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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 05:25 GMT
Venezuela head signs land decree
By Iain Bruce
BBC News, Caracas

Hugo Chavez
President Chavez said he was reforming an "outrageous situation"
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has signed a new decree on land reform which he says will bring justice to the rural poor.

The plan should gradually eliminate the country's giant estates.

President Chavez said that less than 5% of the country's owners occupy nearly 80% of the land.

He now wants to implement concrete steps to turn Venezuela's four-year-old land reform law into a practical reality.

The decree sets up a national land commission which will aim to repeat throughout Venezuela the kind of state inspection begun on Saturday at a British-owned ranch in the west of the country.

More than 10,000 peasants from across the country came to hear the president's announcement, which many of them believe is long overdue.
Venezuelan police at the El Charcote ranch
Troops escorted officials on last weekend's inspection

The president said that current land ownership was an outrageous situation.

But the decree itself is more modest than many expected.

Its most important measure is to establish a new presidential commission to review land ownership and land use throughout Venezuela.

This will follow the example set by the governor of Cojedes state, Jhonny Yanez, who placed a British-owned cattle ranch under official inspection last Saturday.

The president of the ranchers' federation, Jose Luis Betancour, told the BBC that such measures are an attack on private property and unconstitutional.

Other ranchers leaders threatened to take President Chavez to the supreme court, but the government insists it wants to negotiate with the individual landowners.

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