Mayors of Venezuela’s Capital Engage in Verbal Fistfight

A spat which began just over a week ago between Caracas mayors has turned up the heat, leaving some calling for the resignation of the larger Metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto Cipriani, and others calling for further housing expropriations.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 30, 2006 —A spat which began just over a week ago between Caracas mayors has turned up the heat, leaving some calling for the resignation of Greater Caracas mayor Juan Barreto, and others calling for further housing expropriations.

The conflict began last week, August 22, during the swearing in of the Metropolitan Public Planning Councils, in the Teresa Carreño Theater in Caracas. During the event, which all of the five Caracas mayors attended, Greater Caracas mayor Juan Barreto gave a speech to the largely Chavista crowd, blasting Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition Mayors of the upper middle class Caracas districts of Chacao and Baruta.

He blamed them for inciting riots and carrying out land invasions and declared that they will soon be in prison. He joked at the internal strife within the Primero Justicia party, and asked, “how can they even sit together?” He attacked them for practicing “fascism in their municipality” and said that “they are going to see us more… walking the streets freely… let’s see if they come back at us and turn fascist…. Let’s see if they are capable of respecting and tolerating as we are.”

“We are not going to tolerate one more assault on the municipalities that they claim to run,” said Barreto referring to the increased evictions that have taken place across the city. “We are not going to tolerate one more illegal raid of a neighbor’s house, that they continue to evict people, changing the ordinances, expelling through illegal channels the neighbors of the municipalities that they claim to govern.”

He declared that he is not going to let them “disqualify the honorable politics of expropriation” that they have been attempting to carry out, and stated, “if we have to expropriate an entire municipality, we will do it.” He also declared that they have already approved a document of expropriation for the La Lagunita Golf Course in Caracas, for the construction of residential housing. A threat that gained momentum this week, when Barreto presented a decree that would expropriate both the Lagunita and the Country Club golf courses in Caracas.

Barreto was accused of further insults during his diatribe, and of unconfirmed further aggressions against López and Capriles after he left the stage, including one accusation that he actually spat at Capriles.

López and Capriles held a press conference the following day in which they announced that they were taking legal action against Barreto, not just for his remarks on stage, but for what they said occurred at the culmination of the event, “when 30 people came at us to lynch us with violence, when they spit at mayor Capriles in the face, when they tried to hit me in the face,” said López.

López announced that Barreto’s speech “was a clear instigation to hate, instigation to a lynching and to confrontation.” Capriles announced that he would defend his municipality, and it’s people and stated, “This is the last aggression of this kind that we are going to permit.”

Numerous politicians have since jumped on board to condemn Barreto. Julio Borges, the national coordinator for Primero Justicia, called for Barreto’s resignation, while Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of Tal Cual and campaign manager for Presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, stated that this shows “his own failure as mayor.” Meanwhile, Benjamín Rausseo, the comedian turned presidential candidate, condemned both Barreto’s actions and words, and declared that this is evidence of the internal crisis in the MVR ranks.

According to Correo Del Caroni, the human rights organization, PROVEA called on the MVR to “publicly” state their opinion with respect to Barreto’s behavior. Perhaps, in part due to the criticism, the MVR designated a commission to analyze Barreto’s behavior and possible disciplinary actions. They hope to have a decision within two weeks.

Meanwhile, Barreto, has received support from dozens of community organizations, associations and media, who agree with his position last Tuesday, “ vindicating the right to housing.” In a document posted to the website, Aporrea last week, they declared,

“Those that were scandalized by the ‘vulgarities that the mayor said’ don’t understand the meaning of the those words, Juan comes from the people and that’s why he feels the same as those of us who have been excluded from society in the past.”

But that did not stop Barreto from being received with mixed emotions d uring last weekend’s free Concert for Peace, held in Caracas. Barreto took to the stage for only a few minutes, and was received with competing jeers and cheers.

The base of the conflict now appears to be over the politics of evictions and expropriations, that each of the Caracas mayors is currently participating in to some extent.