Caracas , November 8, 2006 (venezuelanalysis.com)— A National Meeting of the Urban Land Committees (CTU), which are instrumental in Venezuela’s urban land reform program, was held this weekend in the Miranda state capital, Los Teques, just outside of Caracas. Because of the autonomy and participation, the meeting was described by those in attendance as the “first of its kind.”
The Urban Land Committees were brought to life by Presidential decree 1666, in 2002. Since then they have become an important form of community “mobilization” and organization, enabling urban communities to receive title to their property, to establish the norms of their community through the creation of a “community charter,” and to improve the conditions of life in the barrios, by demanding the right to housing and habitat, not just land.
Approximately 500 spokespersons attended the meeting from around the country, representing their local CTUs. The spokespersons were chosen during nearly 200 local and regional meetings which took place throughout the country in which over half of Venezuela’s 6,000 CTUs participated.
The local meetings where held in order to begin the dialogue for the national meeting on the local level, so that spokespersons would have already elaborated ideas and “proposals” for the national event.
“I would say that this is the first [meeting] that begins to construct itself from the base,” said Hernan Peralta, a CTU member and Chilean who has been living and working in communities in Venezuela for the last 30 years. “They held 200 local meetings, the products of these local meetings helped to feed the process of preparation for the national meeting, and the idea of the national meeting was to try to jump from the local meeting and to build a more profound discussion in terms of the mission, and expectations, and construction.”
Although the meeting was partially funded by the Venezuelan government, Peralta said that it “very much respected the autonomy of the CTUs.”
“I feel that this is an important step and perhaps one of the meaningful elements in the insipient process of construction of socialism of the 21st century,” declared Peralta who said that plans for the organization of this meeting began in September of last year during the 2005 national CTU meeting which did not have the “depth of debate” or “previous preparation” that they were able to achieve this year.
This year’s meeting was additionally attended by representatives from housing and renter’s movements from Colombia and Argentina.
The CTUs and Government Institutions
The three day event was loaded with a rigorous schedule as participants split up in to three large working groups, which then broke in to smaller discussion groups composed of just over15 people, in order to further elaborate proposals, experiences, and comments on the three topics of debate: The CTU’s relationship with government institutions; with the local community; and with each other and other organizations.
Marlixa Milano, a CTU spokesperson from Miranda state, participated in the working group focusing on the relationship of the CTUs with the government institutions. She said that this was the most conflictive of the three groups, and that they were up until 3am on Saturday night attempting to resolve differences.
“It was the most problematic because that’s exactly where the most people have their problems, with the relations with the institutions. Institutions like the mayor’s office, government offices, ministries,” said Milano, who stated that often times, the communities will organize everything that is needed to be able to legal acquire the title to land only to see it wrapped up in red tape for years.
“We do all of this work in the community and then when we get to the institutions with all of this work done… it turns out that they don’t take us in to account or that there’s a problem with the land and the property doesn’t work out,” said Milano.
On Sunday morning, the working groups presented their conclusions before the general assembly and in the afternoon met with their fellow regional spokespersons to analyze next steps in their separate regions.
Among the many proposals which came out of the working groups on Sunday morning which could be eventually promoted by the bulk of the CTUs, were the reform of decree 1666, the creation of a comprehensive school for youth and community work, the creation of more CTU community media (radio and newspaper), direct “CTU support for the indigenous communities”, “the creation of a land bank,” and the “strengthening of community assemblies in order to offset party-aligned sectors that are not interested in grassroots power.”
The entire assembly loudly applauded the proposal that “the results of the meeting be handed over to the President of the Republic in a massive act of the CTU.”
“Everyone here is in support of the President,” said Milano on Sunday. “Did you see the cheers?”
However, Milano explained, that does not mean that it has been easy “to arrive to a consensus.”
“It has been a huge challenge to bring together so many people from all over the country, with different issues,” said Milano, “because the people from Zulia have different issues than the people from Caracas. The people from Caracas have a different issues than the people from Ciudad Bolivar, and the people from Ciudad Bolivar have different issues than the eastern part of the country.”
One of the most universal hopes from participants is that with this meeting they will be able to “accelerate the massive turn-over of land titles.” Milano couldn’t agree more.
Her Struggle and Perseverance Pioneer’s Encampment (a proposal coordinated under the CTUs, which organizes at-risk communities in to groups that actively pursue unused urban land to acquire, on which to build their community) is currently waiting for an answer from the government regarding land that they have requested from the Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI). Milano stated that they have documentation that the land belongs to INTI, and is therefore hypothetically legally available to be turned over to the “Pioneers.” Local landowners, however, say it is theirs, have blocked it off and surrounded it with private property signs.
Victor Urdaneta is an indigenous from the Guajiro tribe in the oil-rich city of Maracaibo in Zulia state. Urdaneta belongs to one of over 500 CTUs in Zulia state and is just one of a number of indigenous representatives who attended the meeting from their local community, many of whose committees have been affected by the coal exploration of the Venezuelan government in Zulia state. Urdaneta’s CTU- which he says was one of the first in Venezuela -is pushing “for a better programming of handing over of land titles.” Urdaneta hopes that the government will turn over 100,000 land titles to the Maracaibo community over the next year. So far, according to Urdaneta, 27,000 have been turned over.
Twelve spokespersons were chosen from those in attendance late on Sunday afternoon, in order to carry on the work from the weekend, to help “synthesize” the various proposals from the three working groups and elaborate a final document with the results of the event. This final report is expected to be ready by late January 2007.
A joint march between the CTU, ANMCLA (the autonomous community media association), the FNCEZ (the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front), and the indigenous communities fighting against coal exploration in the Zulia state, has been scheduled to be held on November 20 in Caracas, in which members of the CTU hope they will be able to officially deliver some results from this weekend to President Chavez.