Caracas Mayor Announces Expropriation of Golf Courses

In a move that could affect thousands of Venezuelans, the Greater Caracas Mayor’s office decreed the expropriation of two Caracas golf courses, in order to build housing. However, in a declaration yesterday, the Vice-President’s office announced that it is not in agreement with the expropriation.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 31, 2006 —In a move that could affect thousands of Venezuelans, the Greater Caracas Mayor’s office decreed the expropriation of two Caracas golf courses, in order to build housing. However, in a declaration yesterday, the Vice-President’s office announced that it is not in agreement with the expropriation decision.

Greater Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto—a member of President Hugo Chavez’ MVR party—first announced the expropriation of La Lugunita Golf Course in a controversial speech on August 22. On August 24, the official decree was registered in Gazette 00152 of the Metropolitan District of Caracas, declaring the “forced acquisition” of the Valle Arriba Golf Course (43 hectares) and the Caracas Country Club (80 hectares) for the “Endowment of housing for the habitants of the Metropolitan district of Caracas.”

Barreto stated that the lands of just one golf course could provide housing for 5,000 individuals, and that this first phase of expropriations could benefit 25,000 people.

According to Barreto, 500,000 people in the Greater Caracas region live in “precarious situations.” "We have done serious studies that demonstrate that one square meter of golf course turf consumes what 20 families of 10 people need to survive for a week,” said Barreto.

According to El Universal, Fernando Zozaya, President of the Caracas Country Club, said that the expropriation would affect 11,000 people directly—employees and members—in the Country Club alone. He also stated that it would have a negative impact on all of those in the nearby community, because the terrain is not suitable for housing.

"You would have to make a very costly investment in order to make these lands adequate for housing, because they weren’t designated for that since the beginning,” he said. Zozaya is still waiting for an official acknowledgement of the expropriation.

Leopoldo López, the mayor of the Municipality of Chacao, in which the Caracas Country Club is located, agreed, and accused Barreto of not having a plan or having carried out studies of the land, which, according to El Nacional, he says is “meteorologically and seismically” high risk land.

Instead, López said he would rather see the housing built on public property, such as with the plans for 10,500 homes on lands pertaining to La Carlota airport, and for 11,000 homes on part of Fort Tiuna’s property, which López stated were accepted by President Chavez. López further suggested that a referendum be brought to Caracas citizens to see what they would like to use these spaces for, and which spaces they would like to see used for housing.

According to Carlos Ciordia, Metropolitan Advisor for the Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo Municipalities the execution of Barreto’s expropriation plans are “impossible and illegal.”

“In order to expropriate housing, you need to have the resources to be able to pay the indemnization established under the property law, when you are talking about an expropriation for public utility or social interest,” he said.

But according to El Universal, Barreto announced this week that there are some irregularities in the deeds to the Valle Arriba and the Caracas Country Club golf courses.

“We are respectful of private property, but here you have a dispute,” said Barreto, “because in 1983 and 1955, they carried out a purchase of the land of these golf courses that were in the name of a Mr. Alejandro Ávila Gil, who was dead. They revived him, because he died in 1949, and six year later, they got him to sign some purchase documents.”

Barreto further justified the means of forced acquisition in that they are recuperating a public space and “democratizing housing.”

“The deeper discussion that we are proposing is the use of urban space. In some, you can construct housing, in others parks, in others, spaces of recreation for multiple use,” he said.

Vice-President’s Declaration

In a declaration yesterday, however, Venezuelan Vice-President José Vicente Rangel announced that “The National Government does not share the decision adopted by the Mayor of the Metropolitan District of Caracas… in which the forced acquisition is declared of the land… considering that the same could affect constitutional and legal norms of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

“The National Government respects and must respect the current legal order and condemns whatever attempt aimed at suffocating, regardless of where it may come from, the structure of the rule of law. In this way, under no circumstances, will it accept that the right to property, in which it is conceived in the current Constitution, becomes vulnerable in any way,” reads the declaration.

Housing Expropriations

Meanwhile, the Greater Caracas Mayor’s office also decided that 95 buildings in Caracas will be expropriated, benefiting 25,000 families that currently rent apartments in these, before the end of 2006. The compensation to current owners is estimated to cost $93 million. The daily Ultimas Noticias reported that 24 expropriations have already been carried out since January.

It was also announced that thus far, approximately 3,000 families renting in the Caracas Metropolitan region have asked for their apartments to be expropriated and turned over to them, for which they will need over $1 billion to resolve everyone’s situation.

Garcia called on the National Assembly to pass legislation putting a hold on forced evictions. According to Ultimas Noticias, there are close to 2,000 planned evictions.