Misión Vivienda en Fuerte Tiuna, Caracas, Wilfredor, 28 March 2014, Wikimedia Commons.
The right to home, to a house, are codified in the proposed Constitution of Chile and in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. In Berkeley, the idea seems out of reach. There are students piling into cramped spaces burdened by rising prices. We live in a city where the unhoused roam our streets, we as students take an active role in displacing this community while trying to live for ourselves. A community is built and the university tears it down. We rally and fight for them and for ourselves, but we are still left trying to find a home.
Living communally is far from a new idea, but revisiting it through the lens of the histories of Venezuela and Chile can help contextualize the space that students find themselves in, especially when rethinking ideas about the relationship between people, the land, and their community.
The new proposed Chilean constitution would have signaled the idea that citizens have the right to “decent and adequate housing” where the cultural relevance of the housing is central to this, and housing policies would have prioritized low-income individuals. Article 51 of the failed Chilean Constitution calls for the State to provide the availability of land for decent and adequate housing. What is further interesting however, is the following article 52, which states, “The right to the city and territory is a collective right aimed at the common good and is based on the full exercise of human rights in the territory, on its democratic management.” This text is testament to the strong presence of the housing movements within Chile’s history. Under the management of the Allende government, a socialist government ending in 1973, low-income communities felt the impact of their government taking charge of housing, with the Allende government reaching a historic peak of housing construction by the end of 1972. This would soon be ripped away under the 1973 Pinochet dictatorship, with sweeping neoliberal reforms that dismissed the struggles of the communities of Chile for a period of 20 years.
Fast forward to 2022, as the new constitution is being drafted, communities like Nuevo Amancer, a community where people have settled on the land without the government’s permission, stand as evidence of the movimientos pobladores of the past decades. From their emergence in opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s, the pobladores have fought for the building of housing but have more importantly redefined what it means to occupy that space. They have coded their language from a “right to housing” to “a right to the city” whereas they have defined themselves as urban citizens, that their citizenship grants them the right to the space and moves away from their relationship with the state as solely beneficiary. They have dignified themselves as members of the democratic process not only in the national context but in the local context. They are citizens, occupying the land as part of the democratic process. The constitution utilizes the narrative created by these movements as shown in articles 51 and 52, testifying to their struggle further uplifting democratic movements of the people.
Vista de un campamento Chileno, Aoramire, 22 September 2009, Wikimedia Commons.
In Venezuela, grassroots have too been central to the housing rights now encoded in the Constitution. In the early 1990s, Carlos Andres Perez, the then-president of Venezuela sought to establish a series of market reforms that prioritized the private sector and foreign investors as a response to the drop in oil prices in the 1980s. These reforms were undertaken without the consultation of the Venezuelan people and were done under the careful watch of the IMF, the World Bank, and the United States. They cut the public budget harshly, doing away with programs that benefited those impoverished in the country. An emphasis was placed on securing subsidiaries for middle to higher income classes for the building of housing. Those that were impoverished were further pushed into the margins.
The assemblies of Venezuela’s Movimiento de Pobladores y Pobladoras (MPPV) had been at the center of the cause of setting forth policy that put low-income communities first. This group compiled the efforts of the grassroots movements of tenants, workers, informal settlers, and others from the 1980s and 1990s. Under Chávez, they sought to focus its efforts on pushing beyond constructing buildings but also building communities. After the election of Chávez, this organization pushed the ideas of formal construction of viviendas to integrate this community that had built unconventional homes. They had been pushed to the margins before and in establishing the idea of community outside of physical construction, wanted to continue to have that narrative present. Under Chávez, the building of the viviendas was an assured occurrence but the need to acknowledge that depth of community relations that led this to occur. In article 82 of the Bolivarian constitution, this fight is laid out. The article states that, “Every person has the right to adequate, safe and comfortable, hygienic housing, with appropriate essential basic services, including a habitat such as to humanize family, neighborhood and community relations” and further that it is the “shared responsibility of the citizens and the State in all areas.”
This brings us to where we stand as students at Berkeley. After the brief pause in enrollment that occurred in the last year, and now the displacement of the residents of People’s Park, housing is at the forefront of the minds of students. All of us in Berkeley, and greater in California, share in the struggle for housing. Understanding the narrative building presented by the grassroots organizations in Chile and Venezuela, I think about our need for community. To present ourselves as participants in the democratic process, pushing those who govern to be accountable to us as their foundation, and the relationship we build with one another to secure a fight that includes us all!
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