Chavez's Government Seizes Irish Company's Land

President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that his government has seized land owned by an Irish cardboard maker as part of a sweeping agrarian reform initiative.

The government took control of 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) owned by the Dublin-based Smurfit Kappa Group because they were being used to grow eucalyptus, a cardboard component, rather than food in violation of Venezuelan law, Chavez said during a televised speech.

Chavez said the land in Venezuela's central Lara state would be used to plant corn and beans, but Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello told state media that lands would be turned over to communities and government-funded neighborhood groups known as communal councils.

Smurfit Kappa Group representatives in Caracas could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Chavez launched a nationwide land reform after taking office in 1999, and a law approved by the Chavista-dominated National Assembly in 2001 empowers the state to seize underused farmlands. Critics say the initiative failed, leaving Venezuela with food shortages.

Since winning the right to seek indefinite re-election on Feb. 15, Chavez has stepped up efforts to boost state control over the economy, ordering the expropriation of a rice plant owned by U.S.-based Cargill on Wednesday. He also has called for the expansion of state-run cooperatives to further his vision of socialism.