Franklin Brito, a farmer in the southern Venezuelan state of Bolivar, died Monday night while protesting the government sanctioned takeover of his farm in 2000 under President Hugo Chávez’s land reform policies. Mr. Brito had failed to regain his land from the government for the past decade despite numerous appeals and several previous hunger strikes that began in 2005. Mr. Brito passed away in a military hospital where he had been forcibly interned for his own safety, according to government officials.
Brito’s claims had initially garnered the support of Chávez who publicly supported him and called for government officials to rectify the situation. However, the government made no further attempts to satisfy Brito’s land dispute. Eventually, the government turned against Brito and accused him of having mental health problems. Venezuela’s minister for agriculture and land, Juan Carlos Loyo, stated publicly that Mr. Brito was being used by opponents of Hugo Chávez and his administration for political ends.
Brito had been placed in a medically induced coma last Friday to treat a respiratory condition, according to government sources, and also suffered from severe liver and kidney damage. Authorities claim he collapsed and that attempts were made to revive him before he was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. on Monday evening.