August 31, 2010 / 2:39 AM / 9 years ago

Venezuelan hunger-striker dies after land protest

* Farmer had been demonstrating against nationalizations

* Chavez government said Franklin Brito was unstable

By Patricia Rondon

CARACAS, Aug 30 (Reuters) - A Venezuelan farmer who had been on hunger-strike for months in a protest against President Hugo Chavez’s nationalization policies died on Monday in a military hospital, his family said.

“Yes, he’s dead,” Franklin Brito’s son, who has the same name as the farmer, told Reuters.

The death of Brito, whose case had become a cause celebre for opposition parties and rights groups in Venezuela, has come at a sensitive time with political passions rising ahead of a Sept. 26 vote for Venezuela’s parliament. [ID:nVENEZUELA]

Brito had been at Caracas’ military hospital against his will since December after being picked up by authorities from a city square where he had camped out in protest.

Authorities said Brito was mentally unstable and accused the political opposition of trying to exploit his case.

Brito’s 24 hectares (59 acres) of yucca and watermelon plants in southern Bolivar state were seized in 2003 — part of the roughly 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) expropriated in recent years by Chavez’s government.

He camped for months outside the Caracas office of the Organization of American States, sewed shut his mouth and even chopped off one of his fingers in front of television cameras.

Nationalizations have been hugely popular among Chavez supporters, who see them as a form of wealth redistribution. His opponents cite them as evidence that Chavez is turning Venezuela into a Cuban-style socialist regime.

The farmer had called off his hunger strike for a week in December, but then resumed it saying the government was offering his land back without legally rescinding the seizure.

Recently, Brito had been taking some fluids intermittently, his family said, but was so weak he could not speak.

Photos showed him emaciated and weak before he died. (Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Chris Wilson)

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