Venezuelans refer to their country’s slums and the individual improvised constructions as ranchos (ranches). These feats of engineering are ubiquitous throughout the country; they spill down the hills and mountains surrounding the capital city of Caracas, down to the port of La Guaira north of the city and south into the Tuy valleys, and dominate the periphery of even more intermediate cities like Maracay, Ciudad Bolívar, and San Cristóbal. Some Venezuelans claim that the rancho that has overtaken the colonial town of Petare in eastern Caracas is actually the largest slum in the world, with over 1.5 million inhabitants (although its official population is a mere 369,000). Not surprisingly, since Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, providing free or affordable housing has become a centerpiece of state policy.
Photograph 1 Ranchos on a hillside in Petare
The current iteration of housing policy, Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (hereafter GMVV) was developed in 2011 and along with the Misión Alimentación, is the most ubiquitous and politically important social mission in the country. In fact, GMVV is not merely a policy of the national government or the Ministry of Housing and Habitat, it is the policy. From its inception in 2011, the GMVV has been the most costly social policy in Venezuela, costing an estimated USD 13.25 billion in 2011 (Transparencia Venezuela 2013: 244). The GMVV’s objective is to build up to two million homes in hundreds of sites across the country. This includes entire cities, such as the “socialist city” of Ciudad Caribia, tucked in the mountains on the route from Caracas to the port of La Guaira, or Ciudad Tiuna, the enormous complex of nearly 20,000 units located within the confines of the country’s largest military base in the middle of Caracas.
Photograph 2 Billboard for 25-unit housing complex in the border town of Ureña
The GMVV was first proposed in 2011 as a program to provide dignified housing for the homeless, those living in geomorphological “high-risk” areas, and the poor. Anyone earning up to four times the country’s minimum wage qualifies for the program (Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela 2013), and completed houses are given to recipients or purchased at a heavily discounted price. However, demand far exceeds supply, meaning that not all eligible citizens are provided housing. Applicants enroll through a registry kept by the Ministry of Housing and Habitat (MINVIH); houses are then given or raffled off, depending on the specific circumstances. As with most of Venezuela’s social missions, the GMVV is funded in large part through PDVSA, the state oil company.
The GMVV is highly politicized. It is promoted on the front page of the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Venezuelan Socialist Party, PSUV) website, and part of its logo features a beret-wearing Chávez with left fist raised in the air. On Thursdays, Venezuelans are treated to Jueves de Vivienda (Housing Thursday), an audacious example of political theater shown on the state-run Venezolana de Televisión (VTV). On the broadcast, reporters clad in chavista red interview red-clad government officials who hand over housing units to red-clad citizens (hyperlink: ).
These actions are consistent with the dual nature goals of other social missions: distributing funds directly to low-income populations while manipulating the political context (Penfold-Becerra 2007; Hawkins et al. 2011; Díaz Cayeros et al. 2012). What is more, the promotion is ubiquitous; billboards and official “graffiti” promote it from the heaviest-populated barrios in central and western Caracas to remote outposts on the Colombian border (see Photograph 2).
Some forms of politicking through the GMVV have changed since the death of Chávez in March 2013 and the ascension of his Vice-President, Nicolás Maduro. While units obviously provide a basic human right to poor Venezuelans, many of the completed buildings feature inspirational quotations from Chávez, as well as a twenty-foot font signature, or the stenciled eyes of the fallen president. Incompleted buildings also leave little doubt as to the responsible political party. From left to right in Photograph 3, the graffiti on the wall outside of the Villa Esperanza settlement in the Andean city of San Cristóbal reads: “Unity, fight, battle, and victory” (“Unidad, lucha, batalla y victoria”), a popular Chávez refrain; “Maduro PCV” (Partido Comunista Venezolano, The Venezuelan Communist Party); “Maduro Presidente”; “Loyalty to Chávez” (“Lealtad con Chávez”), with a stenciled outline of Maduro’s face; and “I swear to you, Chávez, my vote is for Maduro” (“Te lo juro Chávez, mi voto es x [sic]Maduro”).
Photograph 3 Housing units and walls around the Villa Esperanza Housing Complex in San Cristóbal
More Politicization: Choosing Where to Build
The Venezuelan president wields enormous power in choosing building sites. In theory, the Vice-President of Territorial Development coordinates a team that is supposed to determine housing development sites. However, through the Emergency Law for Terrain and Housing, the president is able to unilaterally decree “Vital Housing and Residence Areas” (Áreas Vitales de Viviendas y Residencias, AVIVIR) to be used for housing construction. As of 2013, there were 219 AVIVIR nationally, accounting for 5,155 hectares of land (MINVIH 2012: 17).
As the map in Figure 1 shows, housing projects built in the 2011-2012 period are concentrated in the most populous, coastal states of Zulia (40,960), Miranda (37,033 units), and Anzoátegui (29,434), as should be expected, but also include the sparsely populated llanero states of Barinas (20,568) and Portuguesa (16,557). Notably, the three heavily populated states with relatively few houses built in these two years—the Metropolitan District of Caracas, Carabobo, and Táchira—represent three of only seven administrative units governed by opposition party politicians. Meanwhile, lightly populated states governed by the PSUV, such as Cojedes, Barinas, and Portuguesa, have high ratios of houses built per capita. The difference between chavista and opposition states is even starker after adjusting for the population.
Figure 1. Housing units constructed through the GMVV (2011-2012)
Note: Data from Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela (2013)
The plot in Figure 2 shows that the GMVV constructed approximately 8 housing units per thousand inhabitants in the 18 PSUV-governed states, and only 4.8 per thousand in the six opposition-governed areas. A statistical comparison of these values shows a statistical and substantive effect. At first glance, then, it appears that it pays for a state to be governed by the president’s party.
Figure 2. Boxplot of GMVV housing units built per 1,000 inhabitants in 24 states, 2011 and 2012, by governor’s party affiliation
More sophisticated regression analyses using housing construction as the dependent variable and governor’s party ID as a treatment, while controlling for the number of ranchos, confirm these results. The results are shown in Table 1. In each analysis, party ID is negative and statistically significant. The number of units constructed per thousand inhabitants is nearly 8 when the governor belongs to the PSUV and decreases to fewer than 5 per thousand when the governor claims fealty to the opposition. Other factors may indeed be at play in determining where houses are built, but these analyses point to a systematic process where decisions to construct new homes are based largely on partisanship. Of course, with such a personalist administration and in such a polarized political climate, this should come of no surprise to observers in or out of Venezuela.
Governors, of course, actually play little role in management and implementation of the GMVV. Their party affiliation, though, reflects the political preference of the state’s population. Consequently, choice of where to build may reflect the government’s desire to reward or punish state voters for their voting decisions. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles and other opposition state governors have long complained that the government deliberately withholds or delays payment of constitutionally obligated funds for opposition-administered states and municipalities while boosting PSUV-held districts with extra off-budget funds at its discretion. Capriles, for example, claimed in 2013 that his state office is owed 2.67 billion Bfs. (roughly USD 425 million), “over half the ordinary budget [for the state]” (LatinNews Daily Report 2013). In another case, when Táchira state governor César Pérez Vivas, a member of the opposition, sent in heavy machinery to repair the mountain highway between the state capital and the Colombian border, the National Guard intervened to prevent the maintenance, asserting that responsibility lay with the federal government. Roads remained unrepaired until the election of PSUV-affiliated José Vielma Mora in December 2012.
The Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela is an ambitious policy to that seeks to remedy provide dignified housing for the poor. At the same time, however, the GMVV resembles many other state policies utilized not only for electioneering, but as a way to punish and reward voters through state governors. In addition to bureaucratic disorganization, semi-institutionalized corruption, and shoddy workmanship, the partisan nature of GMVV implementation almost certainly undermines its ultimate success. It’s a shame that “policy for the people” is often just policy for some of the people.
Díaz Cayeros, Alberto, Federico Estévez, and Beatriz Magaloni. 2012. Strategies of Vote Buying: Democracy, Clientelism and Poverty Relief in Mexico. Stanford University.
Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela. Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela. Vértice Ejecutores 2013 [cited October 23, 2013. Available from http://www.granmisionviviendavenezuela.gob.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=85&Itemid=100.
Hawkins, Kirk A., Guillermo Rosas, and Michael E. Johnson. 2011. "The Misiones of the Chávez Government." In Venezuela's Bolivarian Democracy: Participation, Politics, and Culture under Chávez, ed. D. Smilde and D. Hellinger. Durham: Duke University Press.
LatinNews Daily Report. 2013. "Venezuela: Deputy 99 ready to ‘enable’ Maduro." LatinNews Daily Report, October 30, 2013.
MINVIH. 2012. "Memoria y Cuenta 2011." Caracas: Ministerio del Poder Popular para Vivienda y Hábitat (MINVIH).
Patruyo, Thanalí. 2008. El estado actual de las misiones sociales: balance sobre su proceso de implementación e institucionalización. Caracas: Instituto Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Sociales (ILDIS).
Penfold-Becerra, Michael. 2007. "Clientelism and Social Funds: Evidence from Chávez’s Misiones." Latin American Politics and Society 49 (4):63-84.
Provea. 2012. "Situación de los Derechos Humanos en Venezuela." In Informe Anual. Caracas: Programa Venezolano de Educación y Acción en Derechos Humanos (Provea).
Transparencia Venezuela. 2013. "Análisis de riesgos de corrupción e integridad en Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela." Caracas: Transparency International.
 All construction data come from the mission’s official website: Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela, "Vértice Ejecutores", http://www.granmisionviviendavenezuela.gob.ve/index, accessed October 4, 2013.
 A two-sample t-test shows the effect that t(46) = 3.24, to a p < .0011 (two-tailed test) level.
 Using state-year as the unit of analysis (n=48), percentage of homes that areranchos as a covariate, and clustering standard errors by state, I estimate two models. In the first estimation, I run an OLS estimation with units built per thousand inhabitants regressed on the treatment of governor’s partisanship as well as a potentially mitigating factor, and percentage of homes that are ranchos. The second independent variable is necessary to control for the possibility that homes are simply being built in states with greater housing needs; that is, that opposition party governors tend to be elected in places where the GMVV need not be involved. In the second model, I use propensity score matching using a dummy variable categorizing the top and lower half of states according to percentage of homes that are ranchosas the matching variable. This technique attempts to estimate the effect of the treatment by accounting for the additional covariate that may also predict receiving the treatment. In other words, it tries to account for the fact that the difference in housing construction between the two groups of states may actually be due to the fact that the states’ housing needs affected the party identification of those states’ governors.
 The propensity score matching shows a slightly higher substantive effect—3.6 fewer houses built per thousand—while the estimation reaches a high level of significance (p<0.000).