A Different Kind of Eminent Domain

While the US is using eminent domain to displace poor people to make way for shopping centers and industrial facilities — a policy sanctified by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London — Venezuela is on the verge of taking over a Caracas country club to make housing for the poor. No wonder the United States demonizes Hugo Chavez! Here are some extracts from the recent New York Times account:

Romero, Simon. 2006. “Caracas Mayor Lays Claim to Golf Links to House Poor.” New York Times (3 September).

“No place in this country symbolizes the resilience of Venezuela’s moneyed elite more than the Caracas Country Club, a bastion of tropical luxury from the 1920’s, conceived in part for foreign oilmen and designed by American landscape architects who invoked the feeling of a vast coffee plantation. So imagine the reactions in Caracas, a city choked by shantytowns and traffic congestion, when the mayor ordered the “forced acquisition” this week of the club’s 18-hole golf course, and another exclusive course near the United States Embassy, to make way for homes for as many as 11,500 poor families.”

“We’ve done studies that show that 20 families survive for a week on what’s needed to maintain each square meter of grass on a golf course,” said Juan Barreto, the mayor and a close ally of President Hugo Chávez. “Their use is private and benefits certain sectors which are not the middle class or the poor.”

“This is not the first volley against private property rights. Mr. Chávez’s government has tried for years to alleviate a severe housing shortage. Pro-Chávez politicians have put upscale districts of Caracas in their crosshairs, allowing squatters to occupy apartments in some residential buildings and considering measures that would expropriate apartments owned by landlords who control more than three properties.”

“Official estimates suggest Venezuela needs 1.7 million new homes to meet low-income housing needs, even though 35,000 such units were built in the first half of the year. The housing shortage has been decades in the making, created by mass migration to Caracas and other cities from the countryside and natural disasters, like mudslides and Hurricane Mitch in 1998, that left more than 400,000 people homeless and destroyed more than 60,000 homes. Rising prices for new homes, as Venezuela’s economic growth has surged by 9 percent this year, have also put owning an apartment out of reach for many people.”

“Anemic efforts by private construction companies to build low-income housing and a lack of new homes to keep up with population growth in this country of 27 million people have worsened the problem.”

“Already, squatters occupy units in more than 140 buildings in Caracas, either illegally or with the approval of city officials. Mayor Barreto, who once pursued doctoral studies in sociology, has ordered more than a dozen takeovers of buildings, including a 96-unit residential complex in El Rosal, a district with soaring postmodern office towers and the Caracas stock exchange.”

“Mr. Barreto made apartments in the building available to families of firefighters who were homeless or had to commute from far-flung areas to Caracas to work. The firefighters now live in 46 of the building’s one- and two-bedroom apartments.”

1 comment so far

  1. […] [Maybe Venezuela is onto something with its plans to take over a golf course; see https://michaelperelman.wordpress.com/2006/09/04/a-different-kind-of-eminent-domain/%5D […]


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