Venezuela: Chavez’s government protects private golf courses

The national administration objected to an order from the mayor of Caracas to expropiate golf courses to build public housing.

Juan Bareto, the mayor of the Venezuelan Capital, Caracas, is one of the closest allies of the country’s leftist president Hugo Chavez. As his leader is on tour in Middle East to back Syria and Iran, he decided to fuel a controversial bid calling for the expropiation of the city’s three main golf courses to build public housing and ease the poor situation of millions in the overpopulated South American capital.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bareto ordered the "forced acquisition" of the courses under eminent domain. Bareto, who at that time believed that his bid was going to be supported by the national authorities, has said the courses would yield valuable land to build homes for the poor.

Luis Martinez, Barreto's spokesman, said the mayor plans to move forward with the two expropriations and is also preparing to seize a third club, the Lagunita Country Club. Martinez said the next step in the expropriation process will be a meeting between Barreto and the club members. Barreto said the city would pay the clubs' owners "fair value" for the golf course.

But Bareto was wrong. Probably after consulting his boss at the Miraflores Presidential Palace, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel dissapointed Bareto saying that Hugo Chavez's government "does not share the decision adopted by the mayor." According to Mr. Rangel, the courts must rule on the seizures first.

In the meantime, City attorney Juan Manuel Vadell said the golf courses' owners have 30 days to appear before the mayor's office and appeal.Several members at the Caracas Country Club scoffed at the expropriation plans in between practice putts. According to them, the seizing of golf courses is nor going to resolve the housing problem as there is no enough space to build many houses.

As for now, Caracas golf players could keep taking healthy breaks in the noisy megalopolis. But courts will decide for how long.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov