Strategy against land populism: Real populism

December 27, 2004

I have found the discussion about my post yesterday quite interesting. This is the type of discussion that I love, because it brings you into the reality of going from theories to practice. It is one thing to believe in something, it is another to implement it, convince others and make everyone like your policies. This is why populism has an edge, it is so simple to promise, to simplify complex issues to the point that you can make your point more attractive. It is so simple to blame those that have more, like the Queen of England eating Venezuela’s meat in yesterday’s El Universal article. 

But let’s start at the beginning. In 2001, Hugo Chavez passed a Land Bill taking advantage of an enabling law that allowed him to legislate on specific economic matters. Many did not like this bill and in fact, the origin of much the opposition movement began with it. Less than three weeks after it was issued the opposition held its first large march. The Supreme Court actually ruled that sections of the Bill were illegal, including that the Government can not intervene without compensation and the possibility of intervening land because it is not properly being used.


What the bill did allow, was for the Government to expropriate “latifundios” defined as large agricultural estates with more than 10,000 hectares or expropriate those that are not being used and are strategic for the country’s feeding. However, the same bill also says that the National Institute of Land (INTI) had to do an inventory of all such lands before it could begin doing anything.


However, this inventory has yet to be completed. I understand it is far from being ready. Thus, the law can not be applied, least of all by a Governor. The law gives ample powers to INTI to execute its mandate, but nowhere does it mention Governors or any other regional authority.


Maybe Chavez can say in one of his speeches that his Government has failed in delivering what it promised, or some of his collaborates have not been up to the task. The problem is INTI has had only two Presidents’: Chavez’ own brother Adam, who is supposed to have inducted Chávez into Marxism and well known versatile handyman Eliecer Otaiza, who has been assigned to so many jobs, that it is hard to imagine how he can be an expert on all these fields.


Let’s look at Adam Chavez’ tenure at INTI first. He was named the first President of that Institute, which led everyone to believe the President really meant business. Adam was thus promoted from being Chavez’ private secretary, to managing the large and recently created and amalgamated bureaucracy at INTI. Not an easy task for someone who had devoted his life to a political and/or academic life. However, after over a year in the position, Chávez assigned his brother to a more important position from a political point of view: he named him Venezuela’s Ambassador to Cuba. Where I am sure Adam spends his time talking to Fidel and his intelligence officers, plotting the next steps of the revolution and how to keep control over all aspects of the country’s life.


So, next we move to Otaiza. He certainly has had a colorful history. From former military to stripper, he rose from the the obscurity of his thongs past, to become the second head of the intelligence police in Chavez Presidency. From there, he was demoted to Head of the training Institute (INCE), where he used public funds to build himself a gym, in order to keep his muscles intact in case he ever has to go back to performing. Once he used INCE to help change and finance the results of the recall vote, Otaiza was named as Head of the Land Institute, where he rapidly made sure another new gym was built without the weaknesses of his previous one. This certainly gives you an idea of what revolutionary priorities are in this “process”.


And that in a nutshell is the tragedy of this Government. In a country where private sector management leaves a lot to be desired, Chavez shifts the people he trusts from one unrelated job to another, as if just the fact that he knows them guarantees their success. The results are obvious: The inventory is not even close to being finished, the revolution is itchy for results, let’s ignore the law, it’s the easiest way down that highway.


Thus, from the point of view of the law, nothing can be done yet until the inventory is finished. Moreover, the land that can be expropriated are large states, over 10,000 hectares. Not all of the farms “intervened” in the Cojedes decree are over 10,000 hectares in extension. So it’s just illegal.


In fact, the mental potpourri in the mind of Cojedes’ Governor is shown in his interview in El Universal today, where he challenges two former politicians who own land in his state to “show” how they got to be land owners, as if his decrees had anything to do with corruption. If he thinks there is something fishy about how these guys got to won that land, he should go after them and prove there is something dirty going on, they are still innocent until proven guilty. Unless the revolution wants them to be guilty of course. By the way, in that interview perhaps the best question is when the reporter asks him why he is dong this decree now, if he has been Governor for four years. Oh well, you silly reporters asking stupid questions!


Thus, having defined that the whole process is illegal and that it is the Government’s fault that it is, we come to the point of strategy. What should the opposition do?


In my mind, the opposition has to fight, intelligently, but it has to fight. I would not fight over the intervention of the sixteen farms. I would go find out what the names of the largest Government’ farms are and ask that they be added to the list. I would ask that the large estates owned by Chavez’ family and his friends in Barinas state also be included, giving specific names and areas. I would ask that all squatters living in barrios in municipal land be given to the people that live there by Presidential decree. I would even use footage from Chavez’ presidential campaign in 1998 when he promised that he would do that. Finally I would aks that all of this be done, not next year, but right now, like in January to prove the revolution belives in the well being of the people. I would even start a countdown; in 33 days, your land will be yours, the Government’s land too!


The issue is too important to leave it to the Government and the oligarchs. It appears that everyone in Venezuela that owns anything is an oligarch. This is the first country where according to the Government’s definition, half the population are oligarchs. As someone said in the comments, today it is the large estates, tomorrow the homes of the rich, the day after tomorrow the homes of the not so rich. Where does the process end? Who stops it once it has its own momentum? After all, it was Chavez during his 1998 Presidential campaign in Guatire (He thought no outsiders were listening) who pointed to the lower middle class apartment buildings behind where a large crowd was listening to him and promised he would give those to the “people” when he got to power. Well, it has been six years and little has been delivered. And he has an election to win on 2006. Time to stop him. How?


P.S. Romulo Betancourt, Raul Leoni and Rafael Caldera gave away in each of their five years under the old IAN (Instituto Agrario Nacioanl), more land that Chavez has in his six years of hot air revolutionary words. It’s a fact, look it up!


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