The government has minimized the problem. Housing Minister Ricardo Molina recently said 80 percent of the land used in the program is state-owned. Of the private property seized, some of it was owned illegally. But when rightful owners are found we determine the value of the property and pay the owner, he said.
Its not clear how often, or how quickly, thats happening. The government just announced its planning to indemnify farmers who had their land seized in 2005. And the problems are likely to get worse. Molina said the government needs an another 231 square miles to fulfill the housing initiative.
Whatever pain might be caused to those who lose property, the housing program, and other missions, have been key to Chávezs popularity. In power for 13 years and battling an undisclosed form of cancer, Chávez retains high approval ratings and is leading in most presidential polls.
His presidential rival, Henrique Capriles, 39, has accused the government of lying about its housing efforts and using the misery to win votes. During a recent conference, Capriles said the governments math doesnt add up. The administration claims it built 146,000 homes in 2011 more than enough to house the 30,000 families it said had been left homeless by the flooding. Yet, the country still has more than 800 shelters holding more than 27,000 families.
Its a lie that the government built 140,000 homes last year, Capriles said. If thats true, why are there still so many people in shelters?
The homes are not just for flooding victims, the government has said. Its priority also is to move homeless families out of shopping centers, office buildings and apartment blocks that have been turned into shelters.
Like many hotels, the four-star Hotel President in Caracas has been forced to house flood victims. The families have a private exit so they never mingle with paying guests and elevators dont stop on that level. Workers said the administration was hoping to keep the residents presence a secret to customers. One worker said if the hotel has a problem with a family, staff calls the military. The official threatens to move them to one of the other shelters and they usually dont cause anymore problems, the worker said. They have it really good here.
Yolis has been living in one of those other shelters a gray office building, just blocks away from Caracas JW Marriott hotel.
For the last 16 months, Yolis, her husband and two children have been sharing a small cubicle in the building. Theres no running water and the building leaks, she said. Despite promises that they would be moved to a new home, they were recently told that wouldnt happen until 2013. We cant take this anymore, said Yolis, who feared she might be evicted if she gave her last name. These are not conditions under which you would raise children. Its dark and dirty.
Security personnel would not allow The Miami Herald into the building, but other residents confirmed Yolis claims. Despite the problems, Yolis said she was grateful to Chávez for helping her get a new home.
From the roof of his home, Alotto has a commanding view of his old parking lot. On a recent weekday, he said workers there hadnt moved a brick in 11 days. The rumor was that the government has run out of cement. As far as Alotto is concerned, the government is building on top of what he hoped would be his retirement. I dont dislike the president, Alotto said. But I cant vote for a party that ruined my life.
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