Conversation with the Minister for the Revolutionary Transformation of Greater Caracas

Venezuelan Minister for the Revolutionary Transformation of Greater Caracas, Francisco “Farruco” Sesto, details his role within the government’s housing mission, and discusses some of the problems and challenges facing the government in undertaking such a huge task.

ENcontrARTE: For a few years now you’ve had high level functions in the government of the Bolivarian revolution. You’ve been the minister for culture twice, minister for housing once, and now you’re minister for the revolutionary transformation of Greater Caracas, where do you feel most comfortable?

Farruco: I’d like to reformulate the question so that it is, ‘Where do you feel most useful?’ Regarding that, I’d respond that everything has its time. At a personal level, I feel proud to have been part of a team that radically changed a type of cultural management inherited from the past, to have converted it into revolutionary management under the leadership of President [Hugo] Chavez.

What we did was important, I think. There’s a lot still to do but that team is still there, enthusiastic, committed to life, and new people- almost always younger – are always joining it and enriching it. I think that there’s not going to be any place for retreat, the management of culture is in good hands.

In that sense, yes, I think that this new task with Caracas that the president put me in charge of could be very important, I mean, structurally useful, if we do it well, and we will if we can create a team that connects reflection with transforming action.

ENcontrARTE: At the end of 2010 there was an environmental disaster with thousands left homeless; the national government took on the issue of housing again in a strong way, and the president took the challenge on himself. How big is this challenge? What part of the problem corresponds to you? What does your task consist of?

Farruco: The task is both quantitative and qualitative, and the qualitative aspect is what gives profound meaning to the challenge we’re taking on. On the one hand, constructing two million houses in seven years, as the president announced, in order to respond to the needs of the people, and on the other hand, taking advantage of the effort in order to advance in the construction of socialism in organisational, economic, political, and cultural terms. Together with the construction of housing, we have to renew habitat in profound urban and social ways.

What part of the problem corresponds to me? I’d say that all the parts correspond to all of us. As is known, in my case I belong, as minister, to the Superior Organ of Housing and Habitat that is lead by President Chavez himself and coordinated by the vice-president of the territorial area, Rafael Ramirez. There are eight ministers in this body; it’s clearly a complicated task being taken on as state policy. The construction of housing in such an intense way offers us greater possibilities to renew our cities.

As minister for the revolutionary transformation of Greater Caracas, it’s up to me, specifically, to collect and produce ideas on the subject, evaluate them, put them in order, and from there suggest integral strategies and policies to the president and his government. And of course, respond to the instructions that the president gives me and take on concrete tasks that I’m given. For that, I’m heading up the Presidential Office of Special Plans and Projects.

ENcontrARTE: The problem is definitely quantitative and qualitative. At a national level millions of houses are needed but also it’s important to make a city, favour collective life, urban life, so let’s cover this in parts. How is the question of quantity being taken on? How does one work against the clock, find land, and construct thousands and thousands of housing units?

Farruco: I think that the state, for the first time, is prepared with a large unified strategy, to confront the problem and resolve it within a relatively short and determined amount of time. One realises that there is no solution with capitalist methods and one seeks other methods. This willingness is key. With that we can confront, conceptually and in practice, planning, urbanisation, basic supplies and construction components, distribution, organisation for production, industrialisation, scientific studies of demand, assignation, financing, participation of the grassroots, and very importantly, the appropriate laws to bring all of this forward. It would take a while to go into detail, but the idea is this: with time as an important factor (against the clock as you say), we’re going to keep fulfilling our aims, you can be sure of that.

ENcontrARTE: On the other hand we suppose it’s not just about making units of housing, but also about configuring, strengthening, and renewing urban habitat, correct?

Farruco: Yes that’s correct, just like a said a while ago. Our cities didn’t grow, in the twentieth century, in the best way. No, their development was very intense and out of control. In 100 years, the equivalent in time of three or four generations, we went from two and a half million inhabitants to almost thirty million. Caracas, in 1900, had 85,000 inhabitants. And look at it now! And all of that under a capitalist system, that was also branded with populism.

ENcontARTE: Sorry, populism? The enemies of the Bolivarian government accuse it of being populist!

Farruco: Well no, populism was from before, with the Adecos [AD opposition party] and the Copeyanos [Copei opposition party]. Our government isn’t a populist one, but rather, its popular, which is very different! But anyway, I’ll go on.

So, out cities were growing in a very bad way, they had a lot of problems, they reproduced social class segregation in a terrible way. That’s why now we have to go about intensely changing our cities. The subject of housing offers us a good starting point to tackle this huge task.

Just as Archimedes said, it was him wasn’t it? Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the world, referring to the lever. Well, here the lever as an instrument to move our cities towards a profound renovation is the issue of housing, its instruction in the millions.

ENcontARTE: The census for the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission is reflecting the large expectations the people have in this initiative. Speaking specifically about Caracas, how many houses are being builty, and where?

Farruco: All indications show that the housing register [census of those who need housing] is going to reach at number of between three and four million. It’s not a small thing! Right? A big challenge! But we’re going to take it on, without a doubt. That’s what the mission is for. In Caracas, I mean Greater Caracas, we’re going to provide a planned response. What to do? I ask you, do we say to the families that there’s no possible solution, that they have to go somewhere else? We have to take into account that all the families who are asking for housing [in Caracas] already live there, and this is important to take into account. They aren’t families who are going to come here, they are already here, already form part of the crowd that occupies roads and paths, that use water and electricity, who are part of the Caracas citizenry.

So what happens is that they aren’t living in dignified conditions, right? They are on the edge, crowded together, renting under miserable conditions, or living in inadequate places, and in many cases, in areas of high risk. Well this is what it’s about. Changing the living conditions for better ones, for greater dignity. Be assured that the revolution is going to give them an answer. Among other things, this is a revolution for the people to be able to equip themselves with conditions of complete dignity. And with Chavez at the front, that is guaranteed.

You ask me how many houses are being built right now in Caracas? We’d have to add up all the different numbers, including the international agreements. But I can tell you that just under the Plan for the Emergency around 28,000 houses are being built in different parts of the city, including along the coast. All of those, and others that will be started soon, should be finished and handed over by the end of 2012.

ENcontrARTE: Some of these developments have been questioned, could it be that there was a lack of dialogue with the respective communities?

Farruco: There are really two types of questions. One is of a political nature, led by the media, you already know which media, political actors of the opposition. This question isn’t for us.

The other is logical; it’s about interests that are affected when under-utilised land is occupied. One always treads on something and a complaint appears that usually has a certain political use as well. Also, sometimes a group of neighbours think that the construction of housing is going to affect them in some way. I don’t want to think about the selfishness that sneaks in and that even shows, on occasion, signs of racism or class discrimination. We have heard it: ‘These people that you’re going to bring here to the new apartments are going to make us lose this zone’. They don’t realise that the city belongs to everyone and that “some middle class sectors” aren’t going to give lessons in citizenry.

I say “some” in quotation marks because there is a large part of the middle class who is participating in this humanist project and when they aren’t, they maintain a high amount of sensibility. That’s why we can’t generalise. But I say that we have to construct an egalitarian society and an integrated city. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

On the other hand, I don’t deny that we might make a mistake in proceedings or lack information at a given time; don’t forget that we have reacted very quickly in the face of a large emergency. But I assure you that it’s not the case in general terms. The majority of the criticisms of the actions of the government in these cases, aren’t in good faith, but cover up certain interests.

ENcontrARTE: In the article ‘The ecocide that is coming’, Samual H Carvajal Ruiz says, “They apply the logic of cement and bricks to the letter, which identifies a most savage urbanistic capitalism”, what opinon do you think such a statement deserves?

Farruco: Opinion? Negative without a doubt. It’s not a serious article. It’s full of false statements, exaggerations, and defamatory, even personal remarks. But if you also ask me about it in political terms, I would tell you that the article is reactionary. I don’t think it deserves many comments from me. But I would tell Carvajal that what identifies capitalism isn’t the logic of cement and bricks, but rather the intense selfishness (in this case, yes, savage), of certain sectors who think that they are the owners of the city. Now some middle sectors who have managed to settle in the space of the valley and who come to us to say, between the lines, subliminally, disguised as ecologists, that the poor people don’t fit in, that they are too much, and that in any case they should stay where they are, perched on the hills, that they shouldn’t bother us.

But what are we going to do? Are we going to kick them out of Caracas? Ah no, that’s the logic of “they should go away”.

Translated by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com. This is an abridged version of the original interview.