On Aug. 21, thousands of agricultural producers from all over Venezuela occupied the port and customs facilities at Puerto Cabello, point of entry for 80% of Venezuela's agricultural imports. The producers want the government to develop a clear agricultural policy; rationalize imports; force agro-industry to accept national produce; and provide financial and technological aid to improve productivity. The producers are also demanding that the federal government decree a temporary suspension of certain agricultural imports that affect domestic production; and remove from their posts Agriculture Minister Raul Alegrett and Industry and Trade Ministery Freddy Rojas Parra, who the producers say are "enemies of Venezuelan agriculture." The protest--which was supported by six provincial governors, a number of legislators, and mayors from nearly all the municipalities in the 14 states whose economies depend on agricultural and livestock production--followed peaceful demonstrations on Aug. 19 by more than 50,000 agricultural producers in 13 different areas of the country. Hiram Gaviria, president of the National Farmers Federation (FEDEAGRO), blamed the lower price of some imported products on the fact that they are subsidized or are of a lower quality than national products. Agriculture Minister Alegrett said the government has taken note of FEDEAGRO's charges; however, Alegrett attributed Venezuela's agricultural crisis to a drop in internal consumption triggered by the economic recession, and to the strength of the national currency, the bolivar, which he said makes imports cheaper. [El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 8/22/97 from EFE; El Universal (Caracas) 8/22/97]
In his speech at the protest, FEDEAGRO president Gaviria noted that "Venezuela is the only country in the region which has a negative agricultural balance. We import between $1.5 billion and $1.6 billion and export between $300 million and $400 million. We have a negative agricultural balance of over $1 billion..." Gaviria suggested that the time was ripe "to ask ourselves where the national government is and with whom. The government is either with the four importer groups that depress production and jobs, or it is with these hundreds of thousands of men and women of the countryside. The government is with four ministers who insist on an anti-national economic policy, or it is with its governors, mayors, legislators, and institutions of civil society. It is with the International Monetary Fund, or it is with the homeland." [El Universal 8/22/97]
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