Discreetly and without big announcements, the government of Nicolás Maduro is carrying out a process of scale to return to the private sector assets expropriated in recent years, especially during the last time of his predecessor and political boss, Hugo Chávez. The decision of the Venezuelan regime includes a list of properties and companies, in which, at the moment, farms and herds linked to agricultural production stand out, although there are also hotels and industries.
Hermeticism has been key in this process. The return of the Sambil Shopping Center to its owners, the Cohen family, who had spent months in secret negotiations seems to be the tip of the iceberg. In no case does the figure of compensation or compensatory payments to those affected seem to be raised. The brothers Delcy and Jorge Rodríguez, Tarek El Aissami, and the ministers of the economic and commercial area, with the authorization of Nicolás Maduro, lead the selective delivery schedule, which has been developed with objections and resistance in the Chavista sector. .
The communication of the ruling party with the business community is fluid, the sources consulted point out. The government, some businessmen and several unions plan to convene the Social Dialogue Forum by the end of this month, with Maduro acting as arbitrator, and in the presence of officials from the International Labor Organization.
In the agrarian area, the Government and businessmen are discussing a working paper in which the return to their original owners of herds such as El Rodeo, located in the state of Guárico, with 3,600 hectares, is evaluated; the Hato Las Mercedes, in Barinas, with 14,000 hectares; the Fundo San Roque, in Zulia state, with 176 hectares; the San José Salesian Agronomic School, in Barinas, with 1,800 hectares; the Fundo San Antonio, in Yaracuy state, with 1,200 hectares; the Fundo Buena Esperanza, in Zulia, with 900 hectares; the Hato Cristo/El Trébol, in the State of Mérida, with 530 hectares; the Fundo San Felipe, in Zulia state, with 275 hectares; the Hacienda Bolívar, in the state of Zulia, with 4,000 hectares or the Hato El Zamuro, in the state of Portuguesa, with 6,200 hectares. With a few exceptions, the Maduro Executive is usually returning dismantled and inoperable assets that were operating normally before being seized.
The Chavista regime has made proposals to the expropriated owners of manufacturing companies and industries —the agrochemical and service company AgroIsleña, Aceites Diana; the Sivensa steel company—but, unlike what happens with the haciendas, the offer has been received with disbelief and reluctance. The state hotel chain Venetur has been shedding some of its headquarters. Walter Stipa, a businessman close to Chavismo, has taken control of some of them to operate them. Chavismo is offering service contracts under the figure of concessions. His officials remain very reluctant to use the word “privatization.”
Once re-elected in 2006, Hugo Chávez began a progressive takeover of assets and companies from the private sector, invoking the national interest and proposing the existence of alternative ownership formulas, after denying many times that he had any intention of doing so. Politics was part of the strategic interest of “controlling the means of production” to make the revolutionary utopia a reality. The wave of nationalizations, expropriations, seizures and “rescue” of land in Venezuela, supposedly to do social justice and redistribute wealth, included cement factories, glass factories, steel mills, hotels, oil operators, the electrical service and the company of phones. This process reached paroxysm in 2010 and 2011, shortly before Chávez fell ill with cancer.
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“Assets are being returned to the business community,” acknowledges Ana María Carrasquero, sociologist and director of the Venezuelan Observatory for Property Rights of the Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge, Cedice. “What we don’t know is under what criteria. For years Chavismo promoted property invasions, ideologically organized gangs to raid farms, steal cattle, organize settlements. There are regional warlords well known for organizing these invasions with the consent of Miraflores, such as Lesbia Solórzano, in Barinas state, or Deputy Braulio Alvarez, in Yaracuy. I wonder what is going to be done now with those indoctrination courses for unions and peasants in which the businessman was portrayed as the enemy,” warns Carrasquero.
Members of the Armed Forces frequently participate in the invasions and seizures of farms, whose personnel are also trained in hostility towards the owners. “The attitude of the authorities and the military has changed, it has been different for about two years,” says the owner of a farm that was taken over by Chavismo in the center of the country and who has preferred not to identify himself to protect himself. His property was occupied by officials from the National Land Institute in 2017 despite having proven ownership. “Here they came abusively, they took confiscated things, they stole my goods. Since they could never get me out and I won the lawsuit, things have finally changed. I have not been able to get the military to leave here, but at least there is a good disposition, we help each other and we work as a team. But that doesn’t always happen. I know of at least four cases, including that of an aunt, whose expropriations completely destroyed their land on haciendas in the center of the country.”
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