After a long period of negotiations and legal steps, the Venezuelan government has decided to return the Sambil La Candelaria Shopping Center to its owners, a gigantic shopping center built in a busy area of downtown Caracas by the construction company of the same name, and which It had been expropriated by the late Hugo Chávez in 2008, when it was about to be inaugurated.
The news caused some surprise in public opinion, part of which did not want to believe the rumors about the return of the property. This measure adds to a growing list of goods and assets – farms, hotels and industries – that were expropriated and nationalized by Chavismo in these years, when they were mostly in excellent condition, and that are now selectively returned to their owners. original, almost always in the midst of great deterioration.
The return process of the Sambil La Candelaria – a large 5-story, 21,000-square-meter building – was managed by the so-called Legislative Commission for Dialogue, Peace and National Reconciliation, created after the disputed parliamentary election in 2020, which is dominated by Chavismo. , and made up of Chavista deputies and moderate opponents.
The Sambil construction company is owned by the Cohen family, Venezuelans of Jewish origin who have built numerous residential condominiums in Caracas in these decades, and who became famous for having built these gigantic and popular shopping malls for mass consumption and entertainment, in the capital, and also in cities such as Maracaibo, Valencia, Barquisimeto, San Cristóbal and Punto Fijo, as well as in the neighboring island of Curaçao, Dominican Republic, and even in Madrid, Spain. The first Sambil Center, completed in 1998, was built in the Chacao area.
When the success of the Sambil centers was overwhelming, and the organization was planning its expansion plans, the Sambil La Candelaria incident took place. Being very close to being inaugurated, a Hugo Chávez at the peak of his popularity, and in the midst of a deepening revolutionary process, questioned the construction of the shopping center and ordered the Mayor of Caracas to expropriate the work.
“In that area of La Candelaria, where not a soul fits, they are going to build a Sambil. That is going to collapse the center of Caracas. No no and no. That mall doesn’t go there. We are going to expropriate that and turn it into a clinic, I don’t know, into a school, a university”, stated Chávez in 2008. Although much protested by the opposition, the measure was accepted immediately and without fissures by Chavismo. “How are we going to make socialism by handing over the vital spaces of the people to the Sambil or to that excessive, consumerist trade? Here in Caracas a hectare is worth gold”, he stated then.
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Chávez’s advisers let him know that it was impossible to have a clinic or a university in those structures. The Cohens remained silent, and although they did not leave Venezuela, they concentrated on construction projects abroad.
Throughout this time, the structures of Sambil La Candelaria were abandoned and in ruins. For a while, the Chavez government included refugees and those affected by the rains. It was a collection center and warehouse for construction materials. Variants of “socialist trade” were tried unsuccessfully. Collectives and social organizations of Chavismo organized political activities and deliveries of toys to people in extreme poverty in these spaces.
“What those refugees did was misbehave, urinate in the streets, steal. Chávez has been a disgrace to Venezuela. I’m happy, of course, like everyone else, because with this there are opportunities to work, maybe they even put you there, whoever takes it away”, says Douglas Matos, who works on the street parking cars.
“At night, you couldn’t pass through here, luckily they evicted those refugees. That was darkness, disorder, dirt. I am happy with this news, I am a neighbor of the area and I walk a lot around here. A shopping center is light, employment opportunities, commerce, more security” says Carmen Alvarado, who works in a bakery that is next to the premises.
“This area has been horrible these years. It looked like a public bathroom. When they took out the refugees and the groups, he has improved a lot, he was calmer. The shopping center is a source of work and entertainment. Not only me, all the residents of La Candelaria are happy with this news. I don’t know anyone who isn’t, even the Chavistas want it,” says Lina Pérez, a housewife from the area.
When formally communicating the news, Alfredo Cohen, owner of the Sambil construction company, posted a video on his Instagram account inside the mall. “I have a huge emotion. I can say that the facilities are in good condition. There are few things damaged. We are preparing now to work with our merchants and contractors to have this place open that will generate more than 3,500 jobs.”
The neighbors have been informed that the Sambil La Candelaria should be in operations in November of this year. “I don’t understand why Chávez expropriated the Sambil. With that he won no one. Investment, opportunities, employment is what we need in the country. The improvement of the area values these apartments, the municipal authorities can collect more resources. Everybody wins,” says Henry Rodríguez, street vendor and neighbor.
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