Opinion

Commentary: Another death due to Venezuela's land grab

What a sad fraternity Venezuelan farmer Franklin Brito just joined.

Like Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo before him, Mr. Brito, 49, chose to starve himself to death over a question of principle. He shrank to 77 pounds and died last week rather than toe the line on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's dubious land reform program.

He's the 250th person to die in a property redistribution dispute since Mr. Chavez first launched his land-grab program nearly a decade ago. Most of the others were peasants the plan ostensibly sought to help, murdered by farmers.

What a miserable brotherhood Mr. Chavez has joined: the clique of authoritarians who govern nations that lack a rule of law, where private property can be given, licensed and legislated away. Nations like Cuba, where men waste away in protest.

In his latest copy-cat move to have Venezuela be more like Cuba's top-down, failed economy, Mr. Chavez seeks to take control of food production and distribution by offering a "Good Life card" that provides credit for groceries bought at state stores. The same government that let tens of thousands of tons of food rot at the port while prices soared wants a bigger piece of the land and food business.

Mr. Chavez argues that his land distribution is about equality. It's more likely about his quest to centralize the economy and take swipes at property owners.

Case in point: Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz assigned a prosecutor to determine whether anyone in Mr. Brito's circle of family and friends encouraged suicide and should serve a decade in prison.

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