Chavez unveils plans for ‘collective property’

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Hugo Chavez announced that his administration's sweeping reforms toward socialism will include the creation of "collective property."

Vowing to undermine capitalism's continued influence in Venezuela, Chavez said Sunday that his government was "advancing quickly" with a concept of "social, or collective, property" to be included in forthcoming constitutional reforms.

"It's property that belongs to everyone and it's going to benefit everyone," said Chavez, speaking during his television and radio program "Hello President."

Chavez did not elaborate, but he stressed that collective property must benefit workers equally.

"It cannot be production to generate profits for one person or a small group of people that become rich exploiting peons who end up becoming slaves, living in poverty and misery their entire lives," he said.

Government advisers preparing a blueprint for pending constitutional reforms have floated proposals that would roughly define collective property as state-owned assets such as farms that are managed by workers who share profits.

Venezuela's government already helps organize and finance thousands of cooperatives, but the state does not have full ownership of the real estate or infrastructure used by most co-ops.

Chavez, who hosted Sunday's program from a ranch in Venezuela's sun-baked plains, said his government would move to seize control of large ranches and farms spanning more than 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) and redistribute lands deemed "idle" to the poor under a nationwide agrarian reform.

Since the reform began five years ago, officials have redistributed over 1.9 million hectares (4.6 million acres) of land that had been classified as unproductive or lacked property documents dating back to 1847, according to a recent government census.

Critics say reform has failed to revive Venezuela's agriculture industry, which does not produce enough food to satisfy domestic demand. The government has been forced to import food amid shortages of staples such as meats, milk and sugar.

"If Mr. Chavez really wants to help Venezuela's poor farmers, he must offer them technical assistance and sufficient financing because land doesn't become productive without investment," said opposition leader Alfonzo Marquina. "We're only seeing increasing shortages and more expensive products."

Opponents accuse of Chavez, a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, or steering oil-rich Venezuela toward Cuba-style communism, becoming increasingly authoritarian and dangerously dividing the country along class lines.

Supporters say Venezuela's democracy is as healthy as ever under left-leaning Chavez and applaud president's initiatives to improve living conditions for the poor.