(photo: Venezuelans left homeless after December’s torrential rains gather in the wealthy Caraca’s neighbourhood of La Castellana).
Published on The Guardian.co.uk, by Rory Carroll in Caracas, 26 January 2011.
Hugo Chávez has sent out troops to take over farms and urged the poor to occupy “unused” land in wealthy areas of Caracas, prompting a wave of squats that is rattling Venezuela’s middle class.
The move by Venezuela’s president to step up the campaign to “recover” land and other property follows a housing crisis that has left millions of people in shabby conditions and affected his popularity in the run-up to next year’s election.
Squatters wearing red T-shirts from Chávez’s socialist party seized 20 spaces in a co-ordinated strike in the well-off Caracas municipality of Chacao last weekend, a move which shocked even some government supporters. Additional groups have targeted other cities.
Chávez has also announced a series of laws and deals with China, Russia, Belarus, Iran and Turkey, among others, in a breakneck effort to build 350,000 housing units in Venezuela in the next two years.
“The fundamental goal of socialism is to satisfy human needs … the needs of all, equally, without privilege,” Chávez said in a television broadcast yesterday … //
… Chávez decided the squatters had gone too far, saying “the middle-class cannot be an enemy of this democratic revolution”. However, the government made clear the squatting would continue, saying the correct term was “occupation”.
Even hotels have become skittish since being asked to host those displaced by the floods. They have obliged, but some proprietors now worry they will be the next industry to be nationalised.
Chacao’s five-star Marriott hotel is hosting about 60 displaced families on its third and fourth floors. It has replaced doors with curtains and removed TVs, lamps and other fittings, but Maria Patino, 52, and her sister Blanca, 55, had no complaints. “We’re supposed to use the service entrance and not go near the lobby, but we get treated well. Three meals a day, everything free,” said Maria.
“It [was] like being in the desert, and then you get to an oasis.” (full text).