The diplomat who wrote the cable added, “The Cohens were losing money because of the delay … and planned to concentrate new investment outside Venezuela.”
At that point Chavez had already expropriated several other properties, and the Sambil seizure became a tipping point, business leaders said.
“It accelerated the rhythm [at which companies] internationalized,” Bittan said.
Closed most of the year, the Candelaria mall recently opened for a temporary scholastic fair. Shoppers could buy everything from government-subsidized school clothes to a backpack featuring Chávez’s smiling face.
But the site is better known for its parking garage.
Since 2010, the garage has served as a makeshift shelter for hundreds of Venezuelans who lost their homes to floods. Many families have since been relocated as part of Chávez’s signature housing program, Gran Misión Vivienda, but locals say as many as 500 still live there.
Jerardo Canavire, 28, a motorbike taxi operator who lived for six months in the shelter, said that inside the garage, the government “provides everything for you — even the shampoo.”
Outside, dozens of DIRECTV dishes are fixed to garage walls. Faded presidential posters dangle from the building’s upper levels, a reminder of the government’s promise to provide new homes.
Iron bars and young guards separate the makeshift refuge from curious visitors and the press.
“We’re all revolutionaries here,” said a slight Jose Valera, 21, while manning the gate. Valera said residents like him, who make up a Marxist vigilante group who call themselves Colectivo Catedral Combativa and wear black shirts with Che Guevara insignias, provide security free of charge.
“It’s what Chávez would have wanted,” he said.
Ezra Fieser reported from Santo Domingo and Andrew Rosati from Caracas.