Venezuela Targets Another Farm of UK Cattle Rancher
CARACAS, Venezuela Venezuelan authorities will take over another farm run by British meat producer Vestey Group, its third property targeted under President Hugo Chavez's land reforms, officials said.
The National Land Institute ruled the La Bendicion Ramera ranch operated by Vestey could be used for state agrarian projects under a law allowing the government to confiscate farms failing to show ownership titles and proper production.
La Bendicion Ramera located in southern Apure state had failed to show documentation proving it was private property and that the farm was productive, the land institute said in a statement posted on its Website.
It was the third Vestey ranch in Venezuela to be subjected to such a ruling this year. The farm, which covers around 67,364 acres, will be allowed time to prove it has become productive, the institute said.
Since winning a referendum last year, Chavez has promised to speed up redistribution of idle farmland to state-sponsored rural cooperatives as part of his self-described socialist revolution against poverty.
Farm owners, ranch associations and opposition leaders say the land law tramples over private property rights. They fear former army officer Chavez is dragging Venezuela closer to the communist model of his ally Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Agroflora, Vestey's Venezuelan subsidiary, did not return calls seeking comment. But the company has already appealed against a government ruling to confiscate most of the El Charcote farm it operates in central Cojedes State.
Officials have also declared part of Vestey's Los Cocos ranch in Apure State as belonging to the state.
The El Charcote ranch has become a test case in Chavez's agrarian campaign, during which government officials have seized land operated by a famous eco-tourism ranch and other cattle farms across Venezuela since the start of the year.
British officials say they are monitoring the case.
Agroflora, which says it produces four percent of Venezuela's beef, complains pro-Chavez squatters have invaded its farmland and forced it to slash production. Critics say Chavez's aggressive campaign has promoted illegal land grabs.
But supporters praise the populist leader for spending billions of dollars in oil revenues on social programs to end years of neglect. They say the land program will combat rural poverty and increase national food output.