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Venezuelan hunger striker dies

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Farmer Franklin Brito dies at a military hospital on Monday night
  • He was on a hunger strike over a takeover of his land
  • Critics of President Hugo Chavez have rallied around Brito

(CNN) -- A Venezuelan farmer who went on a hunger strike over the occupation of his land by neighboring farmers with the support of the government died Monday night, the government and his family said Tuesday.

Franklin Brito, 49, was a farmer in the southern Venezuelan state of Bolivar. He said his land was taken over with the blessing of President Hugo Chavez's land reform agency in 2000. For a decade, he appealed and protested with a number of hunger strikes in an effort to get his land back.

On Tuesday, Brito's daughter, Angela, said the family will take up her father's cause by appealing for help to international organizations and the Venezuelan legal system.

Brito died at a military hospital, where he had been held since December.

Venezuelan officials took all the actions necessary to try to save Brito's life, the Venezuelan government said.

Venezuela's minister for agriculture and land, Juan Carlos Loyo, said Brito always had the support of the government and said the expropriation of his land was never planned by officials.

But Brito's supporters are vociferous critics of the government, blaming it for prolonging Brito's agony by not intervening and resolving the dispute over his land.

The hunger striker's death comes at a time when critics of the president continue to paint him as a leader intolerable of dissent and criticism. Key midterm elections that Chavez's opponents hope to capitalize on will be held in September.

Starting in 2000, Brito appealed to all the agencies that he could, but no one investigated his claim that his land had been taken illegally, his daughter said. After years of fruitless efforts, Brito staged his first hunger strike in 2005.

President Chavez once publicly said he sided with Brito and called for officials to make Brito whole, but nothing ever came to be, Angela Brito said.

Instead, the country's attorney general said Brito suffered from mental health problems. Officials forcibly interned Brito at a military hospital after he moved his hunger strike in front of the building of the Organization of American States. The government said Brito could not make decisions for himself and was moved to the hospital for his safety.

Loyo, the agriculture minister, said Brito was used for political ends by those opposed to Chavez and that "led to his life being at risk."

At the time of his death, Brito was in an induced coma that doctors were obligated to put him in on Friday because of a respiratory deficiency, the government said. He also suffered from a lung infection and severe damage to his liver and kidneys.

Angela Brito said her family received a call from authorities Monday night saying that Brito had collapsed and that they were trying to revive him. He was pronounced dead at 9 p.m.