Tuesday, March 18, 2008

People's Organizing for Housing in Venezuela

by Hassan Reyes

Like many major cities in what North Americans and Europeans like to call the 'Third World', the streets in Caracas, Venezuela are busy and crowded people. However, Venezuela isn't your typical 'Third World' nation. There is a revolution going on and you can see it and feel it when you are there.

BASICS Community Newsletter and the Toronto-based Latino radio program Barrio Nuevo sent us to find out what’s really happening in Venezuela and link up with the movements and people that are advancing a people's program.

The corporate media in North America portrays the Venezuelan revolution as 'authoritarian' and 'violent', and it portrays the democratically-elected leader of the movement President Hugo Rafael Chavez as a 'dictator'. It’s not hard to understand why rich Americans and Canadians feel so threatened by what’s happening in Venezuela, with the nationalization of the oil sector and the support that the peoples’ movement is obtaining from its allies in government. Venezuelans have resurrected two words that the rich people of the world hoped they would never hear again - Revolution and Socialism.

On the streets the idea of revolution has become a tangible thing, with incredible murals and graffiti everywhere, everyone announcing support for Chavez, and actively organizing themselves at the local level.

We come to a building with a considerable amount of this sort of graffiti - the headquarters of the National Committee of the Homeless (Sin Techos). I walk in and ask for Layo Gascuez, a local leader who agreed to give BASICS an interview and tell us about their work. Layo takes us to the second floor of a 5-storey building being occupied by the movement. Once occupied, the residents (mostly single mothers, seniors and youth) are organized into committees to carry out the every aspect of living collectively, including communications and renovations. On this same floor, the movement is renovating a space that will be used as a free day care centre for the single mothers in the buildings.

"Currently, we have 75 occupied buildings in Caracas and 165 nationally" says Gascuez, pointing to other adjacent buildings also run through the collectives.

"The Sin Techos movement began 2003 when we in Venezuela really began to take on the oligarchy, who live off the misery of the people" explained Gascuez of how the movement started. "In our Bolivarian constitution, Article 103 prohibits all types of
monopolies and so we started doing occupations of buildings to break that monopoly."

So united and strong are the peoples’ collectives within the Sin Techos movement that Layo proudly brings us to another occupied 7 storey building - which has a McDonalds as the main tenant on the street level. "Whenever we need something done to the
building we go to their management and demand that they pay for it. They don't dare say no."

The Sin Techos form part of the Manifesto for People's Liberation (MLP) that brings together over 8000 collectives and mass organizations together in Venezuela and other parts of Latin American.

Layo also brings us to other collectives under the banner of the MLP - the Workers of Art Centre, and Soberana TV.

The Workers of Art also function within an occupied storefront that hadn't been in operation for years. The Centre offers quality space for poor artists to do
their trade (painting, sculptures etc.) that they can then sell in order to survive. The artists offer free classes to youth and people in the community.

Soberana TV is a media centre, where the Sin Techos produce a local newsletter and TV-quality media reports to offer to other local TV stations.

"Ultimately, the work we do stems from a necessity. There are families who are living on the streets. Just as our President Chavez has said we can’t keep on allowing a monopoly over land and to permit a situation where the most vulnerable and poor in our society are trampled on."

A political mural in Caracas that reads " Work amongst the people must be the first principle of any revolutionary".