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Venezuela's socialist cities

A solution to poverty or step in abolishing private property?

Marcano argues that Venezuela's housing shortage is so acute that it is useless to try to solve it through constructing new houses. Instead, he proposes adding some order to the chaos of the barrios that grow spontaneously wherever people can find land to build their own homes.

"Venezuelans are innate builders," he said, pointing out that more houses have been built by ordinary people than by either the state or private industry. "We would save time by looking at how people build houses in the barrios. There's labor there, there are materials. What's missing is a mastermind in urban planning to organize the city."

Last year the government began applying some of Marcano's theories when it launched a program to renovate Caracas' barrios. Barrio Nuevo-Barrio Tricolor's aims to provide equipment and material to local communities so that they can regenerate their own neighborhoods, said Diosdado Cabello, Minister for Public Works and Housing. "We are going to convert Caracas in a multi-colored city, to recuperate spaces through integrated work between the state and the community," he told state TV.

Critics of the government's housing plans are also concerned that the government has ruled that new properties such as those at Ciudad Mariche have been deigned "communal property" and cannot be sold on or rented out.

Julio Borges, of Justice First, a party opposed to Chavez, said denying people the right to sell their homes to whomever they wished was the first step in what he sees as a "Cubanization" of Venezuela property laws.

A new law passed last year further strengthened the state's powers to seize land in urban areas that it deems unproductive, raising fears among some that the government plans to abolish by stealth Venezuelans' right to private property.

"Our families who live in the barrios are not being given title deeds so that they can be owners of their land," he said. "They are simply labelled 'occupants'. It converts the government in the owner of everything and the people in owners of nothing."

But that did not seem to matter to Cristina Ardila who was handed the keys to her apartment in Ciudad Mariche a few months ago. "When I've finished paying it off I'm going to have my papers. The apartment will be mine," she said, adding that at least she would be able to sell it back to the government if she wanted to move.