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In Venezuela, Land 'Rescue' Hopes Unmet

Ramón Barrera arrived at a former ranch dreaming of his own small parcel filled with crops. Six months later, he has only some scrawny pigs.
Ramón Barrera arrived at a former ranch dreaming of his own small parcel filled with crops. Six months later, he has only some scrawny pigs. (By Juan Forero -- The Washington Post)
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Similar measures have been tried before in Latin America, where the struggle over land has led to civil wars and simmering violence from Central America to Colombia to Brazil. In most cases, the so-called reforms have failed to spur production.

Felicia Escobar, a lawyer and consultant on land issues who used to work for the Agriculture Ministry, said land redistribution has failed across the continent because farmers are not given incentives to produce and governments have not provided adequate credit or technical assistance.

She said that in Venezuela, the new farmers are not even given title to the lands they occupy. In some cases, they are grouped into communes and expected to work as a unit, with little stake in their plots.

"That is socialism," she said. "It did not work before, and it does not work now."

Here in Las Vegas, on what's left of the Vestey hacienda, the new tenants said they remain firm supporters of the government as they attempt to make a go of farming.

María Rosario Chirinos, 40, said she worked in a small shop before she was assigned a plot of land, which she is planting with corn. "My dream was to have a little piece of land, to survive, because I had nothing," she said.

But just down the road, César Alviares, 50, who also supports Chávez, said he is barely getting by raising a few cows and chickens. The crops he tried to grow all failed, he said, because he never received credit or technical help to control flooding.

"I put in two hectares of yucca plants -- the water came and finished them off," he said. "I put in a hectare of bananas -- the water came and finished them off. The corn, all of it. So in the end, I just have pasture."


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