Wednesday, 28 April 2010

RATB reports: The struggle of the urban land committees in Venezuela

Land and housing for the people!
by Sam McGill in Venezuela.

“Lets go to them, go to these sites (empty buildings and disused land), because we have to build houses there!” - Hugo Chavez Frias, Sunday 11 April 2010 (from Alo Presidente).

Currently in the city of Merida (Merida State, North West Venezuela) there are approximately forty-eight interconnected land occupations taking place. Based on Articles 22 and 33 of the Urban Land Act, urban land committees identify disused land and empty buildings in the area and organise to guard it for ninety days, after which it is recognised as their land. Working alongside the Ezequiel Zamora Coordination and various unions such as the Union of Social Workers, they put pressure on local mayors and governors, with funding from PDVSA to build popular housing for the people.

Though a national call, the most developed committees and networks have been vigilant in Merida, particularly in response to business group plans to convert land into shopping malls and casinos without consulting Community Councils or other organs of popular power. The law around urban land was strengthened in August 2009 when the National Assembly unanimously passed emergency regulations giving land committees and communities more power to take over the land. The people responded with organised committees and land custodies and now Chavez is pressuring Mayors and Governors to follow through with the law, facilitating, funding and commencing the clearing of land and construction of popular housing.

The Land committee of Las Americas, have been occupying a large block of overgrown and disused land opposite the Venezuelan Social Security Institute for forty days, nearly half of the ninety-day target. It’s 200 members organise shifts to guard the land, one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one overnight. As Maribel Guillen, on shift to guard the land emphasises “This land is not being used productively, there are people who need houses in our community, we will continue to guard the land and put pressure on whoever necessary to get houses built here”.

This struggle is particularly important in the run up to the September National Assembly elections. Opposition Mayors and Governors are maneuvering to stall the process, blocking funding, adding bureaucratic obstacles or 'losing' paperwork. However the continued fight within the community and revolutionary sections of the state will determine the success of the struggle for housing, development of community power and ultimately the progress and popularity of the Revolution.

Expropriation! Confiscation! Nationalisation!
Land and housing for people not profit!