Agroflora, the local subsidiary of British owner Vestey Group, said it would appeal against the seizure.

The firm’s employees are still working on the land.

The group has operated the ranch, in central Cojedes state, for decades.

But officials said as property documents did not prove the land belonged to the group, it therefore belonged to the state. …

‘War to the death’

There is no compensation on offer for lands which are deemed to belong to the state.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says many large farms were illegally acquired.

If ownership cannot be proved by documents dating back to 1830, the land is liable to be seized.

Mr Chavez has vowed to push ahead with a “war to the death against large landed estates, regardless of who the alleged landholders are”.

The National Lands Institute has taken steps towards seizing 1.48m acres already this year, it says.

Update [2005-3-24 7:1:13 by susanhbu]:

The ranch owners’ defense and opportunities for appeal:

As stated by the legal advisor to Cojedes government, Agroflora will not be forced to leave the farm and their productive activity will be observed.

“They will stay here, not as owners, but as the holders of a certificate of productive farm. Productivity will be observed, but they should apply for the appropriate certification.”

As explained by D’Ascoli, Agroflora attorneys have 60 days as of the notice of the INTI measure, to submit to the agrarian courts a defense motion.

Defense motion

On its part, Agroflora has maintained that the production drop in the ranch was due to four years of squatting in 85 percent of the property.

According to Agroflora attorneys, they have submitted all the legal papers that attest to ownership of the premises and will appear to agrarian courts for legal acknowledgement. …

Update [2005-3-24 7:33:46 by susanhbu]:

Lord Vestey is directly responsible for rain forest destruction, exploitation of South American lands and peoples, and lying to eminent environmental activists, including Prince Philip — the following from the court records of the UK McDonald’s libel suit:

Lord Vestey, Chairman of Vestey Group Limited, was served with a subpoena by Helen Steel and was forced to come to court to be questioned. In 1983 he was Director of the Vestey family group of companies, who had supplied McDonald’s UK with the Brazilian beef from the Vestey plant at Barretos (in the state of Sao Paulo). A letter written at the time, from David Walker (Chairman of McKey Foods, then a subsidiary of McDonald’s UK) to the managing director of Weddels (a Vestey subsidiary) revealed that the imports were a matter of great controversy.

The letter stated that Prince Philip (President of the World Wildlife Fund) [SUSAN’s NOTE: WWF is hardly a progressive environmental group.] had recently met the President of McDonald’s Canada, and had said : ” ‘So you are the people who are tearing down the Brazilian rainforests and breeding cattle‘ to which the reply was: ‘I think you are mistaken’, whereupon HRH said ‘Rubbish’ and stormed away”. Following this, the letter stated that the Chairman of the McDonald’s Corporation, “issued a worldwide edict that no McDonald’s plant was to use Brazilian beef”. The very same letter revealed that McDonald’s UK, had given Walker permission to use the Brazilian beef imports.

Since the Brazilian shipments were being arranged at the time of this dispute with Prince Philip, Lord Vestey had been asked by David Walker to write a letter ‘confirming’ that the beef was not “coming from reclaimed land from destroyed rainforests”

Lord Vestey delivered the requested letter in which he stated that the cattle supplied to the meat plant were not from any rainforest region. However, in court, the assurance given in this letter was completely blown apart. When questioned by the McLibel Two, Vestey admitted that the origins of over 150,OOO head of cattle slaughtered annually at the plant were untracable. They had been transported into central Brazil (Sao Paulo) to be fattened up before slaughter. Brazilian experts for the McLibel Defendants have given evidence that cattle reared in ex-rainforest areas in other states are routinely taken to Sao Paulo state for fattening. Lord Vestey was one of the last witnesses to appear in this courtcase.

As McSpotlight has already reported, the court heard that McDonald’s stores in Brazil itself are still supplied from cattle raised on recently cleared ex-rainforest land (in western Goias state) from which indigenous peoples were violently removed.

This testimony caps two years of evidence whereby, for maybe the first time in history, a multinational corporation has been effectively put on trial over their business practices – junk food products, exploitation of workers and animals, advertising strategy and damage to the environment. …

All emphases mine.

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