Tue, Dec 23, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Chavez says plot to kill Morales uncovered

SHOPPER STOPPERThe Venezuelan president has also ordered a halt on construction of a shopping mall in Caracas, saying it clashed with his government’s socialist vision


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday that a plot to assassinate his friend and ally Evo Morales of Bolivia had been uncovered.

Chavez said the Bolivian president called and told him that authorities in the Andean country had uncovered the plot.

The Venezuelan leader said during a radio broadcast that he wouldn’t go into details — leaving that to Bolivian officials — but he said he told Morales to “be careful.”

Morales’ office declined to comment.

Morales is one of several leftist Latin American allies who share Chavez’s antagonism toward Washington. He has faced persistent protests by opponents but won a recall referendum in August.

Chavez also has said that he himself is a target.

In September, he said his government had detained several suspects who were planning to assassinate him in an operation backed by the US.

US officials have repeatedly denied Chavez’s accusations that Washington has backed attempts to overthrow him.

In other news Chavez ordered construction halted on a major shopping mall in Caracas on Sunday, saying the government will expropriate the unfinished building.

The Venezuelan leader said it would be out of line with his government’s socialist vision to allow the new Sambil mall to take up precious urban real estate — and that unbridled consumerism isn’t his idea of progress either.

Chavez said the mall, scheduled to open in La Candelaria district in downtown Caracas next year, would severely clog an area that already is so crowded “not a soul fits.”

The hulking concrete and brick structure takes up an entire city block and according to the Sambil Web site was to include 273 shops.

“We’re going to expropriate that and turn it into a hospital — I don’t know — a school, a university,” Chavez said to applause during his Sunday television and radio program, Hello, President.

Constructora Sambil, the company building the mall, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It operates Sambil malls in cities across Venezuela, including another vast shopping center in Caracas.

“How are we going to create socialism turning over vital public spaces to Sambil?” said Chavez, who has nationalized Venezuela’s largest phone company, electric utilities and oil fields.

The president also has urged his compatriots to shed their materialism and their taste for designer clothes, sport utility vehicles, Scottish whisky and plastic surgery.

Chavez often urges Venezuelans to rethink their values, and the timing of his announcement appeared to be no accident — just as Christmas shoppers packed malls elsewhere in Caracas.

He didn’t preach against the buying frenzy in general, but did say at another point in his speech that “Christ was a socialist.”

Consumerism has flourished in Venezuela in recent years, with the economy awash with cash and windfall oil earnings rolling in. Malls are often packed, and new shopping centers have been sprouting up quickly.

The president did not say how much the government might pay the mall’s owners in compensation.

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