Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Hugo Chavez orders expropriation of historic buildings

Hugo Chavez during the 31 January broadcast of Alo Presidente
Hugo Chavez often uses his weekly broadcast for big announcements

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has ordered the expropriation of several historic buildings in the main square in the capital, Caracas.

The buildings include a former residence of the country's 19th Century independence hero, Simon Bolivar.

The president said the move was part of an effort to preserve Venezuela's national heritage.

The order is likely to please and anger Venezuelans in equal measures, says the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas.

President Chavez's instructions to take over several buildings came during an impromptu tour of the square from where he was presenting his weekly television programme, Alo Presidente.

Historic legacy

"What's that building? Wasn't it once a theatre?" Mr Chavez asked the mayor of the Libertador District of Caracas, Jorge Rodriguez, who was accompanying him.

Reassured that the state theatre was already in state hands, Mr Chavez turned his attention to the building next door, which he was told was now owned by a jeweller.

"Expropriate it," he said.

Mr Chavez also ordered that another building, once occupied by Simon Bolivar, pass into state hands, as well as a number of other sites of historic interest.

"It is not possible that these buildings, which hold so much history, with such a legacy of our forefathers, be in the hands of retailers. This belongs to all Venezuelans, it is a historic centre that we should rescue," Mr Chavez said.

The BBC's Will Grant says those who support Mr Chavez will see the expropriations as rightly putting important symbols of national heritage under state protection. Those who oppose the president are likely to see it as a step further towards total state control of private property.

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