Dow Jones International News
August 29, 2006
CARACAS - The long-standing fear of wealthy Venezuelans that the government plans an aggressive expropriation campaign moved a step closer to home Tuesday when the Caracas mayor's office approved the seizure of three golf courses to make way for housing.
Mayor Juan Barreto and council members authorized plans to take over golf courses owned by the Valle Arriba Golf Club and the Caracas Country Club, two of the most select organizations catering to the Venezuelan elite. A third resolution is pending for the La Lagunita Country Club, nestled in a wealthy enclave on the outskirts of Caracas.
"We plan to build homes for middle-class families there. The land is perfect," Alexander Nebreda, a member of Barreto's city council, told Dow Jones Newswires. "We plan to meet the owners and reach a friendly solution this week."
He couldn't say how soon the mayor's office expects to finalize the expropriation process.
Officials at the mayor's office said the government will now notify each club of the decision and the land will then be appraised to determine a fair value.
Barreto, a firebrand politician known for his short temper and strong allegiance to President Hugo Chavez, first threatened to take over the golf courses in January when he began a campaign to seize apartments and other urban properties in the Andean capital.
Under his direction, local authorities have seized apartments and buildings in the city this year and ushered in homeless families of firefighters and police officers.
Some expropriated owners have already agreed on compensation with the mayor's office while others are still battling the decision in court.
The mayor's detractors have criticized Barreto for moving to expropriate the land without having presented any proposal for what would be done with the terrain.
Chavez has long pushed ministers, mayors and governors to seize land in urban areas deemed "idle" to make way for scarce housing. The president's plan to provide massive housing for the poor, the cornerstone of his social agenda, has instead become his most visible public policy failures.
The exclusive country club administrators were caught off guard by the decision.
"We're just as surprised as everyone else," said Horacio Corredores, general manager for the Valle Arriba Golf Club. "You keep hearing word that the wolf is coming and now that the wolf is here you don't know how to react."