[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Venezuela Plans New Cities As Socialist Utopias

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Mon Dec 3 14:18:16 EST 2007

Chávez's 'Socialist City' Rises
First of Several Grand Projects in Venezuela Reflects Leader's Monopoly on 
Big Decisions
By Juan Forero, Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 27, 2007; Page A10

CAMINO DE LOS INDIOS, Venezuela -- Like most ambitious state projects in 
oil-rich Venezuela, the new city being built in the thickly wooded mountains 
here began as a whim of President Hugo Chávez's.

Flying in his helicopter north of Caracas over forests filled with monkeys 
and tropical birds, the president suddenly had a eureka moment -- he would 
carve a self-sustaining, self-contained city from the wilderness. Chávez 
envisioned this as the first of several utopian cities, a bold plan 
reflecting both Venezuela's capacity for undertaking ambitious projects and 
the president's growing propensity for making all major decisions.

"He told me, 'I want to see if it's possible,' " recalled Ramón Carrizales, 
minister of housing. "So we began to explore it, and we found vast tracts 
that could be utilized."

Carrizales, a retired army colonel like the president, added, "I think that 
with the president's intuition -- the president is a man of great 
intuition -- he perceived that you could develop something there, so we 
started in November of 2006."

Venezuelans are bracing for more grandiose plans, especially if Chávez's 
powers expand under proposed constitutional changes that voters are being 
asked to approve on Sunday.

The president's allies control Congress, the Central Bank and every other 
major institution. And with the price of oil approaching $100 a barrel, 
Chávez has the economic muscle along with the political might to carry out 
his biggest dreams.

"Everyone here knows that no one advises Chávez," said Luis Miquilena, a 
former interior minister and mentor to Chávez who has since broken with him. 
"Chávez is the one who decides everything."

Now finishing his ninth year in office, Chávez has hatched ideas ranging 
from moving clocks back half an hour to building artificial islands in the 
Caribbean. To the Bush administration's consternation, he is also forging 
political ties with Iran, an alliance that economists say has few practical 
economic considerations. But the partnership serves as a rebuke to Chávez's 
main adversary, the United States, which gave tacit support to a failed 2002 
coup against the Venezuelan leader.

Chávez is also accelerating state spending on myriad social programs while 
proposing measures that critics say are designed to solidify his support 
among the large masses of poor who form his base. Maintaining such support 
is essential as Chávez campaigns for a "yes" vote on constitutional changes 
that would permit indefinite reelection, allow him to appoint allies to head 
newly created federal territories and increase the president's influence 
over the government's vast oil-generated wealth.

"What he wants to do is build a small model of what a future Venezuela could 
possibly look like," said Demetrio Boersner, a former diplomat and 
left-leaning historian who is critical of Chávez. "He wants undoubtedly to 
strengthen his influence on the poor people living in the poor quarters of 
town. He wants to reinforce the belief that many low-income Venezuelans have 
that he's on their side, that he's on the side of the underdog, on the side 
of the poor."
The plans for what officials call the "socialist cities" envisioned by 
Chávez are grand, evoking new cities built in such divergent countries as 
Brazil and the old Soviet Union. Chávez is relying on Cuban engineering 
companies and technical advice from Belarus, a former Soviet republic that 
Carrizales, the housing minister, said has "much experience in 
agro-industrial cities."

Carrizales said that the city here in the mountainous area of Camino de los 
Indios, to be called Caribia -- another suggestion by the president -- will 
be the first of several small cities and urbanization projects across the 
country. Government planners are considering developments in places as far 
afield as the oil-producing Orinoco Belt in the north, Ciudad Guayana in the 
east, itself a planned city from the 1960s, and the plains state of Barinas, 
where Chávez was raised.

In Caribia, the idea is to build scores of four-story apartment blocks that 
will eventually house 100,000 people. During a reporter's recent visit here, 
excavators and earthmovers roared, and construction workers finished the 
foundations of the first apartment blocks, which are scheduled for 
completion in the coming weeks. There will also be parks and sports 
complexes, Carrizales said, as well as schools, hospitals, state-run 
factories and small fields for crops.
"We're looking to have a city with a different vision," Carrizales said. "A 
city that's self-sustainable, that respects the environment, that uses clean 
technologies, that is mostly for use by the people, with lots of walking 
paths, parks, sports areas, museums and schools within walking distance."

Government officials and engineers say the plan, at its root, is designed to 
help people. "This is a social housing project, for people with little 
money, so it's very accessible for those types of families," explained 
Alfredo Tirado, an engineer overseeing part of the project.

The government plans to move families from a Caracas neighborhood, Federico 
Quiroz, to Caribia. Federico Quiroz's cinder-block homes and narrow, winding 
streets are located in a steep, uneven swath of western Caracas that's prone 
to mudslides.

"It's a good idea because there are many people here who need a place to 
live," said Clemente Delgado, 40, a father of three in Federico Quiroz. "We 
know it's dangerous here. For me, if they make the offer, I'll accept."

Not everyone, though, is so enthused. As hilltops are cleared and trees 
felled to make space for Caribia, people in the nearby community of La 
Niebla watch with alarm. The government has said the properties there could 
be expropriated, though a Housing Ministry official said that is unlikely 
because Caribia probably won't extend so far.

Perhaps more worrisome -- particularly to urban planners and government 
opponents -- is that the construction is proceeding without much outside 
input. That has prompted frantic meetings among architects, engineers and 
urban planners in Caracas who say the government is rushing headstrong into 
expensive, ill-considered utopian projects.

"The majority of socialist cities that were built in socialist countries 
failed," said Maria Josefina Weitz, an urban planner in Caracas. "When you 
create something by ideological decree, it doesn't respond to the real needs 
of people. Cities have their own origin, develop on their own and have their 
own dynamic."

Even in Federico Quiroz, the Caracas neighborhood prone to mudslides, many 
residents said they are hesitant to leave.

Jose Guerrera, 33, a car mechanic, said he's heard that some residents of 
Caribia would be expected to work in the fields that are planned to produce 
food for the city. "I can't do that, because I don't know anything about 
that," he said, his hands dirty with engine grease. "That's not my 

Two other residents, Alirio Becerra and Jacinto Gomez, argued on a recent 
day about the pros and cons of Caribia. But both agreed that they weren't 
going to leave Federico Quiroz.

"I don't agree with it, and many people here don't agree," Becerra said. "No 
one. This is a good neighborhood, and we're used to it. We've been here 40 

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list