The Venezuelan government is on a “mission” to set millions of poor Venezuelans up with public housing. The plan is kindling hope among some Caracas slum dwellers. Critics, however, say Chávez’ housing scheme is more than a little far-fetched.
CARACAS - While health questions continue to hound Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, his government continues to push ahead with the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. At its center is a massive public housing scheme, dubbed the Gran Mision Vivienda, or Great Housing Mission, in which the Chávez government promises to build 2 million subsidized residences by 2017.
Critics of the government say the plan is little more than an inflated campaign promise. Chávez officials, however, insist the Housing Mission is already well underway. Energy and Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez recently claimed that 16,694 apartments were built during the first half of this year. The government expects to complete a total of 153,000 accommodations by the end of the year, plus an additional 200,000 in 2012.
Elections are scheduled for late 2012. Chávez – who came to power a dozen years ago – will look to stay on as president, health permitting. The fiery leftist revealed last month that he is receiving treatment for cancer.
In Caracas, children play football in the basement of a concrete and brick building. The structure, called the Sambil Candelaria, was to become one of those huge shopping centers Venezuelans are crazy about. However, at the end of 2008, President Chávez expropriated the private facility just as it was about to open, turning it over to victims of last year's heavy floods. Some 2,300 disaster victims currently live there.
"We will leave soon," says Isaura Sanchez, a mother of four. "My comandante Chávez is going to give houses to everybody. We've seen them on TV. They are almost ready." Approximately 100,000 families, victims of the heavy rains, are waiting to be the first ones to be re-housed. This Great Housing Mission is generating hope, real hope.
Makeshift slums are everywhere around the capital city Caracas. Constructed from cinderblocks and sheet metal, the impoverished quarters are a tangle of narrow alleys and steep staircases. In this respect, Venezuelans are no better off than many of their Latin American neighbors. Housing shortages is a region-wide problem.
"The estimates today are that we need about 3 million accommodations, which means that we should build 300,000 houses a year," says Rafael Uzcategui from a human rights group called PROVEA. "However, since Chávez was elected, the annual average is 30,000 houses." Uzcategui adds that Romulo Betancourt, who was president back in the early 1960s, was the only one with a more dismal record on the housing front.
In Betancourt's time, Venezuela had a population of approximately 7 million people. Today there are four times than many people. What efforts the Chávez government has made to solve the housing crisis have been compromised by the constant turnover of personnel within the Ministry of Civil Engineering and Housing. Since 2005, the Ministry has had 11 different heads.
City-planners estimate that more than 40% of Caracas has emerged without planning or regulation. Residents built surrounding slums – known as barrios – themselves. "The Chávez government wanted to boost people's initiatives. A lot of money was given to local councils and to neighborhood associations. But because of a lack of expertise and technical advice, the money wasn't well spent," says Uzcategui.
Along an avenue called Las Acacias, tucked between a posh building and a 25-story tower, a huge sign marks the spot of what will soon be a 146-unit public housing project. Bulldozers are already on the move. Three streets away, the same sign indicates more public accommodations. There, however, work has yet to begin.
To justify his urban policy, Chavez told television viewers: "We could fit another Caracas into the current Caracas." But will the city's public services follow? In Caracas, traffic jams are never-ending, public transportation is overcrowded and power cuts, already a problem in the rest of the country, are becoming more frequent.
"We have no choice but to applaud the government's decision to make the housing issue its top priority," says Uzcategui. "But being determined is not enough. It doesn't make sense to announce that 2 million accommodations are going to be built if you don't take into account public facilities, sewers, transportation, schools, football stadiums, electric communication, etc."
Building supplies are another problem. "Cement supplies are very irregular and we haven't seen an iron rod in four months now. We only find those on the black market, where they cost twice as much," says José Carquez, who manages a building materials shop.
For Carquez, the government housing plan is simply unrealistic. "Building two million houses for families of three or four people means the government expects to re-house 6 to 8 million people between now and 2017. That's impossible," he says.
Read the original article in French
Photo - DamienHR