Members of CTU in an urban reabilitation project, Caracas, Venezuela
We, the Urban Land Committees (Comités de Tierra Urbana, or CTU), form a movement of pobladoresfocused on three central themes: tenants; superintendents and pioneers, as well as on building socialism as a cross-cutting element to these themes. Our movement was acknowledged by the Venezuelan Revolutionary Government on February 4, 2002, but our fight for the right to the city began decades earlier.
Our work “as made evident by the decree on the Special Project for Regularization of Land Ownership in Popular Urban Settlements, and its subsequent developments, seeks to define a plan for the transformation and democratization of the city, dismantling the dynamics of spatial segregation which have meant that more than 60% of the country’s population live in precarious settlements. This is done through comprehensive regularization of neighbourhoods, which includes the following tasks:
1. Legal regularization, thereby democratizing property ownership and providing legal security to pobladores of low-income communities, converting into assets the sole possessions of millions of families.
2. Urban regularization, establishing regulations and standards for coexistence based on the recognition of idiosyncrasies of each community — while also taking into account each community’s relationship to the rest of the city — as part of a constituent process and community self-management. The fundamental instrument in this process is the Neighbourhood Charter.
3. Physical regularization, which goes beyond basic infrastructure and also applies to improving living conditions in neighbourhoods, ensuring availability of services, resources and equipment. It also implies achieving sustainable and integral development, promoting productive re-evaluation, health, education, supplies etc.”2]
To put these tasks into action, our organization consists of over 7,000 CTUs nationwide, including 1,200 CTUs in the metropolitan area of Caracas, which are organized into three different levels: district, municipal and state. Each of these organizations includes 150 to 300 families in our areas. As mentioned above, we are a bastion of the Bolivarian Revolution and several other grassroots organizations have been established as a result of our organized communities.
We founded a rigorous community and popular cadastre as our neighbourhoods were not included in the government cadastre carried out by the traditional Fourth Republican government. The registration of property in our country is the responsibility of the National Cartography Agency which delegates responsibility to the municipal mayors who are entitled by law to register property. Before the Fourth Republic (the political era prior to Chavez), no self-established neighbourhood could become regulated, as the entire bourgeois structure was constructed so that we do not exist in official property cadastre. This is why organized communities, with the consent of Hugo Chávez’s central government, were able to put forth a proposal at the beginning of Chavez’ second term in 2007. Government entities are beginning to take the first steps towards incorporating community knowledge with the support of the National Cartography Agency. However municipal governments, with a few exceptions, still do not recognize the community property registry developed by the communities.
The Tenants Movement: We have created an anti-eviction network throughout the country, including in Caracas where it is the most effective, which has already been able to prevent many evictions. However in certain cases we were unsuccessful because the network was not yet active in the area where the eviction was taking place.
Based on our experience and with support from struggles in other areas, we have presented the mayor of Caracas with a proposal to develop a decree or ordinance bill that prohibits forced evictions. However, the oligarchy through the courts has nevertheless continued to carry out evictions. In Venezuela, the branches of government are separate and autonomous but the judiciary is largely in the hands of the oligarchy or responds to its power. By increasing the number of forced evictions in Caracas, the oligarchy forced the radicalization of the people towards the government. The mayor of the city — who is part of the revolutionary process — subsequently accepted a proposal that we made together with the movement of pobladores: an anti-eviction decree in the city of Caracas. The decree is very clear that evictions are prohibited in Caracas however contradictions exist in this process of change. The oligarchs sometimes ignore the decree and when the network is not functioning, members of the community do not work in solidarity. It is only through organization that we feel peace and tranquillity in the face of abuse from cultural oppressors, and our self-organizing protects us against political segregation and economic exploitation.
The Superintendents Movement: This movement represents a two-fold vulnerability, because if a superintendent loses his or her job, they also lose their home. This is almost slavery, as the level of exploitation superintendents are subjected to is inhumane. Some have to work more than twelve hours a day and others up to fifteen hours. This abuse violates the current legislation of the country, however it is capitalist logic that applies here; if someone says something or reports something, then they are excluded from the job market. However, the movement has focused attention on this problem, proposing to add a chapter or proposal to reform the labour law in order to change this situation. The problem is not a legal one but a political one, and for this reason we are fighting for this issue everywhere, seeking coordination with the movement of pobladores.
The Pioneers Movement: The movement focuses on three goals:
a) Recovering unused and empty sites or sites with abandoned buildings, to make and obtain housing and build a new city and new towns.
b) Education and training for the entire pioneer movement.
c) Development of proposals and internships with other organizations and with the Secretaría Latinoamericana para la Vivienda Popular (SELVIP).
It has been an uphill struggle, due to the legacy of a society divided into classes and because of the prejudices inherent in this society. It is difficult to make changes, but we can achieve them, as we are already living in a time of change. In Venezuela and in many other countries people are beginning to understand the failure of the capitalist system. Capitalism has denied humanity because its core purpose is to accumulate wealth, while neglecting to consider those who do not have any or those who die in the process of trying to guarantee the huge profits and obvious reproduction of the system. The only antidote is to live in communion and harmony with Mother Nature.
Poblador (pl. pobladores) is a term that transcends the meaning of ‘inhabitant’ and is also attributed with a social and political connotation meaning those who fight for the rights of the poor majority living in large cities.