Sunday, January 30, 2005

El Supremo Jets Off To Porto Alegre - and Juan Forero Follows

So El Supremo, according to this Alabama newspaper, the only one I see running the item, is off to Porto Alegre, Brasil for the 'reverse Davos' known as the World Social Forum, or, The Mother Of All Sandalista Festivals.

A friend told me last week he'd be there for only one day, at last plans, and he'd be talking about land reform. Given Supremo's reported propensity to trash hotel rooms, it's probably more than figurative damage control.

It will be an awkward place anyway. Porto Alegre's voters got a good look at these annual visiting political tourists, and all the garbage, graffiti and bad manners they bring, and voted to throw out the leftwing government that had the bright idea to host these creeps. In elections last October, they voted in some rightwingers who will be less accomodating to political tourists. The Brasilians' newfound lack of love for such meddlers gives some scope to the depth of citizens' loathing of sandalistas wherever they descend the globe. It's a different world now.

Land reform. Hugo Chavez isn't talking about property rights, the way cutting-edge economist Hernando de Soto does - and its primacy as a medium for establishing rule of law. Chavez is advocating Zimbabwe-style confiscations of working farms.

This trip coincides with a tightly-timed Chavez propaganda blitz in the U.S. media. Chavez's chief apologist, Juan Forero of the New York Times, was right on the job, timing his hideous 'land-reform' story exactly to the day his master in Caracas will advance his 'land-reform' agenda at Porto Alegre. He's Chavez's advance-man.

Forero's desinformatsiya is weeks late from when the actual news was being reported by reputable news organizations, but timed just right for Chavez's day at the podium. Forero dusts off old arguments we've not heard since the 1980s, claiming that land reform is the criticial issue of our day, and thousands of farmers everywhere are just waiting for the government to redistribute land from the efficient users of it. As if effienciency just kind of 'happens' and has nothing to do with efficient people.

To read this kind of Forero talk, you'd think the only solution would be to give land to anyone who's poor, regardless of whom you take it from. As if backbreaking labor, collectivization and tiny subsistence farms - care to cut Cuban sugar cane, anyone? - is the big aspiration of the world's destitute.

In Forero's out-of-it worldview, there is no such thing as urbanization, the great move to the cities seen from Lima to Port-au-Prince to Mexico City to Bogota (plus Africa's and Asia's megacities) which - yes, Hernando de Soto again - documented in his brilliant book 'The Other Path.'

In Chavez's own country, 90% of the population is now urban. And the government owns 60% of the land. For the 10% who need land, it's quite solvable. Government land is right there.

But that's not what this is about. This is about Chavez targetting private farms, the kind that have put in running water and roads to markets, and declaring them 'idle.' Juan Forero follows this party line exactly, conveniently omitting to mention that these working farms' operations have been disrupted by chavista squatters.

The Forero argument about 'land reform' also ignores ten years' of economic discovery. Why are there fewer farms now? Globalization and what economists call 'competitive advantage' have driven inefficient subsistence farms out of business and enabled large operations (that can afford GPS systems, expensive tilling equipment, automatic harvesting, high-tech storage, effective fertilizers and insecticides, and fast access to world markets) to survive. Forero makes the specious argument that too few people own the land but in the U.S., it's a lot less than 1% of the population that owns the farmland - only 3% of our population is rural.

This rationalization of agriculture has driven down the cost of food for consumers worldwide and made food more readily available in places where food was scarce. That's food for poor people, I might add.

In the hyperefficient U.S. we grow so much food we burn it for auto fuel! In Castro's collectivized Cuba, people have so little food they freeze water into ice so that what they consume 'feels' more like a meal.

Tech advances in agriculture of course displace small farmers (and I have relatives in the U.S. who've been affected!), who must move to the cities where life is comparatively better, but that's why it must be discussed seriously is an URBAN issue, not a 'land-reform' issue!

Chavez's Zimbabwe approach is the only known guarantee of coming food shortages. Forero slyly brings up Zimbabwe in his propaganda piece, in an attempt to distance Chavez from it. He's lying, of course. It sounds like something Cuban propaganda specialists might suggest to him to do.

Forero also boldly advocates the chavista line that if Chavez could just forcibly redistribute land and end all private property rights, all would be prosperous in Venezuela. He quotes some chavista squatters as his 'authorities,' and attempts to sway us through emotion since his retro arguments about the worldwide need for 'land reform' at the top of the piece are so bad.

Now Chavez can happily cite the New York Times article and you can bet you'll see it appear on his chief propagandists' Web sites - Venezuela Information Office and Global Exchange soon as 'educationals.' Chavez can use this Forero propaganda at his speeches in Porto Alegre and hope he will not be dismissed as 'irrelevant' or 'a Froot Loop' as an earlier item I wrote put it.

This is Chavez's bid to re-frame the terms of debate on his own outdated 1980s arguments and not be a laughingstock. Juan Forero is more than a little happy to accomodate him, just when Chavez needs him.

It's propaganda, the real thing.

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