Near a sand bank tailing from the whites beaches of Francisqui Island, just off Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, Caracas factory owner Javier Alvarez dives into the warm, azure water. Close by is his 74-foot Hatteras yacht, one of the many luxury vessels moored in and around the resort archipelago of Los Roques, where much of the country’s elite own houses. But this personal paradise may soon be ending. President Hugo Chávez announced earlier this month he’d like to expropriate much of Los Roques’ private property for state tourism — including yachts like Alvarez’s, which el presidente says would be better used for ferrying visitors. “Expropriating a boat is completely absurd,” says Alvarez, 39. “I don’t see how they can take away something you’ve worked hard for and bought.”

Actually, Chávez has made it look pretty easy during his 12 years in power. His socialist Bolivarian Revolution has nationalized and expropriated everything from utilities to ranches to golf courses — and with his re-election bid approaching next year, seizing a Shangri-la of the rich would help galvanize his populist base. “I’ve always said we should nationalize Los Roques,” Chávez, who revealed this past summer that he is battling cancer, told state television in a phone call earlier this month while denouncing the “high bourgeoisie” and “international set” that frequent the islands.