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Urgent action to save nature preserve and biological station in Venezuela

By Andrés Branger

19.03.05 | Dear Friends of Hato Piñero, At an event yesterday sponsored by the Venezuelan government at MIT in Cambridge, several supporters of Hato Piñero had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. on behalf of the Branger family and the conservation mission established at their cattle ranch for now almost half a century. The Venezuelan government has invested considerable funds in public relation campaigns in the U.S. designed to enhance the image of President Hugo Chavez. At the meeting last night, friends and supporters tell me, the ambassador promised that due process would be respected in the case of Hato Piñero and several other private land holdings and that the constitutional rights of present owners would also be respected. He proceeded then to encourage everyone to write to him directly to express their concerns.

As friends, scientists, educators, fellow travelers, lovers of nature, and citizens of the world, I would like to ask you to please consider taking a few minutes of your time to write a note of support on behalf of the civil liberties and constitutional rights of all Venezuelans.

As the government of Venezuela ventures forward with its public relation blitz around the world, the democratic way of life for many Venezuelan citizens is quietly being eroded.

ABOUT OUR SITUATION:

As many of you know, Hato Piñero (www.hatopinero.com) is a cattle ranch and world renowned nature preserve and biological station, situated in the llanos of Venezuela. Since the time the Branger family purchased the land in 1950, cattle ranching operations have worked in harmony with habitat protection. Since the early 1980’s, thousands of scientist, educators, students and travelers from all over the world have visited the ranch in order to study and enjoy the natural beauty that is protected there. The nature preserve has been featured in documentaries from PBS’s NATURE, National Geographic and CNN to The Discovery Channel. Numerous articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and countless other European publications.

Last week the National Institute of Land announced the confiscation of Hato Piñero and all its assets, without compensation, on the grounds that the Branger family failed to provide sufficient proof of ownership and title (see Boston Globe article). Even though the land was purchased by the Branger family from a private holding in 1950, the institutes’ ownership challenge relates to what they consider a “dubious transfer” of title between a Spanish colonial grant and private sale that occurred before 1856. In any case, even taking into consideration that the property was purchased by the family in 1950, the current Land Law stipulates that in cases of ownership disputes such as this, ownership is established when the land has been under continuous and uninterrupted use for more than 20 years. More importantly, the law also affords the right to appeal any findings in the courts within sixty (60) days. On Wednesday, March 16th, just days after the official announcement, the director of National Land Institute, Eliezer Otaiza, as judge, jury and enforcer, declared that the confiscation of Hato Piñero and several other ranches would begin next Tuesday, March 22nd, denying the owners any and all due process, despite guarantees specifically articulated in the constitution. Ever since this announcement, government representatives have engaged in an orchestrated campaign of smear and distortion attacking my family and the image of Hato Piñero. It is obvious that they are planning a total destruction of the image that we've worked so hard to build and protect in order to create something else in its place. Of course, this portrait of guilt that's being painted on the Branger family would make any effort to defend our rights in any legal setting the more difficult, that is if we're ever afforded that right as guaranteed in the constitution. A question jumps to mind: if the government believes their case has merit, why not permit land owners to defend their right in court?

We commend the efforts of any government that endeavors to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life for its citizens. There are synergies that can be effectively exploited when the private and public sector come together to work toward this. A successful recent analogy would be Nelson Mandela’s vision for a South Africa beyond the shackles of the Apartheid regime. On numerous occasions my family and other cattle ranchers offered to donate land and share technical know-how and resources to facilitate the development of cooperative businesses which would have benefited the majority of residents in the region. Unfortunately, these efforts were rebuffed by the authorities who clearly had a different agenda in mind.

As the Venezuelan government polishes its image abroad I believe it is important that the world understands that to gain respect the government of Hugo Chavez must demonstrate respect for the rule of law as well as champion and safeguard the civil liberties of all citizens as articulated in the constitution.

In asking for your support I would like you to focus your message particularly on the issue of defending the due process and the right of every citizen to defend their rights under the law. At present, these rights are arbitrarily protected, at best, in Venezuela.

Please address your email correspondence to:

His Excellence: Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera

embajador@embavenez-us.org

with copy (cc) to: hatopinero@branger.com;
asanchez@lasnoticiasdecojedes.com; consejoeditorial@eluniversal.com;
website@el-carabobeno.com; jrojas98@cantv.net

As you can imagine this is an urgent matter and I would appreciate enormously your immediate consideration.

Sincerely,

Andrés Branger



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