CARACAS, Saturday January 14, 2006 | Update
New spate of invasions in Caracas
Saturday January 14, 2006  02:14 PM

* Luis Vera, the chair of the Caracas Metropolitan Real Estate Chamber, countered on January 9th seizure of property championed by Caracas mayor Juan Barreto with the support of the Metropolitan Police, Efe reported.

* Vera told reporters that the Chamber has confirmed "squatting" in twenty buildings in Caracas, in addition 100 during 2005.

* "This is one of the hardest situations we are experiencing as an institution. The real estate business should be based on the right to property," he underscored.

* In the week to January 7th, mayor Barreto issued a directive to declare a state of emergency and empower him to occupy empty buildings and indemnify the owners.

* That same week, during a ceremony to deliver such dwellings to a group of firefighters, the mayor, a journalist, lashed out at a reporter of TV news channel Globovisión. The reporter had asked the official to elaborate on the directive and queried about the right to private property.

* "You want to corner me. Listen, my dear -this is not a journalist style. I will answer to your question. You should go back to the School of Social Communication where I teach."

* Barreto made a difference between his action and squatting. "Leave the term squatting to the rich. They are the ones who do not respect private property and should be called thieves."

* In reference to the actions on January 7-8 in some buildings located in Caracas, Mayor Juan Barreto claimed that nobody has been authorized to occupy a property, "even it is empty."

* He maintained that the Metropolitan Police and Fire Brigade are the only ones empowered to carry out such proceedings.

* "Any other seizure is illegal and will not be permitted."

* He asked people to use the term "tenants in need" instead of "squatters," because "squatting is derogatory."

* He explained that seven buildings were expropriated, including one in San Bernardino, north Caracas, for 100 families, one in Baralt Avenue, downtown Caracas, for 25 families, the main office of a political party for 37 families, and another building for homeless firefighters and police officers.

* The Mayor, along with a group of ministers and mayors, attended on January 9th morning a meeting to set the strategy for a new vision of Caracas.

* People residing in Bello Monte, Las Palmas, Urdaneta Avenue and Sabana Grande, in Caracas, accused officers with the local Metropolitan Police and Firefighter Department of encouraging and abetting illegal takeovers of buildings in the Venezuelan capital city.

* Unofficial figures show that 32 invasions have taken place since last January 6th. The owners of the buildings taken over ensure that police officers and firefighters have broken the guards and windows of the apartments and entered into without showing any expropriation order. No judge, prosecutor or witness has been present at such acts.

* Late on January 8th, following a police raid, squatters broke the gates of Natale building, in Bello Monte, southeast Caracas. Juan Contreras, a neighbor, said no homeless participated in the move. "They were a Metropolitan Police squad and a group of firemen."

* Police officers at the department block refused to talk to reporters.

* Uniformed cops, however, are allegedly present at Divino Niño building (in Las Palmas Avenue, northeast Caracas) and Las Delicias tower (in Libertador Avenue, also northeast Caracas) to guard such premises against squatters.

* At every invaded building there is a Metropolitan Police car or motorbike. They are patrolling the areas. Most ask reporters not to take pictures of them, as they fear those images may be used in court against them.

* Caracas metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto on January 10th said he is pondering the possibility to expropriate golf fields in several areas of the Venezuelan capital to build middle-class houses, official news agency ABN reported.

* "There are some 600 people who play golf in Caracas, while there 5,000 doctors who do not own a house," he ensured.

* He conceded, however, that private property is an inviolable right. "We are not planning to get people out of their houses to give them to others."

* "We are talking about buildings that have been empty for a long time and which could be rescued for public use. This is a common move taken by mayors all around the world, and particularly in the big world capitalist towns," Barreto told official TV channel Venezolana de Televisión.

* Barreto claimed he intends to change the law governing expropriations to allow for use of idle state-owned properties.

* According to Barreto, more than 80 percent of inhabitants of Caracas Metropolitan Area live in poor houses (ranchos), thus representing a deficit of 240,000 proper houses.

* Venezuelan General Comptroller Clodosvaldo Russián on January 10th rejected a recent wave of seizures of private properties all over the Venezuelan capital and claimed that such moves "lack any rational or logical explanation."

* Though conceding that "the Venezuelan State has a very large social debt to pay," he stressed that "payments have to made in a rational way."

* Russián also called for an amendment to the law governing the Citizens' Power and the approval of the organic law of the Attorney General's Office, as this institution has been operating based on the extinct Constitution of 1961.

* Russián also advocated for changes in the organic law against corruption passed by the National Assembly.

* "All this system (against corruption) needs to be modernized, and what we call social terrorism has to be fought accordingly, as corruption is hunger, misery, more children dying..." he stated.

* Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez on January 10th stressed "no person is authorized to occupy or seize unoccupied buildings. There is no legal provision authorizing no one to make such occupations let alone invasions."

* He clarified occupation is no crime, thus ratifying the statements of Caracas metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto. "Occupation is provided for in connection with expropriation trials. It is called previous occupation and is an occupation authorized by court once an expropriation petition has been filed," Rodríguez explained.

* In connection with the case of Rosal Plaza building, south east Caracas, he said that Caracas Metropolitan Police officers appeared at such property, but did not break in. Therefore, no apartment in this block has been seized.

* He conceded that the cops "acted in a violent way," even though they were only checking whether the building was occupied or not.

* Rodríguez ratified that the parties concerned have filed only seven formal claims of invasions of private property in the last few days in Caracas.

* With regard to the fuss nationwide of seizure of some buildings in Caracas under the aegis of Caracas Mayoralty, Ombudsman Germán Mundaraín thinks that takeover based on an expropriation decree is legal, "but a solution should be found for the other ones, in order to leave on their own, but they should leave."

* Anybody squatting in another's property "without legal grounds should be evicted."

* The official considers that takeover of building Rosal Plaza, located in eastern El Rosal urbanization, was under the law in accordance with a decree on expropriation of empty estate enforced by the Metropolitan Mayoralty.

* Mundaraín maintained that this and other seizures carried out by the Mayoralty headed by Juan Barreto are based on the Lands Law and the Law on Expropriation.

* "The state and the Metropolitan Mayor are empowered to issue a directive based on prior occupation," he explained.

* Then, the owner should be fairly indemnified for the seizure.

* The Ombudsman emphasized that "nobody is entitled to undermine other people's rights. People are empowered to a house, but not to take the property of another citizen."

* Metropolitan Mayor Juan Barreto conceded that a group of Metropolitan Police officers "in the absence of any superior order, abused of their authority and status to take over buildings."

* He stated that the police officers were banned and taken to an investigation council. "Many of them will be dismissed and those with a higher degree of responsibility will occur to the courthouse."

* According to him, 17 detainees declared that they squatted in private buildings "as instructed by third parties, political groups and organizations, both from those who claim to support the government and some who presumably back the opposition."

* Questioned about alleged opposition involvement, Barreto answered: "at least it was another move in a desperate plot, because I do not think anymore that it is even a destabilization plan, of sectors that fish in troubled waters whenever they see a chance."
* The official vowed to release the identity of alleged responsible for promoting squatting in private property all over the capital city at the end of the enquiry.

* Barreto regretted that some sectors seek to destabilize the action taken by the Metropolitan Mayoralty to provide dignified dwellings to people of Anauco stream and Nueva Esparta slum.

* Justice Omar Mora Díaz, president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, on January 11th claimed that the moves of the Caracas metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto to expropriate private properties and give them to firefighters and policemen working for his office abide by the law, as they are based on expropriation decrees for public use.

* Mora reminded that the right to property is not absolute. "Its relativity has to do with common well-being, with the social sense of property. In this regard, public institutions having the need to seize private property for public use should do it under the Constitution and the laws."

* Even though he warned he was not referring to any particular case, Mora reminded that the law prohibits takeovers.

* "If a consequence of an expropriation, occupation is fully justified and legal. Based on reports I have read, the Caracas metropolitan mayor decided to expropriate some properties to meet the housing needs of some needy sectors of society. In this sense, his acts are absolutely legal. If the owner disagrees with the payment offered, a court is to determine the relevant amount."

* According to Mora, the authority decreeing the expropriation can designate an expert to assess the value of the property. The parties are to resort to court only when they do not agree on the assessment.
He added that there has been a significant "media speculation and legal ignorance" concerning invasions and occupations. Mora stressed that in the face of a housing deficit, any public institution may expropriate private property for public use and, as soon as require, seek occupation of the relevant property "without any previous assessment, as provided for under the law."
* He clarified, however, that such occupations should be fully justified and conducted under supervision of the relevant law enforcement bodies.

* Meanwhile, the second vice-president of the National Assembly, pro-government parliamentarian Roberto Hernández, said: "We want to make transformations in the legal framework. Our revolution is peaceful and legal, and therefore we cannot endorse any moves violating the laws."

* Caracas metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto on January 12th ensured that the expropriation law provides for "temporary occupations (of private properties) based on force majeure," adding that he is not disregarding the relevant steps to conduct expropriations to solve housing shortage for people who have been left homeless for several causes.

* Under article 59 of the expropriation law, "the chief authority of the state or municipality, in the event of force majeure, unquestioned need because of a fire, flooding, earthquake, catastrophic events, may proceed to perform temporary occupation of privately-owned property immediately, without prejudice of the indemnification to the owner, if appropriate," Barreto quoted.

* "This means that if we subsequently determine there is a motive for an indemnification, we shall make it, considering the circumstances," he added.

* He explained that if the Caracas Metropolitan Mayoralty authorizes a group of persons to occupy a building because of force majeure reasons, "if no settlement is achieved, they can occupy the property at least for six months, then the building can be evicted and the relevant indemnification, if applicable, is to be paid."
* "Here is the law. We are not disregarding the legal framework or running over anybody."

* He added that his office has expropriated 13 properties. They have evicted other nine properties that were illegally invaded and they are about to evict other nine this week. The Caracas Metropolitan Mayoralty is pondering the possibility to expropriate other 35 properties.

* Amending the law on expropriation of properties for public or social use will be top priority this year for the Venezuelan parliament.

* Such modification involves addition of one or two articles establishing the possibility to perform immediate occupations of private estates in the face of natural disasters or public casualties without any previous negotiations with owners. The relevant settlement would therefore be achieved subsequently.

* Ruling party parliamentarian Darío Vivas, president of the Management and Services Committee of the National Assembly, made the announcement. This committee is in charge of drafting the new law.

* According to Vivas this proposal will be presented next week before the committee coordinating board, for subsequent inclusion in this year legislative agenda. He even plans to ask parliament to discuss the bill urgently.

* The pro-government lawmaker stressed that recent occupations conducted by the Caracas Metropolitan Mayoralty are provided for under the law.

* He clarified that under his proposed amendment an article would be added to provide for immediate occupation of private properties, as the present law calls for the designation of appraisers, assessment of property and negotiation. Such steps involve significant delays.
* "This is a specific amendment related to the addition of one or two articles that are not included in the present law, as the national, regional and local governments presently have their hands tied when it comes to granting houses to the homeless if they have not built adequate houses," Vivas claimed, adding that negotiations will always be respected.

* "Regardless of the fact that property is occupied in the event of an emergency, private property should always be respected, and the steps established under the law on expropriation of properties for public or social use should be followed," Vivas stressed.

* He dismissed claims that such a law is being tailored to the moves taken by Caracas metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto. According to Vivas, they intend to "solve this serious problem facing a great number of people left homeless following landslides in slums in Caracas metropolitan area. They require a quick response, and the regular process may take months."


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