On Thursday housing rights activists from across Latin America concluded a week-long summit to find popular solutions to people’s housing needs in the region.
Hosted in Caracas by members of Venezuela’s Movimiento de Pobladores, or Squatter’s Movement, the 8th Latin American Summit for Popular Housing brought together delegates from Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. Among those at Thursday’s closing ceremony was Venezuelan Executive Vice President Elias Jaua, who announced the expropriation of new lands to be handed over to the country’s housing movements.
The housing rights summit, which began on Monday, brought together numerous activists with a range of experiences in popular construction, maintenance, and expansion of housing for the poor and excluded. The summit also comes at a time when the Venezuelan people and government are engaged in a nationwide effort to identify those with the greatest housing needs and provide housing solutions to them in the coming years.
Andres Antillano, spokesperson for Venezuela’s Squatters’ Movement, told reporters that all of those who participated in this week’s summit “agreed that the housing problem is not just a question of bricks and cement.”
“As long as housing is seen as a business opportunity and not as a right,” he said, “there will be no housing solutions for the great majority of people, only for those few who can afford to pay.”
During the week-long summit, delegates discussed six different aspects of the housing crisis in Latin America: 1. Latin American unity to advance the housings rights struggle; 2. Squatters as the historical subjects in the construction of socialism in Latin America; 3. Popular self-managed construction of housing as one perspective in the struggle for political power; 4. Popular grassroots organizations as the subjects in the struggle against capitalism; 5. The construction of a new, socialist world; and 6. Political education as key to the struggle to advance self-managed and transformative projects.
Of the numerous proposals developed by those gathered this week, Antillano highlighted the establishment of La Via Urbana, a grassroots social movement similar to the international smallholder farmer movement, La Via Campesina. La Via Urbana will help coordinate the housing rights struggle throughout Latin America.
Antillano also affirmed the movements plan to establish a Latin American School of Housing and Habitat where those engaged in the struggle for housing rights can study the history of, and development of, self-managed housing units, helping to educate and organize the movements involved.
“The school will allow us to define mechanisms that would serve to move housing development forward and reduce the housing deficit across Latin America,” he said.
The first group of students and teachers of this educational project is expected to meet in November 2011, in Quito, Ecuador.
Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua, who brought the event to a close, announced that the Chavez government had authorized the expropriation of an additional 67,000 square meters of urban lands for housing developments to be organized and managed by the Squatters’ Movement, enough to build 1,118 homes. He also announced that the government had intervened on, and would pay for, some 19 buildings that are currently occupied by members of the housing rights movement. He said ownership would be given to the families that currently occupy said buildings.
Jaua went on to state that socialism without popular organizations is “unnatural” and affirmed that “nothing is more natural then living in a community and advancing as a collective…Human beings, when we live in community, can build a more just world.”
He also asked those present to recognize the role of progressive governments in moving such efforts forward.
Jaua told the crowd that “no government could even consider a project as ambitious as Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission (GMVV), encouraging popular organization for the construction of housing and living conditions, if the government does not hold control over the cement and iron industries as well as the political strength to search out land needed for the people to build their homes.” He said that such solutions to the people’s basic needs are “only possible in a socialist revolution.”
Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission, one of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s “Bicentennial Social Missions” as he has called them, seeks to build two million homes in the next seven years.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, currently in Cuba as part of ongoing cancer treatment, sent a message of support to delegates via the Twitter social network media. Chavez affirmed that the summit was a “tremendous international gathering for popular housing” and that he agreed with delegates, that “only the people can save the people.”
Chavez also told those gathered that Cuba’s Fidel Castro sent them “a revolutionary embrace.”
Before ending their summit yesterday, delegates and other grassroots housing activists marched from Plaza Venezuela to the Teatro Teresa Carreno in downtown Caracas. Marchers carried banners calling for popular control of housing construction projects, immediate housing solutions for people with the greatest housing needs (victims of recent flooding, the homeless, etc.), and unity among all Latin American revolutionaries in defense of the Venezuelan and other progressive governments.