By Natalia Kidd
BUENOS AIRES – The number of acres of land in the hands of foreigners in Argentina has almost tripled in the last 10 years, a phenomenon that is spreading to areas that are rich in natural resources and that is affecting small towns that are finding themselves enclosed within the domains of large landholders.
At the beginning of the 21st century, about 7 million hectares (17.5 million acres) were in the hands of foreigners, but this has increased in the past decade to 20 million hectares (50 million acres), according to Argentine Agrarian Federation, or FAA, figures.
The FAA is an association of small and medium farmers who now are demanding that a stop be put to this phenomenon.
“Here, two factors are combining: on the one hand, there is no kind of regulation, and on the other, the price of land in Argentina does not exceed $20,000 per hectare ($8,000 per acre) in the best areas, while in India, for example the cost is 200,000 euros per hectare (about $102,000 per acre),” Congressman Pablo Orsolini, with the opposition Radical Civic Union, told Efe.
Orsolini is working on a bill addressing the issue of foreign land ownership.
The bill, introduced in March, establishes the conditions under which a foreigner may buy land, among which he or she must be a resident, and it limits the amount of land that may be bought: for example, no more than 25 percent of the territory within a municipality or district may be in the hands of foreigners.
The idea of setting limits on the phenomenon of foreign land purchasing also seems to have the approval of President Cristina Fernandez’s administration.
“There has to be a law defending the right for Argentine land to remain in the hands of Argentines,” one of the “main activities” of the country that “will be very much in demand in the future,” Agriculture Minister Julian Dominguez said last week.
The government does not have a bill in preparation on this matter, but it feels that, because of the growing worldwide need to produce food and the resulting search for agriculturally productive lands, “Argentine land must be safeguarded,” Agriculture Ministry officials told Efe.
The largest foreign landholder in Argentina is Italy’s Benetton family, which owns about 900,000 hectares (2.25 million acres), most of it in Patagonia and dedicated to the production of wool for the family’s textile empire.
“But there are many foreigners who don’t buy to produce, but rather to position themselves in places with water, mineral resources and hydrocarbons and in strategic border zones,” Orsolini said.
Currently, the only regulation limiting possession of land on the part of foreigners is a 1944 decree that restricts acquisitions in border areas and zones that are key to national security, a regulation that – according to the lawmaker – is not adhered to.
“For example, Briton Joe Lewis bought lands in Rio Negro and there he built a landing strip 500 meters (yards) from the maritime coast in a national security zone,” Orsolini said.
Lewis, the former owner of the Hard Rock Cafe, became famous locally when he bought 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres) of land in Patagonia and stopped public access to the Hidden Lake paradise, a situation that resulted in a lawsuit.
Other large and famous landowners include U.S. media mogul Ted Turner and U.S. financier George Soros. EFE