Franklin José Brito Rodríguez (5 September 1960 – 30 August 2010) was a Venezuelan agricultural producer and biologist who gained national and international prominence over a land ownership dispute with his neighbours. He carried out a series of legal challenges and dramatic public protests from 2004, culminating in his death due to a hunger strike. Legal rulings, and inspections by the Instituto Nacional de Tierras (INTI), repeatedly found that the land titles INTI had issued to his neighbours did not overlap his land. Brito's death, which came in the highly charged pre-election atmosphere of the Venezuelan parliamentary election, 2010, led to widespread domestic and international media coverage.
In 2002 Brito submitted a project to the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) to combat a disease that was affecting the yam plantations in Sucre Municipality, Bolívar State. However, his proposal entered in conflict with another one adopted by Sucre's Mayor, Juan Carlos Figarella, a member of the political party, Fifth Republic Movement. Brito also alerted the CVG about the supposed existence of a risk of the misappropriation of the funds in case that Figarella's proposal was accepted. Finally, Sucre's Mayor project was rejected, but Brito lost his post in Sucre Mayoralty's Agricultural Institute shortly after. Also, he was fired from his job as a secondary school teacher, and his wife from her job as a teacher at another public school. In both cases, the Britos claimed that their longevity and severance benefits were not paid.
Since March 2003, Brito claimed that some land titles issued to neighbours overlapped with parts of his farm. The government said that the neighbours had occupied the relevant lands before Brito's title had been assigned to him, and verified the property borders to ensure that there was no overlap between the land titles.
According to Brito, his dispute began when a 59-acre (240,000 m2) part of his 716-acre (2.90 km2) farm (numbers vary) in Bolívar State was taken over by neighbours. According to Brito, he later found out that the neighbours had been authorised by the INTI. INTI, a land reform agency of the Venezuelan government. Brito said that the takeover was orchestrated due to a grudge by a local mayor (of Sucre), whom he believed corrupt.
The government denied this, and said that Brito's lands had never been expropriated. The government said that Brito's title to 716 acres (2.90 km2) had been assured, and that there was no overlap of title with that of his neighbours, as repeated INTI inspections showed, initially in November 2003, and again in 2005, and confirmed by a local court in December 2006 and by the Supreme Tribunal of Venezuela in March 2007.
After Brito (in his version of events) lost part of his farm, he staged a range of public protests in order to raise public support for his cause, including a total of six hunger strikes. His first hunger strike took place on 24 November 2004, and another in 2005, and as a result he received compensation for alleged damages. In 2005, when a court decided against him, Brito amputated a finger for the television cameras. In 2006 an appeal to a higher court was ruled inadmissible. A second hunger strike followed, in response to which the president of INTI attended to his case. INTI said that a December 2006 inspection by it found that there was no overlap with neighbours' claims, and new access roads and other improvements made to his property, carried out and financed by INTI. In 2007 the Supreme Tribunal of Justice turned down his case. In 2008, in the face of another hunger strike, according to Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, the president of INTI again intervened over Brito's attempt to invalidate his neighbours' ownership titles, donating agricultural supplies and a tractor, and deforesting 40 acres (160,000 m2) of Brito's land. According to The Economist, the government had a habit of reneging on its promises after he ended his hunger strikes. At one point Brito turned down almost all of a government settlement of $230,000 on the grounds that he believed it could be seen as illegal and potentially lead to his incarceration for corruption.
In July 2009 he began another protest in front of the Organisation of American States building in Venezuela, which lasted until December 2009, when INTI revoked the disputed land titles for humanitarian reasons due to Brito's continuing hunger strikes. Brito however rejected this as not firmly legal, and began another protest in front of the OAS building, leading the OAS to offer mediation. In January 2010 the Venezuelan Attorney General applied to a court to have Brito moved to a hospital. He was initially cared for by the Venezuelan Red Cross and later transferred to a military hospital under the supervision of the Red Cross. The government said that the hospitalisation was for his own protection. Agencia Venezolana de Noticias cited Red Cross and United Nations support for the move, and quoted the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Venezuela, Alfredo Missair, as saying that "I had never seen a State so much worried for the defense of the rights of a single man as it is the case of Franklin Brito". Family members visited regularly and kept the media informed of Brito's health. From June he was attended at the hospital by Red Cross doctors. The government said that during Brito's hospitalization the Attorney General's office visited him 79 times. On 23 August the Minister for Agriculture, Juan Carlos Loyo, visited Brito in hospital and spoke there with his family members about possible resolution of the dispute, with the media reporting that discussions between government representatives and family members had been ongoing for several days.
Brito died, age 49, in the hospital on the evening of 30 August, having intensified his hunger strike in mid-August. His family said that Brito had become a "symbol and standard bearer for all those who have been stepped on by power and government arrogance." The government stated that opposition politicians and media were trying to exploit his protest for political gain; his death came in the highly charged pre-election atmosphere of the Venezuelan parliamentary election, 2010, and led to widespread domestic and international media coverage. United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley said that the United States was saddened by Brito's death. Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua also expressed regret, reiterating the government's position that Brito's land had never been expropriated. On the receipt of a private petition after his death, the Attorney General announced an investigation into whether Brito had been induced to commit suicide by continuing the hunger strike. The government also accused the Venezuelan opposition of acting like "vultures" and desiring Brito's death for their own political ends.