Chavez says speed up takeover of Irish company's land

CARACAS Wed Aug 31, 2011 10:24pm EDT

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during a cabinet meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas August 25, 2011. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during a cabinet meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas August 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Miraflores Palace/Handout

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged his agriculture minister on Wednesday to speed up the government takeover of land owned by Ireland's Smurfit Kappa in Venezuela.

In 2009, Chavez ordered the seizure of a eucalyptus tree farm owned by Smurfit Kappa, a major cardboard packaging company, vowing to clear the trees and use the land for crops. He said the plantation and its water-hungry trees were drying out local rivers.

"We have to take the last square meter of land from Smurfit. ... Let's move more quickly, that's an order," Chavez said in a telephone call to state TV where he spoke with Agriculture Minister Juan Carlos Loyo.

It was not immediately clear if Chavez's comments suggested he planned to seize more land belonging to Smurfit Kappa or accelerate the takeover of the tree farm.

The land seizure ordered two years ago involved 3,700 acres, which analysts said represented a small part of the company's landholdings.

Loyo said Smurfit Kappa still owned 29,650 acres.

Chavez has nationalized large swaths of Venezuela's economy, including much of its vital oil sector.

He has sought to double the amount of land under cultivation in the South American country.

In the past, Chavez has taken over big farms deemed idle and given them to small farmers to stimulate farming in an effort to combat poverty in the countryside.

Chavez made the comments from a military hospital in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, where he is having a third round of chemotherapy for cancer.

(Reporting by Mario Naranjo; Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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