Venezuela Table of Contents
Despite agrarian reform efforts beginning in 1960, Venezuela's land tenure patterns in 1990 still portrayed the typical Latin American dichotomy between latifundios and minifundios (small holdings). For example, data on land tenancy from agricultural censuses from 1937 through 1971 pointed to a pattern of land concentration. More recent estimates mirrored data from these earlier censuses. One estimate in the late 1980s, for example, held that the smallest 42.9 percent of all farms covered only 1 percent of the arable land, while the largest 3 percent accounted for as much as 77 percent of arable land.
The country's major land reform program began with an initial decree in 1958 after the fall of the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. The Agrarian Reform Law of 1960 created the National Agrarian Institute (Instituto Nacional Agrario--INA), which sought to provide land to those who worked it, initially by transferring public lands and later by expropriating private holdings of arable land not under cultivation. Although the government invested substantial resources in an effort to integrate its rural development strategy through the provision of roads, markets, schools, and clinics, new agricultural colonies rarely had the conveniences of earlier farming towns. Accordingly, the land reform experienced a dropout rate as high as one-third. Moreover, few of the peasants who stayed in the settlements actually obtained legal title to their land, which remained in the hands of the state.
Land reform had made only modest adjustments in Venezuelan land tenure through 1990. By the 1980s, over 200,000 families had benefited from the state's distribution of nearly 10 percent of the country's total land area. The average size of the country's 400,000 farming units stood at eighty hectares in 1989, considerably higher than earlier decades. Improved access to land helped expand the country's total land under cultivation and accelerated the country's attainment of self-sufficiency in certain crops and livestock. On the negative side, however, the benefits of land reform were seriously tainted by the programs' high failure rate and the fact that as many as 90 percent of participants never gained title to their land. Without land titles, farmers lacked collateral to obtain financing for needed agricultural inputs. These factors, combined with the fact that immense private tracts of land remained intact, demonstrated the relatively minor impact of land reform.
Data as of December 1990