clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Venezuelans flock to low-cost homes built as a buffer to Colombian rebels

Founding a border-town buffer against Colombian guerrillas, Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera handed out house keys to eager new homeowners willing to put their lives on the line.

"We have to dedicate ourselves intensely every day to the military defense of our borders," Caldera said in Tuesday's inauguration of the newly created community of Ciudad Sucre, named after independence hero Antonio Jose de Sucre.Venezuela's government is trying to lure people to the town, 700 miles southwest of Caracas, by offering very low-cost housing and land, training programs and credits to start farming and fishing businesses, and well-funded public schools and hospitals.

About 800 families applied for the first 210 homes. They'll pay $3,600 for the modest three-bedroom houses. The down payment is $200, with monthly mortgage payments as low as $10.

Some owners come from as far as Caracas, pleased to trade the noise, pollution and congestion of the capital for the fresh air and open space of Ciudad Sucre.

The deal is not without strings. The plains and semitropical forests of southern Apure state are buzzing with Colombian guerrillas, who often cross the border to kidnap affluent ranchers, attack and kill Venezuelan soldiers and traffic in drugs.

That didn't seem to faze many of the people who accepted the keys to their new homes from Caldera on Tuesday while troops swarmed through the village and military planes flew over scanning for rebels.

"I'm not afraid because I think the guerrillas are people just like us, common people," said Benigno Rodriguez, 73, the first to take a key from Caldera.

Frontier Minister Pompeyo Marquez also dismissed fears that villagers will be subject to guerrilla attacks.

"I'm not worried because there's sufficient military forces and civilians to guarantee security in the zone," he said. "It's safer every day."

Authorities say that by drawing more people into the region and beefing up the military forces, they can better control the rebels. The zone is so remote that some children have never studied - there weren't enough schools.

That will change with the opening of a spacious elementary and middle school in Ciudad Sucre. Also on the drawing board are a church, a government center, a two-star hotel and a public library.

"Here, we're going to have everything," said farmer Antonio Moncada, 34, who plans to leave his shack in Apure to move into the town.

Another 800 houses are to be completed by the end of 1998, bringing the town's population to an estimated 6,000 people.

As the civilians move in, so do the soldiers. A National Guard detachment stationed on the edge of the town will jump from 70 to 220 soldiers by March, said Gen. Enrique Medina, head of military operations in Apure.