Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Venezuela Mayor Orders Private Land Seized

Associated Press Writer

Article published Jan 11, 2005

The mayor of Venezuela's second-largest city ordered the government to seize two swaths of abandoned private lands Tuesday, saying the property would be used for projects to benefit the entire population.

Giancarlo Di Martino, Maracaibo mayor and staunch supporter of President Hugo Chavez, told The Associated Press the lands include 62 acres within the city and an abandoned industrial zone running along the shore of lake Maracaibo about 20 miles to the southeast.

Di Martino's order coincides with a sweeping land reform being led by Chavez to turn over "idle" farmlands to the poor. Chavez declared on Monday that the government would survey farmland across the country and gradually redistribute unused acreage.

Despite Venezuela's position as a major global producer of oil, a majority of its people live in poverty.

"We have embarked on a process under the law for the expropriation" of the lands, Di Martino told the AP in the telephone interview.

The mayor said the lands are partly owned by a bank and a hotel, which has been closed for decades.

The city of 1.7 million people plans to build public housing, a center for street children and a public sports center on the lands, Di Martino said.

He said the owners would be paid fair compensation. The owners couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Asked if the land seizures in Maracaibo were part of the president's effort, Di Martino said: "Politically the moment is favorable for this."


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