Hugo Chavez has announced that he plans to expropriate a huge and nearly complete shopping mall in Caracas.
The Spanish language web page of Constructora Sambil that describes the project (pictured at the right) says that it's 21,600 square meters.
Chavez appears to have no idea what he will do with it. The Associated Press's Ian James apparently had no idea what to do with that shocking bit of information. He didn't follow up with any government officials who might have an idea of what Dear Leader has in mind. He didn't explore whether what Sambil has built thus far is useful or sensible for whatever noble purpose Chavez might be considering. He just let the Venezuelan strongman's comment sit there, and instead moved on to his incoherent screed against materialism.
Here are the key paragraphs from James's report:
Chavez says mall to be expropriated in Venezuela
President Hugo Chavez ordered construction halted on a major shopping mall in Caracas on Sunday, saying the government will expropriate the unfinished building.
The Venezuelan leader said it would be out of line with his government's socialist vision to allow the new Sambil mall to take up precious urban real estate - and that unbridled consumerism isn't his idea of progress either.
..... The hulking concrete and brick structure takes up an entire city block and according to the Sambil Web site was to include 273 shops.
"We're going to expropriate that and turn it into a hospital - I don't know - a school, a university," Chavez said to applause during his Sunday television and radio program, "Hello, President."
..... "How are we going to create socialism turning over vital public spaces to Sambil?" said Chavez, who has nationalized Venezuela's largest phone company, electric utilities and oil fields.
..... Chavez often urges Venezuelans to rethink their values, and the timing of his announcement appeared to be no accident - just as Christmas shoppers packed malls elsewhere in Caracas.
He didn't preach against the buying frenzy in general, but did say at another point in his speech that "Christ was a socialist."
This Spanish language blog indicates that "The President assured that once he expropriate(s), he will convert those installations in a clinic, a school or a university." Glad that's clear.
Here are just a few of a myriad of shortcomings in the report: James failed to tell us how much Sambil has invested in the project. Perhaps as important, given the recent 70%-plus drop in the barrel price of oil, he didn't explore whether Chavez has the means to fairly compensate Sambil, let alone the will. Is this real estate grab due to conflicts between Sambil, which operates at least seven other malls in the country, and the government (though the meaning could be garbled in translation, the fifth excerpted paragraph seems to hint at it)?
James apparently didn't look into, or consider important, how many construction workers might lose their jobs, how many retail jobs might have materialized without the expropriation, or how much the city of Caracas might lose in assorted tax revenues and economic activity. The byline is from Caracas, so I would think that James could find out these things if he wanted to.
Speaking of wanting to, it will be interesting to see if the US media picks up this story or buries it. I'm betting on the latter. After all, the press wouldn't want us to get the wrong impression of Joseph Patrick Kennedy's favorite fuel supplier.