Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hugo Chavez Confiscates Apartment Complexes Accused Of "Housing Fraud"

'Act of justice': Venezuela seizes apartments


CARACAS, Venezuela — Facing a wave of criticism from business leaders, President Hugo Chavez is defending his order for government officials to seize control of residential complexes.

Chavez promised Sunday to crack down on construction and real estate companies that he accused of unjustly boosting prices, which he labeled "housing fraud."

The president, a self-proclaimed revolutionary who idolizes Cuba's Fidel Castro and is currently on a visit to Havana, called his decision last week to order the expropriation of six residential complexes and "the temporary occupation" of eight gated communities in Caracas and other cities "an act of justice."

'Organized crime'
Venezuela's consumer protection agency and state prosecutors are investigating complaints that construction companies and real estate firms are illegally charging buyers high interest on unfinished apartments, even though the buyers settled on a price years ago and made down payments.

"We have decided to put an end to this type of organized crime," Chavez wrote in his weekly newspaper column.

Companies accused of violating consumer-protection regulations deny any wrongdoing.

Apartment owners affected by the measures have had mixed reactions.

Some don't like having soldiers posted near their homes or fear the measure could encourage pro-Chavez squatters to invade buildings still under construction. Others applaud the measure, saying it has protected them from unscrupulous business practices.

In some mostly middle-class residential complexes, groups of neighbors have implemented security measures aimed at keeping squatters out, such as organizing around-the-clock surveillance teams and putting a siren at entrances to be sounded in case of emergency.

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