By Mariangel Moro Colmenarez.
Expropriations of land and other arable lands that began under Hugo Chavez are continuing under the Nicolas Maduro regime, even when the country is facing severe alimentary shortages, in part, ascribed to this land policies.
In Portuguesa state, the Saladdino family refuses to give up their 580 hectares that for more than five decades produced an average of five million kilos of rice and some three million kilos of corn, year after year. The Venezuelan regime is the number one owner of arable land in the country, and over the decades, expropriated farms with the excuse of increasing production.
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However, Venezuela now imports more than 90% of all the food it consumes, including such staples as corn and rice, the main crops of the Saladdino farms.
According to figures provided by the Confederation of Agricultural Producers Associations of Venezuela (Fedeagro in Spanish), Chavez and Maduro expropriated some six million productive hectares throughout the country. The authorities insisted on labeling the fields as fallow, and that was the argument used in awarding them to new owners, farmers that, supposedly, would produce more and better.
The Saladdinos holdings consist of four farms located in the sectors of Potrero de Armo and Quebrada de Armo, in the municipality of Araure in the state of Portuguesa. On Friday, November 6, with an order from the National Land Institute (Inti), the region of Caracas, a group of people belonging to the Santa Barbara collective, affiliated to Chavismo-Madurismo, entered the farms. They assured that properties got awarded by the State entity.
The United Nations denounced the Colectivos as armed gangs that employ violence to advance the cause of the Nicolas Maduro regime since at least 2014.
A family farm
Three generations of this family have passed through El Terronal, Soledad de Armo, Beremar, and Finca La Coca, who acquired the property between 1958 and 1960. Since then, the Saladdinos have dedicated themselves to agricultural work in the region, like many European migrants who arrived in Portuguesa.
“These people arrived, and as if it was nothing, they went into the farm. They brought a title deed, and then they handed out everything like it was cake. Everyone grabbed a piece. Since Friday, we have had this problem,” Antonio Saladdino, the expropriated producer, told El Pitazo.
Although the gang who awarded the land maintained that it was unproductive, the Saladdino family assures that they were currently working on the maintenance. They have not stopped working on the land.
“We have everything laser-leveled (using a laser tool to scan the property and its main features), there are (water) wells, and they all have tanks built next to them. This is our heritage, a property that my father bought and started working on more than 60 years ago, passing from generation to generation,” explained Saladdino, without denying that productivity yields have decreased as in all the Venezuelan agriculture.
While the alleged claimants have been on the farms since Friday the 6th, they have prevented the workers of the Saladdinos from carrying out their agricultural work. “We have put the tractors to work, and these people arbitrarily took them out. The workers are afraid, they are even afraid of going to jail.”
For Rafael Ortegano, legal advisor to the Saladdino family, the procedure is illegal. The expropriation, according to the lawyer, is a situation that has been repeating itself for a while.
“They came to the farm to take it under any legal and juridical criteria because they presented a document of adjudication, issued by the Inti, capital region. This administrative action is void. The territorial order or the natural administrative order, which belongs to the Inti delegation Acarigua, Portuguesa, has been violated. Furthermore, the members or beneficiaries of this act are not identified (in the Inti document). They do not even show the document,” said Ortegano.
So, now it is the farm with no name and no known owners, in a document that the affected part has not seen.
According to the lawyer, this act violates the administrative norm in agro matters. The rule explains that if the lands are unproductive, first, the regional Inti, located in Acarigua-Araure, should have been called in, which would have issued a report through an inspection to determine whether the lands were unproductive or not.
Ortegano also said that once authorities verified that the lands are not producing, it is time to proceed to award the fields to the complainants. “The Saladdino family did not receive any notification about inspection,” Ortegano says.
The lawyer urged the Minister of Agriculture, Wilmar Castro Soteldo, and the National Executive (Maduro regime in this case) to clarify the facts. “This cannot be turning into a game of unscrupulous people who pretend to take possession of lands alleging their unproductiveness when this is not the case.”
Likewise, the community of Potrero de Armo, small producers of the village, and farmers of Araure and all of Portuguesa state have shown their solidarity with the Saladdino family. Everyone fears that the expropriation l be a practice that returns as in previous years.
“We do not know where these people came. We fear that the same thing that happened to the Saladdino family happen to us, small and medium producers, who live from our work, and like them, who for years have dedicated themselves to agriculture, with effort and sacrifice,” said Isaura Zavala, a farmer from the area.