It’s hard times in Venezuela these days. The economy is in shambles, crime is spiraling, and the opposition is leading increasingly strident protests on the streets. To make matters worse, President Nicolás Maduro can’t even deal with the crisis from the comforts of the presidential palace.
Constitutionally, of course, Maduro has been able live in La Casona, a luxurious villa in the heart of the capital, since he was sworn in last year. The only problem: Almost a year after Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, passed away, his three grown children—Maria Gabriela, Rosa Virginia and Hugo Jr.—are still living in the villa. Apparently, they have no intention of leaving.
The two daughters have allegedly converted La Casona into a social club for friends of the family. According to recent media reports, neighbors complain of “deafening” parties. Fast-food restaurants and catering agencies refuse to deliver to the mansion, allegedly, because the Chávez kids have stopped paying their bills. Even concert organizers are complaining; Chavez’s daughters allegedly force them to hand over dozens of free tickets so they can share them with their friends. (Both the country’s Information Ministry and the Chávez family were unavailable for comment.)
Originally built in colonial times, the glamorous La Casona residence was acquired by the government in the 1960s, during the presidency of Raúl Leoni. The mansion features six main bedrooms and several more for guests. There’s a swimming pool, a private movie theater and a series of private gardens.
The complex is surrounded by walls and guarded by policemen, in no small part because of the antique furniture and priceless pieces of art inside.
Much about the mansion, however, remains a mystery. Since 1966, the villa’s inhabitants have handed over a detailed inventory to the new first family. But according to Carmen Sofía Leoni, the daughter of former president , that practice stopped in 1999, when the Chávez family moved in. “No one knows what’s inside the house,” she recently said in an interview, “or what state it is in.”
Not surprisingly, Hugo Chávez was never comfortable living there. A former military officer turned firebrand socialist, he preferred to live with his fellow soldiers in the Fuerte Tiuna military complex. His kids, however, were perfectly fine with the luxury of the official residence.
There isn’t much Maduro can do about the squatters. Several attempts to make them leave have failed, as Chávez’s children apparently refused. They still reportedly have powerful friends in the current government, including close ties to Diosdado Cabello, who chairs the National Assembly and is one of Maduro’s biggest rivals. Rosa Virgina, the eldest of Chavez’s daughters, is married to Vice President Jorge Arreaza.
Ironically, Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, have begrudgingly taken up temporary residence in a villa normally reserved for the vice president. There’s plenty of room there: Arreaza reportedly spends most of his time in La Casona with his wife.
The Venezuelan government declined to comment about Maduro’s living situation or those of the Chavez children. But as the protests continue to rage, some observers say that Maduro may soon be in the dog house.
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