Members of the Asamblea Nacional (AN) are pushing forward with another sweeping and controversial bill in Venezuela. On this occasion it is land-use planning and management legislation, amid criticism that it opens the door for illegal expropriations and usurps autonomy from state and municipal governments.
Members of the government have lauded the Proyecto De Ley Orgánica para la Ordenación y Gestión del Territorio (PLOOGT) — for planning and management of the territory — as essential to the judicial basis for sustainable development and environmental protection. This initiative “foments” (stimulates) the good use of Venezuela’s natural resources, says Manuel Briceño, who presides over the AN’s Standing Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change.
Currently, proponents are leading the bill through a campaign of public meetings, which began last month and are set to end on September 30. At one event, Briceño, a member of the ruling Partido Socialista Unida de Venezuela, said the AN’s pro-government majority hopes to pass the PLOOGT after a final debate in November, and then President Nicolás Maduro would sign it into law before the end of the year.
However, CEDICE Libertad, a free-market think tank, has argued that the majority of the PLOOGT’s articles are unconstitutional. Their Cost-Benefit Analysis contends a basic disrespect for private property rights and a strong centralization of power under the guise of a “communal state.” The publicly announced aim of the PLOOGT is, after all, “to lead public policy towards the construction of a Socialist geographical space.”
If passed, the PLOOGT would repeal the 1983 Organic Law of Land Management (LOOT) and the 1987 Organic Law of Urban Planning (LOOU), concentrating authority into one law with Miraflores, the executive branch, in charge. The bill states that the president, in cabinet, “shall exercise the supreme authority” over the planning and management of the territory.
Luis Alfonso Herrera, a constitutional lawyer and CEDICE researcher, warns that the proposed law violates Article 115 of the Constitution in that the “expropriating entity holds the discretion” to determine entitlement of the property and at “which moment to proceed with the expropriation.” The bill notes explicitly that land management plans are considered “legal limitations to property and consequently do not constitute, alone, justifications for compensation.”
The PLOOGT follows a sustained effort by the Venezuelan government to restrict the right to private property through ambiguous legislation, says Isabel Pereira, director of the Caracas-based CEDICE — and the economic incentives within the bill “encourage the unprofitable.”
Caracas’s Metropolitan Mayor’s Office expands on the concern over private property and focuses on “threats” against local governments, which would be under new regional authorities appointed by the president. The PLOOGT, they assert, is an “attempt to establish a socialist State [that] centralizes decision-making and imposes projects, programs, and policies at will” and ignores the federalism of Article 165 of the Constitution.
The bill is an “improved and updated version” of the 2006 Organic Law for the Planning and Management of the Territory (LOPGOT), according to the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela. The AN subsequently repealed that law in 2007, and then accepted the PLOOGT for initial debate in 2008. Its approval now requires a simple majority, which the ruling party has.
I’ve always criticized media for always focusing on the negative. In truth, I’ve been guilty as well. While preparing for an interview this past week, my 20-something-year-old niece told me to make sure to help bridge the gap of difference between Puerto Rico and the United States — to not just harp on the bad stuff. She insisted, however, that I make sure to tell the truth about what is happening. On a political program that deals with the problems societies face and their potential solutions it’s hard to focus on the good stuff. So I stuck to telling the truth about the situation but did get a moment of praise for the islands natural beauty and amazing people. So in honor of a new week I figured that since I didn’t get a chance to do it during interviews this past week, I should at least take one moment or two to tell our readers about some of the amazing things about la isla del encanto (the isle of enchantment). Without further delay and in no particular order, here are some of the good things about Puerto Rico: History. If you like Spanish colonial history, Puerto Rico has it all. The massive Spanish fort El Morro, stands overlooking the bay of San Juan at the point of Old San Juan, which itself is an interesting city to walk through, soak up the history, and eat at some very classy restaurants. Culture. Want to see some really neat culture? Go to any town that still holds las fiestas patronales (patron saint festival). Some towns have scaled back or even canceled these festivals due to budget issues in recent years, but if you can find one it is always a good time. Music, food, and yes, drink. There are also art galleries and music festivals galore. Check with Puerto Rico Tourism for dates and locations. Beaches. It’s an island people. Check out Luquillo Beach (pictured) in the east, or my personal favorite Crash Boat beach in Aguadilla. It’s not just one island. Puerto Rico includes Mona Island, for example, between the main island and the Dominican Republic to the west. It’s run by the US Parks service, but camping is allowed. You will be "roughing it," but one of my fondest childhood memories was camping on Mona Island and sleeping to the sound of the waves. Other islands include Vieques and Culebra, which are both mostly undeveloped but large islands. Culebra has about 3,000 residents and Vieques about 10,000. Boating. The US and British Virgin Islands are just a short boat ride away or a few hours sailing if you like slow boating. Rain forest. "El Yunque" is the only one in the US National Parks system. No passport required, and the US dollar is the currency. Skilled labor force. This one shouldn’t be surprising. Amazing artists, musicians, and actors. You’ve all heard of Ricky Martin, but he is only one of many who have come out of the island — not to mention boxers and beauties. Yes, that last one is important. The girls are pretty. I should know, I married one. Soon we will go back to bashing the politicians and bad policies and hopefully offering some ideas on how to make things better. For now, however, just think of a sunset and rolling waves on the shore. That’s how I fall asleep every night.