Venezuela is now like a house on fire in the name of Marxist revolution. The worst of it is in land confiscations. The regime is declaring productive land "unproductive" and expropriating it for redistribution to "the people." When it can't do that, it's digging deep into history — the early 1800s, the years when Venezuela was still arguing with Spain about whether it was an independent nation — for some glitch, some missing document in the title—deed continuum that would enable it to grab land on extreme technicalities.
This is worse than what the Mexican government did to U.S. condominium owners on the Baja Coast to confiscate their retirement homes recently because they are digging so far into history for a "violation," not in the name of someone who also thinks he owns it, as happened in Baja, but in the name of an abstract Marxist program.
For those robbed of their land, there is no compensation. And for those who receive it, there is no title deed, no right of inheritance, no recognizable property rights, only a sharecropper arrangement, the budding beginning of collective farms. Or at least perpetual dependence on the whim of the state for continued occupation of the land. Crops to be grown will be dictated by the state. Agricultural efficiencies of scale will end. And food shortages will follow, as they always do in such land seizures. Look at Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of East Africa.
This past week, the regime declared the seizure of a British cattle ranch without compensation, a move that along with other seizures, will affect a huge swath of the country's meat production.
The speed of confiscations is accelerating. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez declared at Porto Alegre that large tracts of land (he actually specified an acreage of his planned takings) would be confiscated this year. He declared that victims from recent flooding will be relocated to lands seized in these expropriatory moves. In the emotionally wrenching conflict of land, some say death squads are appearing for the first time. Because, in what should be broadcast from the rooftops, the economic model for this nightmare, is — with no hyperbole — Pol Pot's collectivization program.
In this maelstrom, the most helpless, vulnerable victim of expropriation is Hato Pinero, one of the world's most treasured nature reserves, the only authentic haven for Venezuela's incredible array of anacondas, orchids, parrots, leopards, flamingos, eagles, crocodiles, savannah land and jungle canopy. The magical preserve has been featured on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. These lands, too, are being seized. Being a nature reserve, they have fewer defenses because they are not developed as a farm or ranch would be, but make an income taking in a visitors at a small inn in a harmless eco—tourism operation, to finance the conservation of the land.
Which is exactly why Venezuela's communists are seizing them.
This is nothing less than a blazing outrage. Countless priceless and rare species will be destroyed as they parcel it out to the urban poor in the creation of collective farms. The style of agriculture practiced in that area by the very poor with no access to title deed is called conuco farming, where the vegetation is burned off and a crop of corn is planted. When that exhausts the soil, the exploiter moves on to another parcel of land.
But it will be worse than normal slash—and—burn agriculture. This pattern of destruction will now be added onto the sorry environmental record of every communist regime on earth — that of Lake Baikal, the Aral Sea, Nowa Huta, Omsk and Chernobyl. Because in Venezuela one can already see the outlines of what will become of Hato Pinero. Ripping land from professional conservationists who understand stewardship of the pristine ecology and handing it to Marxist party hacks for "management" with no accountability other than party loyalty is a good way to guarantee there will be no endangered species — or even food.
In a real cry from the wilderness, Hato Pinero's owners have spoken out. They are appealing to the world to halt the destruction of this irreplaceable nature reserve. Here is the letter from Hato Pinero's Andres Branger. It is painful reading.
Americans should not be indifferent to this pattern of land seizure and prospective eco—catastrophe. Unfortunately, in the US., we are often dulled to environmental issues by the excesses of our greenies and our own overbearing EPA, which operates with impunity to harass farmers and oil men in our free society. But it's not like that overseas.
Hato Pinero is private—sector conservation. Unlike our own environmental wackos, these Venezuelan conservationists are doing work of real value. But their cause is unknown and given what's about to be lost, the veil should be lifted. Private environmental organizations in the U.S. like the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and Greenpeace so far haven't uttered a peep of protest. They need to be contacted to see if they are serious about saving some of the earth's irreplaceable natural treasures.
The Brangers of Hato Pinero, meanwhile, believe their best chance lies in their own country's existing laws, from which they've found one that explictly says anyone who's had proper title deed for the past 20 years — never mind the 1800s — as they do, is entitled to ownership of the land, and they themselves urge readers to write to the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington about this issue.
As Condoleezza Rice said last week,
"President Chavez was elected democratically [she meant 1998] and he was expected to rule democratically."
This may be one example of what she had in mind. Because given the likely demise of this conservation land at stake here, the whole world is going to lose something it cannot get back.