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Land Reform Sparks Violence in Venezuela

A 2001 agrarian reform law is pitting landowners and rural workers against each other.
Through the reform program, the Venezuelan government, led by President Hugo Chavez, plans to redistribute almost 4 million acres of land to poor workers -- almost 2 million has already been handed out (Background Report). Easing poverty in the nation has long been a pledge of the ex-army officer Chavez, whose brother, Adan, is in charge of the country's National Land Institute.

However, as armed laborers attempt to take over land from ranch owners -- some with legal permits, some without -- both sides are claiming threats of violence. In fact, the government claims more than 15 peasants have been killed in clashes with landowners this year.

While landowners say the rural peasants are taking over their farms illegally, the government denies it is supporting the land invasions. However, officials admit some laborers are acting without proper authorization.

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