Foreign Policy Blogs

Golfing in Venezuela: Chavez May Close Down the “Bourgeois” Links

Golf in Venezuela has again come under pressure after President Hugo Chávez recently labeled it “a bourgeois sport”. The links are considered by the President, and his supporters, to be the playing fields of the wealthy and elite. An article in the New York Times further describes the situation.

Interestingly, it appears that some of the opposition to closing the courses comes from other wealthy “Chavistas”, as the president’s followers are called. This would make sense since nouveau riche who benefit through proximity to Chávez and his party may also want to play what could be considered a highbrow sport. In Venezuela, socialism does not necessarily mean that ideologues enriched by toeing the socialist party line do not also enjoy luxuries. Many shop at boutique stores in gigantic shopping malls, regularly travel overseas, and send their children to private schools.

The debate over the golf courses is another example of Venezuela’s growing social divide. During my time living in Caracas it felt that I was witnessing the increasingly polarization of the country. The government’s propaganda efforts prior to mayoral and gubernatorial elections in November 2008 and the referendum on re-electing public officials in February 2009 displayed a “you’re with us or your against us” mentality. A recent case in point: the government closure of more than 30 private radio stations and the proposal for a new law imposing jail time up to four years for journalists who commit “media crimes”. The opposition may say what they want, but this could come at a cost. See more at this link on

It is true that Caracas, and Venezuela as a whole, is made up a range of social strata. While Latin America is considered the region of the world with the highest income disparity, Venezuela has one of the least unequal distributions, according to the country’s National Institute of Statistics. (Though I would probably take any stats that come out of this government agency with a grain of salt.) Visually, Caracas still remains a city where millions of poor live in cement and brick homes carved out of the hillsides, while others have the resources to live in gated communities with guards and the latest flat-screen TV.

Chávez receives much of his political backing from residents of poorer neighborhoods. Therefore, the strategy of dismantling elitist institutions is a useful political strategy. By altering the lives of a limited number of golfers he may win the hearts of thousands of supporters. See the Latin Americanist blog entry on this subject.

Statistics aside, living in Caracas, I was reminded daily of the gap in wealth and opportunity. In terms of golfing venues, I never played, but twice ate lunch at the Valle Arriba club. It was indeed a different world, one of finely manicured grass and stylish wood tables overlooking a pool. In contrast, on a visit to the Ruiz Piñeda barrio, there was no visible green space. There I witnessed the cramped conditions that are the norm for most residents.

One day while running through the Venezuelan capital near Country Club, an elite neighborhood named for the golf course that it surrounds, I also passed by another zone called Alta Florida. It was very wealthy (think ornate metal gates and two story homes protected by electric fences atop imposing exterior walls) and yet just two blocks away I came across squatter housing. The contrast was striking. Called “invasions” in Venezuela, these homes consist of cheaply built brick and sheet-iron structures. In-migration by the poor onto what are considered under-utilized lands is common, and usually given the green light by the central government. In the short space of 100 meters lived both rich and poor, and each having strikingly different life opportunities due to their economic position. Perhaps it is no wonder that there is tension among social classes in Venezuela?



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.