Mérida, January 20th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez issued a law-decree on Tuesday to address “rights and justice” of the roughly 125,000 Venezuelans made homeless during last year’s record-setting rains and floods. The ‘Law for Dignified Refuge,’ according to Chávez, serves to, “institutionalize the figure of a dignified and humane refuge, and begins by establishing responsibilities of the government, the people, and the different sectors of national life.”
The enactment of the law is also consistent with a pledge made by Chávez last week to speed up his use and return legislative authority granted to him by Venezuela’s national assembly late last year in response to the rains.
Chávez made the announcement during a ceremony at Miraflores Presidential Palace in which he presented dozens of families from the improvised “Club Unión Mirador” shelter – in Caracas’s low-income 23 de Enero neighborhood – with a newly designed ‘petro-refuge’ that meets the “dignified living” criteria laid out in the new law.
As of Thursday, 25 “dignified refuges” including ‘petro-refuges’ (see image) have been handed over to residents, with a total of 60 expected to be up and running in the coming days.
According to Chávez, legally transforming shelters into “institutions of the state” helps to overcome the tendency of creating “spaces to see how people will survive in total abandonment” as has often been the case with housing shelters in Venezuela.
“This is an old story,” said Chávez. “Caracas super populated and the poor living in their shacks on the hillsides…The national government must take on, with greater depth, the cancellation of this social debt,” he affirmed in reference to historically precarious living conditions in poor neighborhoods throughout Venezuela.
While Article 1 designates the “shared responsibility” of the government and people to organize the well-being of all those affected by natural disasters, Article 2 stipulates that, “refuges are to serve as a dignified space for living and community coexistence.”
Article 8 classifies all shelters into categories A – E, based on the number of residents per shelter and the conditions available for each family. In addition, the law stipulates that economic support is to be provided resident families – such as scholarships, pensions and special allotments of resources – depending on the situation faced by each family unit.
“It’s no longer a question of having certain norms. This will be obligatory,” said Chávez.
According to Isis Ochoa, Venezuela’s Minister of the Communes and Social Protection, the new law seeks to, “convert temporary shelters into state institutions, into spaces in which the basic human rights of the people are guaranteed.” In addition, the law “promotes popular participation and shared responsibility in the management and maintenance of the shelters,” she said.
Article 17 of the law stipulates that “Popular Housing Committees are to connect and create organized networks” of shelter residents. Article 18 stipulates that every 20 families are to elect their own representatives to said Committees. These Committees then become only entities with the legal authority to call meetings, form commissions and organize the internal day-to-day operations of these shelters.
Speaking to Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) on Wednesday, Ochoa described the “25,000 families that must begin to organize themselves into communities” as they prepare to live together throughout 2011, until government-secured housing is made available at the end of the year. These families, she said, are amongst the most at-risk sectors of Venezuelan society.
“In these centers we have focalized what is called the most vulnerable population. There are children, adolescents, seniors, people with disabilities, and pregnant women, all of whom – thanks to the dynamics of the capitalist model – found themselves in situations of great risk,” said Ochoa.
According to Ochoa, “this law is born of need to construct a political and legal architecture that assures a society based on justice and rights.”
Chávez described the new law as a legal obligation not only for his, but for future governments.
“It’s not a question of a government wanting to do this or not,” he affirmed. “It is now a legal obligation and is outlined explicitly in the smallest of details.”
Referring to criticisms from the opposition about his authority to pass laws by decree for the next 18 months, Chávez said that he does not, “understand how some spokespersons of the Venezuelan right can oppose the Enabling Law.” “Let me work, I am working for the people,” he said.
“[These] Enabling Laws are a necessity to guarantee people’s basic human rights and to attend to the people’s needs,” said Chávez.
As reported by Venezuelanalysis earlier this week, Chávez spoke to opposition critiques of the Enabling Law during his January 15 address to Venezuela’s national assembly:
“[The opposition] goes around saying [the government] is a dictatorship, in five months we can create the laws to deal with all the emergencies, we have almost 120,000 people still in refuges…We could be finished by 1 May, so that nobody feels limited, I could withdraw the enabling law, I’m going to work harder and quicker,” he said.
The outgoing National Assembly had given Chavez an enabling law that allows him to pass laws by decree for 18 months, a decision that provoked strong criticism from numerous opposition voices in Venezuela and abroad.