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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 09:05 GMT
UK firm ends Venezuela land row
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

Hut on the Vestey estate
Peasant farmers had moved onto the Vestey ranch
A British landowner has reached an amicable settlement with the Venezuelan government over a land dispute.

The Venezuelan terrain, owned by Lord Vestey, one of Britain's wealthiest men, had been occupied by landless peasants for several years.

The deal was signed by Venezuela's agriculture minister and a subsidiary of the British meat producer Vestey.

The firm is handing over two cattle ranches of about 55,000 hectares to the authorities in return for some $4m.

The subsidiary, AgroFlora, gets to keep its remaining 10 farms.

The deal draws a line under a bitter legal row over who owns the 300,000 hectares of land being farmed by the company.

Redistribution

This is a landmark agreement, as it is the first time the government of President Hugo Chavez has persuaded a foreign company to surrender agricultural property on friendly terms.

Mr Chavez's government has been carrying out a major land reform to give landless peasants the right to work unused land.

This redistribution programme has had mixed results. Some Venezuelan landowners are still putting up a legal fight, while others have given in to pressure from the president's supporters.

The government is pursuing a strategy of negotiations with the big landowners. So far, it has managed to expropriate around three-and-a-half million hectares by using these tactics.

Land invasions and illegal squatting are now prohibited by the authorities, who favour amicable settlements.



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