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VENEZUELA'S CHAVEZ DEFENDS DEPLOYMENT OF SOLDERS TO SEIZE PROPERTIES AMID REFORM

Christopher Toothaker
Submitted by Charleston Voice
Oct 9, 2005

( Anyone familiar with the history of the US South following the War for Southern Independence will recognize the same scheme of land confiscation by Chavez as done to the South by the Republicans during "Reconstruction." ~ Charleston Voice)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday defended the deployment of soldiers to seize control of properties, mostly cattle ranches and swaths of farmland, that are deemed "idle" or allegedly lacking ownership documents.

Groups of armed soldiers have been deployed to dozens of privately owned ranches, farms and food processing plants in recent months as authorities move forward with a land reform initiative across the country.

Properties have been occupied by soldiers while the National Land Institute investigates the validity of property titles and inspects lands.

Critics argue the seizures are illegal because alleged owners haven't been given opportunities to prove ownership in court. Landless farmers eager to work the lands often accompany soldiers during occupations, build makeshift homes and immediately begin planting crops.

"The land institute has the power to order the temporary occupation of these lands," said Chavez, speaking during his weekly television and radio program "Hello President."

Chavez vowed that his government would not violate property rights guaranteed under the constitution. He said soldiers and squatters would leave occupied properties if ownership was proved in court.

"If a group of poor farmers entered the lands with permission from the institute and support from the armed forces ... and the purported owner later shows that the land is really his and a court confirms it, the landless farmers must leave," he said.

Business leaders claim authorities involved in the reform initiative have repeatedly violated property rights, but say they will continue ongoing talks with Chavez regarding the legality of specific cases.

Thousands marched through the capital on Saturday to show their support of the reform. Chanting "The Land Belongs To All!" and waving Venezuelan flags, roughly 4,000 Chavez supporters demanded that swaths of "idle" farmlands be expropriated and handed over those willing to work them.

A 2001 law allows the state to expropriate lands that are deemed "idle." Under the legislation, the state must compensate owners for expropriated lands at current market prices.

During Sunday's seven-hour program, Chavez rejected allegations that he and his close ally, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, are "tyrants," as their most outspoken critics often claim.

Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has strengthened ties with communist-led Cuba through numerous trade and cooperation agreements.

"Some call me a tyrant and ... many say there is tyranny in Cuba. No, there is process of liberation in Cuba," Chavez said.

Chavez and Castro are often described by their strongest critics as "tyrants" or "dictators."

The Venezuelan president denies he is becoming increasingly authoritarian or stifling political dissent, saying he is totally dedicated to democracy while his foes - including local media outlets - are bent on removing him from power through any means possible.

Chavez also thanked Castro for sending 20,000 doctors to participate in Venezuela's far-reaching "Inside the Barrio" health care project.

In return for the work done by Cuban doctors here, Venezuela ships Cuba 90,000 barrels of oil a day under preferential terms, a deal giving the island one of its strongest economic boosts since the fall of the Soviet Union.


Christopher Toothaker Associated Press Writer

(Enhanced for Netscape)

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