Saturday, September 20, 2003

VENEZUELA AND ZIMBABWE
Saturday 20, September 2003

Sometimes pertinent opinion articles on Venezuela can come from the most unexpected places. In the August issue of National Geographic one car read a report on the agrarian reform that has been undertaken by the government of Robert Mugabe, now a 79 year old man, entrenched in power since independence, 23 years ago. What is rather surprising for a National Geographic article is that this one has a strange Op-Ed flavor, usually reserved by the editors for more ecological interests.

The article details how an unaccountably long dormant land reform is suddenly activated to get deliberately rid of perceived “opponents” and to favor directly, not to say shamelessly, political supporters. Along the way Zimbabwe loses its relative agricultural and food independence as the white colons, trusting enough to have remained in Zimbabwe after independence are not only dispossessed but, for all practical purpose, kicked out of the country. One should keep in mind that these type of political transitions are not concerned about helping the recipients to make good on their newly acquired land, as it seems to be verified again in Zimbabwe. What is a terrible indictment of Mr. Mugabe’s intentions is that a plan to proceed to an equitable re-distribution existed since independence and only his administration incompetence and political ambitions had delayed it until today’s sad outcome.

The results can be read in a September 14 article of the New York Times. With food and gas shortages, a 400%+ inflation, a 70% unemployment Mr. Mugabe now can find nothing better to do but close one of the last “opposition” papers that was still running, The Daily News. Of course, on some trumped up legality to try to preserve the image of a democratically elected leader. Today situation should come as no surprise. From early on after independence Mr. Mugabe has tried all sorts of tricks to preserve his presidential chair, starting early enough by trying to impose a one party state trying to integrate his minority allies from the independence war. With this type of mentality, it was to be expected that Mr. Mugabe former training, as a man of God, did not protect him from considering himself all-powerful.

What is eerie in this National Geographic article is that one could replace the words Zimbabwe with Venezuela and Mugabe with Chavez and some paragraphs could be used “as is” in writing an article on Venezuela on the same subject. Some of the real intentions in Chavez’s land reform schemes are just the same as Mugabe: punishment. Venezuela is now an urban country and the agricultural productive sectors are the targeted ones. The non-productive sectors but potentially productive, often held by the government, the states or the Army are not touched. Adequate investment does not necessarily follow land seizures and repartition, leaving the new tenants almost as poor as before while the farms taken go to seed. Or go into land development speculation schemes in the hand of chavista’s supporters. Indeed, a case can be made for some local land reform where a significant rural labor force still exists and could take over some areas, but land redistribution seems guided mostly by politics.

Although Venezuela is not nearly economically as bad as Zimbabwe is today, one cannot but wonder how long it will take until we drop to Zimbabwe’s level.

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