CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez’s political movement has found a new target: golf.
After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.
“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on, mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.
The government’s broad nationalizations and asset seizures have gone far beyond the oil industry to include coffee roasters, cattle ranches and tomato-processing plants.
If the golf course closings go forward, the number of courses shut down in the last three years will be about nine, said Julio L. Torres, director of the Venezuelan Golf Federation. A project on Margarita Island, designed by the American architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and intended to be South America’s top course, was halted because of financial problems.
Most of the closed courses are in oil regions, near Maracaibo in western Venezuela and in Monagas State, in the east, and were initially built for Americans working in the oil industry. Mr. Chávez’s purge of dissidents from the national oil company focused suspicion on the golf courses, which were seen as bastions of the old elite.
A housing shortage has also pushed the government’s hand, Mr. Chávez said last month, when he questioned why Maracay had so many slums while the golf course and the grounds of the state-owned Hotel Maracay, a decaying modernist gem built in the 1950s, stretch over about 74 acres of coveted real estate.
“Just so some little group of the bourgeois and the petit-bourgeois can go and play golf,” he said during his television program.
Backing up Mr. Chávez, a noted baseball fan, state media here have gone after golf.
Mario Silva, a Bill O’Reilly-esque host of an acidic commentary program called “The Razor Blade” on state television (imagine Mr. O’Reilly speaking against a background of portraits of Jesus, Mr. Chávez and Fidel Castro), told viewers that golf was simply a sport of the elite. Mr. Chávez’s loyalists have taken aim at the sport before. Juan Barreto, a former mayor of Caracas, tried to seize control of the 18-hole course at the Caracas Country Club to build thousands of homes for the poor in 2006. The move set off infighting among Chavistas, as the president’s followers are known. After a legal battle, Mr. Barreto backed down.
Critics of the antigolf campaign point out that Venezuela’s top ally, Cuba, is going in the opposite direction. Canadian and European investors are seeking to build as many as 10 new courses in Cuba as part of the Cuban government’s bid to raise tourist revenues.
“China has more than 300 golf courses, and look what’s happening here,” said Mr. Torres, the director of the Venezuelan Golf Federation, invoking another Communist country with which Venezuela has warm ties. “We’re going from 28 courses to 18.”
In Maracay, officials are considering building low-income homes on the golf course or turning it into a campus of Mr. Chávez’s Bolivarian University. In Caraballeda, plans are advancing to turn the course into a park for children.
Mr. Chávez, for his part, said he had no plans to outlaw golf. “I respect all sports,” he said. “But there are sports and there are sports. Do you mean to tell me this is a people’s sport?”
He then answered the question: “It is not.”
I understand disliking country club snob types, but this is taking it a *bit* far. Lol, you stay crazy Hugo.