Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Golf course wars

Now, this is not about the latest on Tiger Woods, it is about the latest tantrum of Caracas Mayor at large, Barreto.

But before I get into the story it is unfortunate that I must break my own rules of not criticizing the character before I criticize the action. But in this case it is a must as the reasons behind the latest Caracas golf course expropriations cannot be understood without taking the full measure, so to speak, of Barreto.

Barreto is a mediocre journalist. Barreto is an egomaniac. Barreto is obese. Obesity might not be his fault, most obesity seems to be a disease. But is important to note that in Barreto'?s case his obesity might be linked to some psychological trauma. There is no way for me to know that for sure, but I have been going around long enough to have met such people, heard of such people, where a metabolical pathology meets a psychological pathology. On Barreto, the psychological pathology is not to be doubted and there are enough reasons to suspect the correlation with the obesity one. Even in 1998, before Chavez pulled Barreto out from the void where he was sinking, Barreto was already a persona of rather ill repute.

I have met Barreto once, or rather seen him in action. This was January 2002, when he was a representative, when Chavez supporters could still hang out around, before social hatred gripped the country. He was standing in line waiting to get into a movie at the Paseo Las Mercedes. He was holding court in the line as he cultivated a certain intellectual pretension, as he also was teaching something somewhere. Some student like folks were having an animated discussion with him. At this point in time I did not have a particular aversion for the man, I thought of him as just another one on Chavez coattails. But there was something in his demeanor that night that struck me as rather irritating, arrogant and even aggressive. It was instinct perhaps, but my reflex was to steer clear of Barreto as much as I could.

Years went by, Barreto was stirring mobs in Caracas downtown from April 2002 (and earlier for sure), stirring confrontation in parliament, routinely starring in any witch trial and lynch mob he could manage to figure in. Of course the counter reaction was obvious: Barreto could not go anymore to a restaurant in Eastern Caracas, could not attend an exhibit or cultural event without generating a general booing from the crowds.

Eventually Chavez named him Mayor of Caracas for his work at stirring the shit. That 2004 election was without a contender for reasons not of this post, but Barreto then barely got 15% of the potential vote of the city if you consider the ~75% abstention. However Barreto committed the original sin of people of his nature, he thought that the election was actually meaningful, that Caracas saw in him its legitimate mayor, that he reached office for other reasons than Chavez naming him candidate. He could not have been more wrong. A few days after his election he was foolish enough to attend a concert where the crowds booed him so strongly that it created a minor commotion. That was the last time he was seen at a cultural event. Since then, as in your B series movie, Barreto has been plotting his revenge against the kings of the prom and those who cheer them. No matter what other political considerations one might think of, this personal flaw of Barreto is the main drive in his actions.

Now, simply, after all the events reported recently on this blog Barreto has decided to act and order the Caracas town hall to expropriate the golf courses of Caracas for public housing.

Before I get into this, I must say that the long endurance of Golf Courses in downtown Caracas is, today, rather odd, if not even a political mistake. Keeping one or two courses and have them pay heavy revenues from entertaining wealthy passing tourists might be OK, but Caracas is too crowded to hold the Country Club, Valle Arriba and La Lagunita. One of them at least should have become long ago a recreation park. There are plenty of sites less than one hour of Caracas that could host perfect golf courses, and already do. And this goes also for other large open spaces that have no reason to be but for the sole benefit of other privileged few, such as La Carlota Airport or Fuerte Tiuna. Besides a large section of these golf courses are close to flooding streams and not for habitation use, at least if an urban planning were followed. Caracas is in serious need to decide on ALL of its open spaces.

There are plenty of problems with these expropriations: besides their availability for little more than parks and exercise grounds, the legality of the expropriation is questioned (normally a well studied project should be presented first to justify ANY expropriation), the authority of Caracas at large office does not go above the authority of the local mayors on these matters, and the cost of expropriation is just too much at current real estate value. None of them did bother Barreto who obviously under pressure on such a momentous day only declared to the State TV avoiding more questionning private media, arguing that he had a plan and that the ownership of the grounds was questionable anyway. The implication was of course that he is intending to grab them one way or the other, even if he must send his hordes to build shacks on them.

What is an interesting side note here is that the other chavista mayor of Caracas, Bernal, did not jump on board with Barreto, in fact he said that his own expropriations were an example on how those things should be done, implying not the Barreto show. Even more, Calixto Ortega of the "moderate" wing of chavismo, if there is such a thing, went further and said that the solution of Caracas was not to take over Golf Courses, but to decentralize its activity, to convince people to move out of Caracas. In other words, inner chavismo troubles are brewing, too many are questioning Barreto, distancing themselves from his vituperance.

And this is the crux of the matter: all of these distasteful events of Barreto really serve to demonstrate two things, one is that there is still no general idea on what to do about Caracas, and two, and perhaps even graver, at the helm of the greater Caracas, the person who should concentrate on a vision for the city, we have someone totally unfit for the job, unfit at all point of views, moral, ethical, intellectual, emotional, professional and even political. But then again so was Goering, though a tad more efficient on occasion.

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