CARACAS, Venezuela — "Expropriate it!" Hugo Chavez cried out gesturing at buildings flanking Caracas' historical Simon Bolivar square during a visit earlier this year. Just weeks later, employees regretfully left the huge jewelry center and famous rooftop restaurant Chavez had expropriated.
This year alone, the government has taken over supermarket chains, commercial buildings, banks and public spaces, invoking an article in the constitution that allows the state to expropriate buildings deemed "of use to the public."
As Venezuela's capital increasingly becomes a reflection of the socialist leader's bombastic rhetoric, "capitalist" and "imperialist" advertising — such as a huge Pepsi ball in Plaza Venezuela — is dismantled, while graffiti artists sympathetic to the government spray propaganda on the city's walls and avenues.
In a quest to contribute his own "revolutionary" architectural emblems to the urban landscape, Chavez recently inaugurated his "ideological rocket" — a 47-meter-high concrete obelisk, whose construction was rushed through to coincide with recent commemorations of the 200-year anniversary of Venezuela's act of independence. According to the culture minister, the structure's black and red stripes represent the dark days of Venezuela's colonial past, while the bands of red celebrate the coming of the Bolivarian Revolution.
However, while the government finances its own symbolic landscape, monuments and heritage that do not fit with the revolution's ideology are removed or neglected. A lush public park designed by Modernist landscaper Roberto Burle Marx is now dry and barren and a statue of Christopher Columbus, pulled down by government supporters in 2004, was recently found abandoned and damaged in the depot of a state institution. One thing is clear: Chavez's Caracas is undergoing a revolutionary facelift, for better or for worse.