As was to be predicted, London's Financial Times reacted negatively to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's announcement of a speeding up of land reform (see: Chavez announces “war against the latifundia”). On January 13th they published an editorial comment (see: Chávez slips into demagogy again) full of distortions of the truth and pontificating advice. We did not expect less from the FT, a paper that has always unashamedly defended the interests of capital. However, what we did not expect was for the FT to argue that the "best way to address rural poverty", was for businesses to "pay decent wages and guarantee good working conditions for its workers"!
The editorial piece contains a number of factual errors, which are introduced for the purpose of backing their argument against land reform. Let's look at those:
1) The FT says that "Land reform ... has been on the statute books for more than three years. But it is only now, ... that Mr Chávez is implementing it." This is plainly wrong. The National Land Institute has already distributed some 2.2 million hectares of land (approximately 5.5 million acres) to peasant cooperatives in the last three years.
2) The FT further says: "First, the government itself is the biggest landowner in Venezuela and has huge amounts of empty land that could be settled by the landless". This is correct, but what the FT does not tell us is that there has been no expropriation of privately owned land in Venezuela so far, so the 2.2 million hectares of land distributed have all been state owned land. The government is therefore, already distributing land it owns.
3) The FT then talks of "The expropriation of Vestey's Agroflora subsidiary is an inauspicious precedent since the government has so far failed to show that the estate was unproductive". Again, this is wrong, since Vestey's Agroflora ranch has NOT been expropriated. On Saturday, January 8th, there was an “intervention” by the Venezuelan authorities at the El Charcote ranch, belonging to Agroflora, precisely for the purpose of determining if the land titles are correct (since the government claims that at least a third of the land is state property) and if any parts of the estate have been left idle. The intervention entails a number of troops from the National Guard being present at the ranch carrying out the investigation, during which the ranch is allowed to operate normally. Despite the FT's correspondent Andy Webb-Vidal’s talk of the ranch being "seized", this is clearly not the case.The Financial Times is obviously entitled to have its own editorial views on land reform in Venezuela, and we expected them to be on the side of the landowners. To resort to twisting the truth to fit their arguments is very poor journalism indeed. To do so three times in a 7 paragraph editorial is quite a lot. However, what is really hilarious is that the FT, in order to further their argument against land reform, end up advocating workers rights! The editorial piece in fact ends up by recommending that "ensuring these [agricultural] businesses pay decent wages and guarantee good working conditions for its workers would be the best way to address rural poverty." How nice of them to think of rural workers! Whose demagogy then? Chavez's or the FT's?