Venezuelan Homeless Occupy Abandoned Buildings, City Preps Legal Take-over

According to Caracas City Mayor Juan Barreto, 32 abandoned buildings have been occupied illegally recently, which must be distinguished from the city's efforts to legally expropriate abandoned buildings for the city's homeless.

Caracas, Venezuela, January 12, 2006—Venezuelans desperate for housing have recently occupied dozens of buildings in Caracas. Caracas’ Mayor, Juan Barreto, who opposes these illegal occupations, is preparing the path for expropriating some abandoned buildings, to provide poor Venezuelans with new homes. “We are going to comply with the law and protect the interests, life, property, and belongings of all citizens,” said Barreto.

The first residential buildings were seized over the weekend and more have been taken over during the week. Barreto said last night that 32 buildings are now occupied illegally. The seized buildings were either deserted or mostly empty.

These occupations come after heavy rain a week ago made some poor neighborhoods uninhabitable, due to a danger of mudslides. Venezuela as a whole is facing a severe housing shortage, mostly due to insufficient new homes being built, the destruction of existing homes because of mudslides, and continuing population growth.

Using his powers as Mayor, Barreto, who is a member of President Chavez’s MVR party, issued decree 0147, which allows for, “the temporary occupation for the majority benefit,” of 13 buildings to provide housing. The city will compensate the owners of the buildings, explained Barreto.

The Caracas city administration counts 92 abandoned buildings, which could be targeted for temporary occupation by homeless Venezuelans. “The right to property should be democratized,” said Barreto. “It cannot be that one person has six, eight, 10, 15 buildings … while there are tens of thousands of citizens who have no property.”

Barreto tried to draw a strong contrast, though, between the illegal occupations and the city’s effort to legally expropriate abandoned buildings. “The illegal occupations are one thing, and the expropriations we’re carrying out are another,” the mayor said. “We respect private property and particularly individual property.”

According to Barreto, political groups are carrying some of the occupations, some of which support Chavez and some that oppose the government, mostly in order to “create chaos.”

The President of the Supreme Court, Omar Mora, said that Barreto’s decree did not go against Venezuelan law or the constitution. Mora said it was plainly reasonable and correct that the Mayor expropriated, “some property to satisfy the housing needs of those sectors most in need.”

Julio Borges, the leader of opposition party Primero Justicia (Justice First), said that the Mayor’s plans were not enough. Borges said the large Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters in Caracas should be turned into public housing for all those without homes.

Borges said, “the mayor must think big and not small, for a solution… for the millions of Caracas.” The opposition leader said the government appropriations were the result of bad planning and are only a temporary solution for the problem.

The mayor dismissed seventeen police officers suspected of helping people to illegally enter and occupy buildings. Barreto said those police officers with a higher level of responsibility would face criminal charges.

There have been reports of resistance by residents of several of the buildings to the takeovers. So far, there have been no reported deaths or serious injuries as a result of these clashes. More police and security forces are being put across Caracas to stop further illegal appropriations by poor Venezuelans.