REPORT TO HIC MEMBERS
Enrique Ortiz F.
In my last report (December 2004) I said that once significant progress had been made in the consolidation of the Coalition’s internal structure and the strengthening of its external activities special attention would have to be given to the formulation of a strategy for the organization.
This strategy is a fundamental and urgent need for HIC today in the context of new forms of domination. These are at the same time remote, regressive and militarised and are based on brutal economic enslavement that imposes the pillaging and privatisation of natural, cultural and collective resources of our people; the expropriation of their assets, traditional knowledge and productive capacities; and the subordination of human rights –especially economic, social and cultural rights-, to the interests, and particularly the mercantile interests, of big corporations. It is also based on the fragmentation, weakening and even the destruction of collective means of social resistance and the self-managing processes of organized groups that struggle for their rights and generate options that transform their oppression and generate autonomous areas of social management.
These profound facts and changes and the appearance of the many processes and movements that work against accepting them as mear destiny cannot go unanswered by HIC. This is why the revision of the HIC global strategy is proposed as the main thrust of the debate in our annual meetings to be held in Cairo between 4 and 11 September.
This is the perspective with which I have concentrated my activity as HIC President during the year, paying special attention to those processes and areas that enable us to carefully examine the impact and danger of the present global model and to widen our circle of influence and strategic alliances.
The following activities have been particularly important:
1. World Social Forum
1.1 Participation in the V World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 26-31 January 2005.
This year HIC centred its participation around human rights and habitat issues. The HIC participation was consistent and linked with other organizations, social movements and networks:
- Latin American Secretariat for Popular Housing (SELVIP), Centre for Housing Rights and Against Evictions (COHRE), Social Watch, Observatory DESC (Barcelona), Observatory for the Right to the City and the National Forum for Urban Reform (Brazil), Urban Forum (Ecuador) among others.
HIC together with several organizations (HLRN, WAS, HIC-AL) participated jointly in some activities:
- Meeting of urban movements and organizations; Seminar on the World Charter for the Right to the City; Women worldwide speak of their struggle for the right to housing and land; Strategies for the struggle for land and housing; and finally, a mass cultural event supporting the United Samba School for a Lively City with the slogan “Another city is possible with urban reform”.
- Support for the meeting on “cooperatives and self-management” organized by SELVIP, and other activities linked to the Forum.
In addition to representing HIC at the formal events of the Forum, I participated in the meetings of the World Charter for the Right to the City promotion group and took on some responsibilities with respect to the revision of the document and its promotion (see point 2).
1.2 Meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum, Barcelona, Spain 20-22 June 2005.
The other side of the massive and vital social space for meeting and networking that has been opened by the World Social Forum is its International Council. This is a place for reflection, analysis, interchange and facilitaton of the global process and, the taking of strategic decisions, by a very difficult process of consensus.
I participated for the first time in the three day International Council Meeting in representation of HIC and, also for the first time, a whole day was put aside in the Meeting for a discussion on the world situation and the strategic considerations that arise for the development of the World Social Forum, its special characteristics and the role of the International Council. Other issues that were discussed during the Meeting were the alternatives for the strengthening of the World Social Forum and to increase its impact, and possible strategies to guide actions both inside the IC and internationally.
The discussion was informed and lively, with many different ideas and proposals and important considerations for the development of a strategy on the future of the IC and the organizations there represented. No specific strategy however was discussed or adopted.
The divergent positions expressed led to a new question; that is how to assimilate them. For some the Forum’s openness to different ideas and positions expressed by groups that oppose neoliberalism is its fundamental characteristic and decisions have to be taken by consensus to avoid minorities loosing chances. Others think that this has led to some inertia and the loss of strength and that it is not possible to construct new levels of unity without accepting debate and polemic, and to maintain a global impact without actions that are defined and supported by the IC. The representatives decided to continue with this debate in the future.
For those like us who come from international organizations that are used to defining strategies and activities according to traditional democratic rules it is very interesting and enlightening to participate in new ways of running and stimulating global processes that have a high impact. The methods seem slow and inefficient at first sight but they can be opening new practices that are highly inclusive and transforming.
I was very impressed by this process and think that HIC should continue to participate actively in the World Social Forum and the International Council.
The following two days were dedicated to the revision of the progress made with respect to the organization of the 3 polycentric forums (Bamako, Caracas, Karachi) programmed for Janaury 2006. Another important issue under discussion was the restructuring of the secretariat.
2. World Charter for the Right to the City
The formulation and promotion of the World Charter for the Right to the City as a campaign that is linked to the World Social Forum opens many possibilities for coordination and mobilization between a wide range of sectors on an issue that is central to HIC.
In the World Forum of 1992 HIC, together with the National Forum for Urban Reform (Brazil) and the Continental Front for Popular Organizations, agreed on the first step towards the Charter on the Right to the City (“Towards Just, Democratic and Sustainable Cities, Towns and Villages”). Today, the process has begun to diffuse this issue internationally and the struggle to adopt a new collective human right that is close to the HIC perspective.
In support of this process since January I participated in the promotional groups for the Charter with the following activities:
- The revision, together with Susanna Segovia (Urban Forum Ecuador) of the writing, order, repetitions and the identification of contradictions in the text that had been agreed. The revised text has already been translated into 4 languages and will form the basis of a workshop programmed to take place in Barcelona, Spain between 14 and 16 September 2005. In this event the text will be carefully revised and more issues will be incorporated from Asia and Africa. The workshop agenda includes a debate on the strategy to follow for the dissemination of the document, its implementation, and its promotion with governments and international organizations, and its recognition as a new human right by the United Nations.
- Participation in a meeting to prepare for the Seminar-Workshop held in Barcelona in June 2005.
- Follow-up on the agreements made in that meeting.
- Informing the HIC memberships about the Barcelona Seminar-Workshop, inviting their participation in the issues it raises and supporting local organizations through active communication.
3. Economic globalization and habitat linked human rights
HIC should adopt a clear strategy and position in the context of the economic, social and environmental impacts of globalization that were described briefly at the beginning of this report. Particularly important are the negative impacts of economic treaties and integration plans and the construction of infrastructure and the macro projects that are associated with them.
Emigration, displaced people and massive forced evictions are now common. Indigenous and peasant populations are the most affected in the poor countries of the south as well as the loss of social housing is a major issue in the industrialized north.
It is not only a matter of violations to the right to housing, land and habitat because these have an impact on a wide range of human rights. This is why HIC has identified the need to link its preventative and defence work with the demands of other actors and social movements. Several HIC members have expressed the importance of this issue and to explore its implications for our work at the local, national and international levels.
With the objective of contributing to these tasks, and in coordination with the HIC Regional Office for Latin America (HIC-AL), which has worked for 2 years on the documentation and analysis of the case of the Plan Puebla Panama (a series of projects for the construction of infrastructure and the needed support for the implementation of the free trade agreements: TLCAN, CAFTA, ALCA), work has been done to support the organization of the regional meeting “Free Trade Treaties and Plans for the Integration of Mesoamerica” between February and May 2005, with the following activities:
- Difussion of the document “Plan Puebla Panama.com” prepared by HIC-AL.
- Inviting FIAN International to jointly convene the regional meeting with HIC.
- Definition of the structure, content and attendance for the regional meeting.
- Trips (February-March) to Costa Rica, El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico to promote the regional meeting, establish contact and personally invite relevant individuals and groups to attend it.
- Interviews with organizations and social actors in Mexico City who are involved in the issues.
- Preparation by FIAN and HIC-AL of the methodology for the meeting and the integration of the main documents.
- Coordination, together with Sofia Monsalve from FIAN, of the meeting which gathered 38 people from 5 Central American countries and 6 southern states of Mexico who are closely linked to the issue through diverse ways and practices of social insertion in their respective territory.
The meeting and the contacts that were established have resulted in the development of knowledge with regard to the complexity of the issues both in terms of the operations and links formed by the major economic and geopolitical interest groups and in terms of their impact on human rights and rural and urban habitat.
The meeting had some additional and surprising results, as it was stimulating for everybody to realize the wide and interesting range of social initiatives and resources that converge in the different struggles that were presented. These include the creation and development of economic, technological, socio-organizational and cultural alternatives that are still fragmented and un-related but have a high potential for innovation and transformation.
These issues developed in greater depth for the Mesoamerican sub-region and the strategic debate given at the World Social Forum IC, provide valuable elements for the revision that HIC proposes for its own strategies and international programs.
4. Other activities: human rights and the social production of habitat in Latin America.
As HIC President I attended to the following activities in Latin America:
4.1. Meeting of the Advice Committee of the Regional Project for Popular Housing for Latin America supported by the Swedish Cooperative Centre and FUCVAM, San Jose, Costa Rica (19 March, 2005).
As a result of the regional alliance established with the SCC and our HIC international work on social production of habitat I have supported the following initiatives:
- Support for the organization of the IV Regional conference on popular housing to be held in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas (24-28 August, 2005).
- Revision and support of the comparative study on housing policies in 10 countries.
- Arrangements to produce a video on the SPH cooperatives in Central America.
- Arrangements for a collective space and activities of several networks at the next World Social Forum to be held in Caracas in 2006.
4.2 Workshop “The human right to a dignified house”, San Salvador, El Salvador (17-18 March, 2005)
- Facilitation of the workshop organized by the H. Böll Foundation and the El Salvador Human Rights Commission for the training of social organizations.
4.3 Seminar “For the right to housing”, Cochabamba, Bolivia (19 May, 2005)
- Conduction of the training seminar directed at NGO’s and social organizations organized by the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights of Cochabamba.
4.4 II Latin America Meeting of Women Neighbourhood Leaders organized by FUNDAPROVI and the Habitat Network with support from the Women and Shelter Network, HIC and HIC-AL, (16-20 May 2005)
- Commentator at the International Forum on Solidarity Financing for Housing (16-17 May 2005).
- Speaker at the Seminar-Workshop on Housing Policies based on Solidarity Financing. Lecture on the results of the study on the micro and macro economic impact of Social Production of Housing in Mexico. (18 May 2005).
4.5 VI Training Seminar in ESCR “Live with dignity: the human right to housing and adequate habitat,” organized by PROVEA, Caracas, Venezuela, (13-15 July 2005)
- Exposition in the public forum on the right to the city.
- Exposition on HIC international experiences in defence of the right to housing (evictions and other violations).
My presence in Caracas gave me the opportunity to strengthen contact with HIC members there and with social organizations that are linked in the Solidarity Network of Autonomous Communities, and to establish contact with the Urban Land Committees and the organizers of the World Social Forum that will be held in Caracas next January.
5. Final considerations
Together the social activities and experiences that are mentioned in this report have strengthened my conviction that HIC as a multi-action, inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary organization, is a very special instrument that has considerable potential to support, articulate and promote resistance and transformation processes in the field of popular habitat at both the local and global level.
However, progress along this road requires to strengthen our collective commitment, to define strategies and methodologies and to develop projects, campaigns and international activities together that can integrate more members, construct more alliances and mobilize more actors.
The campaigns that HIC is organizing for Habitat Day, and the HIC-InWent Project on Social Production of Habitat are going in this direction.
The same direction is sought in the methodological instruments that are being developed by some of the HIC affiliated groups such as the Housing and Land Rights “Toolkit” prepared and diffused by the Land and Housing Rights Network, and the Project Influencing Public Policies that is promoted by HIC-AL, and includes 12 social and non government organizations from 7 countries.
In this sense the design, implementation and permanent up-dating of a Communication System that is coordinated from the office of the HIC General Secretary in Santiago de Chile, has recuperated a major part of the work of the membership over 30 years and also keeps us informed of events on a daily basis. It also sends us documents that show the great vitality and experience that we are accumulating and can share from all the corners of the planet (see: hic-net.org).
It remains for us to take on the challenge to synergise and widen the impact of these and other significant experiences, and to make progress in the strategic and operative integration of a complex set of interests, initiatives and fields of action that characterize our Coalition.
 HIC representatives for Anglophone Africa have recently been elected and two representatives from social movements for the HIC Board were selected. The only election that is pending is for the coordinator of the Women and Shelter Committee.