Land reform threatens Hato Piñero

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2005:

Owners of private wildlife conservancies
worldwide told themselves after the destruction
of the SAVE Valley Conservancy that the
Zimbabwean land invasions were a phenomenon
unique to Zimbabwean socio-political
circumstances.
That belief was shaken when the
Venezuelan National Land Institute ruled on March
12, 2005 that the 80,000-hectare Hato Piñero
ecotourism refuge and beef ranch is eligible for
seizure under a 2001 law allowing redistribution
of private land which is either under-utilized or
held under dubious title. Hato Piñero may be
expropriated even though the Branger family,
operating Hato Piñero since 1951, claims to hold
deeds to a title established in 1794.
Like Robert Mugabe, Venezuelan president
Hugo Chavez rose to power on the promise of land
reform. Like Mugabe, Chavez is bitterly opposed
by large private landowners. But unlike Mugabe,
Chavez is disfavored by the George W. Bush
administration, which backed a failed 2002 coup.

The major private landholders in
Venezuela are oil firms and beef ranchers.
Taking land from either the oil firms or the beef
ranchers is politically risky.
Hato Piñero, which has 11,000 beef
cattle but is mostly not used for agriculture,
may be the easiest takeover target despite the
prominent role of the refuge in protecting
habitat for species including jaguars,
anacondas, caymans, Capuchin monkeys, and
capybaras.
While the Branger family seeks support
for resisting confiscation from multinational
conservation foundations, “A government order to
halt an irrigation system on the property is
driving away wild animals to areas where they
could fall prey to hunters,” Malaysia Star
correspondents Pascal Fletcher and Patricia
Markey recently wrote.

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