The Animal Farm in Venezuela....
Where are the world-wide protests???
Last May, a private farm amidst Venezuela's rolling green countryside was expropriated by the country's president, Hugo Chavez. As Chavez later described, the farm's owner "is out there crying and saying he is going to get his land back. Well, he'll have to topple Chavez to get this back, because that farm belongs to the revolution now."
The farm's owner is Diego Arria. While Chavez has labeled Arria an "unburied corpse" of Venezuela's past, Arria has hardly been a lifeless corpse.
Seventy-year-old Arria has served as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, and as a personal advisor to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Arria captured the world's attention when, as president of the U.N. Security Council, he condemned the failure of the international community to act against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for his brutal treatment of Bosnian Muslims. He was a star witness during the prosecution of Milosevic for the genocide at Srebrenica. Prior to his UN tenure, Arria had been a leading political figure in Venezuela, serving as governor of the capital Caracas in the 1970s.
In 1988, Arria purchased the farm - named "La Carolina" in memory of his deceased daughter - for $300,000. The property was then in ruins. Arria renovated and restored the property, developing it into a farm complete with an organic coffee plantation and grass-fed cows producing 600 gallons of milk daily.
Under the pretext of confiscating "unused land," Venezuela's National Land Institute stormed onto the property on May 1 with a platoon of soldiers. The uniformed men raided the farmhouse at gunpoint. They took Arria's clothing and even his horse-riding boots as trophies.
Thirty-eight families depended on La Carolina for their livelihoods. They were told to find employment elsewhere. The cows, which Chávez claimed on television were "starving," were given away as gifts. One of them ended up on a barbeque spit, cooked for President Chavez himself. I contacted a former employee at La Carolina who told me that the farm's horses were slaughtered and sold as "beef." The seizure of Arria's farm and the plundering of his property has nothing to do with Venezuelan law or "reclaiming unused land." In fact, the Venezuelan government is the largest landowner in the country and most of its holdings lie unused.
I feel partially responsible for Arria's current predicament. I extended an invitation to him in April to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference in Norway that this year included Lech Walesa, Rebiya Kadeer, Anwar Ibrahim, and Garry Kasparov.
It was Arria's participation in this conference that compelled him to speak out against Chavez's human rights violations. Arria had told media covering the event that Chavez would one day face international justice for his crimes against the Venezuelan people. The reaction of the Chavez government to Arria's statements was swift and implacable.
This expropriation was punishment for Arria's criticism of Chávez. Chavez even presented photos of the farm on Venezuelan state television. He gloated that "It looked like Falcon Crest" comparing Arria's farm to the winery estate featured on the American television show from the 1980s and underlined the presence of a swimming pool was a sign of its "bourgeois" nature. This sort of comment seeks only to sow resentment in the minds of those who believe inequalities of wealth represent an injustice that requires correction through theft.