CARACAS – Activists bearing insignias of President Hugo Chavez’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, attempted Saturday a massive invasion of real estate properties in the residential municipality of Chacao in Caracas, its mayor, Emilio Grateron, said.
The encroachment began before dawn this Saturday at 20 properties, both in buildings and on vacant lots, but the Chacao police managed to turn back 16 of these operations in the areas of El Rosal, Altamira, La Castellana, Campo Alegre and Estado Leal, where 37 people were arrested, the mayor said.
The squatters acted in a “well organized” way, Grateron said in telephone calls to radio stations, TV channels and the Web pages of the capital’s daily newspapers.
“The attempts were practically simultaneous, and though we made a strong response, it was all so well organized that it was beyond the capacity of our security forces,” he said in a statement on Globovision TV.
The mayor called it “a coordinated political action,” and said that on Thursday “PSUV members were calling for operations of this kind and asked people to take over these real estate properties illegally.”
About 100 squatters occupied the properties, “very well organized and in constant contact with one another,” the mayor said, who in a later press conference added that only 11 are still being detained, because “we respect their right to return home” once they call off the invasion.
Two police officers were injured in the incident, he said.
The invasions took place on vacant lots where the owners are still waiting for building permits, and in stores and business properties already built but not yet operational, he said.
Humberto Oropeza, who identified himself as a member of a “battle chamber” in a community council of the area, said on Globovision that the squatters were evacuated “violently” from lands “that are being fattened up for capitalist gentlemen” to sell “at high prices” to companies that build shopping malls.
“The owners came by and looked at us with disgust, as if we weren’t even human,” he said, and added that they had been empowered by “assemblies of urban land committees” that have investigated and found that these lands belong “to the people, to the municipality.”
The properties were subsequently evacuated because of “violent threats from fascist officials” commanded by a mayor “whom we ask to forget about doing ‘fashion’ stuff,” the activist said.
The mayor told a later press conference that the police made a “proportional use of force.”
Meanwhile, the government of President Hugo Chavez rejected the invasion of real estate property and said that a law that would temporarily authorize it has not yet taken effect.
“We all have to work together with the revolutionary government to recover these urban lands and the president is working hard” on it, but “he does not authorize their being taken over or invaded by the communities,” Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said.
Chavez’s order in that sense, El Aissami said in a call to the government-run channel VTV, is that communities should ide
ntify properties that can serve in the future for building popular housing.
Chavez, who in recent weeks has promoted a massive process of expropriations of supposedly unoccupied lands, ask the public to identify vacant land, empty buildings and unused areas so they can be “recovered,” as a way of dealing with the deficit of 2 million homes in the country.
The invasions came a day after Chavez signed the Organic Emergency Law of Housing and Urban Lands, which, among other things, allows the government to fix prices on land and construction materials.
Chavez approved the measure with the special powers of the Enabling Law that the National Assembly passed in December as a way of dealing with the emergencies caused by the torrential rains affecting the country at the time.
Some 40 people lost their lives in the storms.
In addition, the Supreme Court, or TSJ, ordered on Jan. 17 the nation’s judges “to temporarily limit” every measure that would affect properties destined for family or individual dwellings.
“In virtue of the natural calamities and disasters caused by the rains,” judges must avoid the evacuation of homes, “even if a definitive order exists” to do so, the TSJ ruling said.