Private Property and Federalism Up for Debate in Venezuela
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.