Update 2011-01-10 07:20 ET: As expected, Hugo Chávez, the elected president turned dictator of Venezuela, accused the “opposition” and “bourgeoisie” of having set the fire, and vowed that in response, the land confiscations (i.e., what he calls “expropriations” in his communist newspeak) would intensify. Yesterday the military and civilians were in standoff at three farms all day. Today AP published an article about the fire, completely swallowing the castro-communist propaganda (the situation room in Miraflores, their equivalent to the White House, is staffed by Cubans under the command of the vice president of Cuba, commander Valdes, a revolutionary who fought in the revolution with the Castro brothers). AP wrote that the opposition had no immediate comments. That is a patent lie, since they have commented all day yesterday as anybody with access to Twitter can testify. This suggests that AP is not neutral, just as it was not neutral when president Zelaya was legally deposed in Honduras in 2009. To their excuse, their reporter writes from Caracas, and due to media censorship he may not be fully aware of what is going on or how biased his access to information is. But anyone can ask himself, who has most to win on this fire? The farmers, whose legal claims went up in smoke, or the government who wants to confiscate their lands with a semblance of legality?
Original text 2011-01-08: At 3 AM today the offices of the agricultural authority INTI in Sta Barbara, western Venezuela, were set on fire. One woman was inside by could be saved. The recent confiscations of farms in the state of Zulia were coordinated from that office.
The confiscations led to massive demonstrations, roadblocks with hundreds if not thousands of parked vehicles on the highway, to prevent the government’s to arrive with the tanks they sent to enforce the confiscations. At first sight it might therefore appear that the arson was made by angry citizens.
With near certainty I would say that is not the case. Nobody has anything to win on this except the government. Ignoring the fact that important documents went up in smoke, documents that can show who is the real owner of farms, also the political effect is squarely benefitting the dictatorial government. Remember the Reichtag fire?
For background see posts on this blog from Dec 18, 2010, and forward.
The original story above was published 2011-01-09 09:19 ET. UPDATE 11:28 ET: General Angel Vivas tweeted from Venezuela that it seems to be chavistas who set the fire. Here is a Youtube video of events that took place at that office the past couple of weeks, when the farmers demanded justice, that their farms, their houses, their homes should be returned to them. All the documents that were filed were presumably consumed in the fire.
Update 13:50 ET: The fire occurred at 06:30 local time (06:00 ET). All documents that were destroyed have backups according to the minister of agriculture.
Link: Foreign Affairs on Venezuela