Hole in one for Caracas low income housing
Hugo Chavez has been making waves in the international political scene, forging diplomatic ties with Iran and Russia, leading anti-American summits and using Venezuela’s oil money to aid Cuba and several other Caribbean countries. In light of his attempts to make Venezuela a world force to be reckoned with, many have wondered recently if he is doing all can to improve the social problems of his own country.
News that Caracas mayor and Chavez ally Juan Barreto is planning to expropriate the city’s three golf courses for low-income housing, through “forced acquisition,” is clear proof that actions are being taken at the ground level to directly benefit the citizens. According to The Guardian, there is a shortage of one million homes and this would make space for 50,000 homes.
The golf courses, one of which dates back to 1918, serve as centers for social networking, business negotiations and as a backdrop for other mysterious goings-on in Venezuelan politics. On the international stage, golf courses have acquired notoriety as the informal setting for such encounters, strategic as the huge open fields keep confidential exchanges out of earshot, and because the game itself provides much downtime for walking and discussing. We must look no further than the lobbying scandals of the last year, seemingly born on the golf course, that marred policy makers and government representatives alike.
While residents at the country clubs see the move as an affront to private property laws, the mayor’s intentions are to redistribute the land and the wealth in more equitable ways, in line with Chavez’s goals at the national level. Despite the negative opinions some have of such actions, Chavez still has an approval rating of over 60 percent in Venezuela.
It could be argued that such drastic measures (including talks of acquiring second homes) will alienate the rich nationals and internationals. In reaction they may avoid investment in Venezuela, resulting in capital flight to banks on other shores that are more accommodating to the wealthy. But it is arguable whether this will necessarily hurt the country.
For now Venezuela has a commodity, petroleum, that gives it the upper hand in negotiation. The country also has the largest supply of it in the world outside the Middle East. As long as there is a demand and the resource lasts, Venezuela will continue to dictate their terms of trade and world standing.
Taking a step back from the macroeconomic implications of such a move for the country, it is incredible that the three golf courses in the capital city may be appropriated by the government. I cannot imagine a large city with an international and diplomatic population that does not have a golf course. Country clubs with golf courses are the universal playground of the affluent. This move by Mayor Barreto is not only functional but packed with greater policy implications and a strong message to the patrons of such institutions. It seems they want the rich to hit the road, pack up their clubs and balls, and make room for the masses. And for now, the government has the cards in their hand to make it happen.
Posted by Lauren Gaskill, Associate Editor