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Open letter, XV General Assembly of MINURVI


Esteemed Ministers:
The majority of the states in our continent have signed agreements and treaties which have committed you not only to ensure the provision of housing and public services, but have also recognised and complied with the Right to Housing, which is considered a fundamental human right for all inhabitants. These commitments have been reiterated at many summits and events, including recently, at the Third World Urban Forum, in Vancouver, Canada, which took place in June this year – ten years after Habitat II convened in Istanbul, Turkey. The Millennium Declaration containing the Millennium Development Goals has also established the goal of ensuring housing for 100 million slum dwellers, following studies that estimate a growth of 700 million slum dwellers by 2020.

That said, despite all of these international commitments there has been much water under the bridge since the right to housing was agreed. Reality has shown us that few of these objectives have been achieved; instead we find that countries have abandoned social housing policies in favour of real estate and financial sectors; along with persistent examples of slum evictions by either governments or through complicit relationships with the real estate sector; cases are repeatedly denounced by various countries (such as the Dominican Republic); housing insecurity is increasing, and the costs of lodging are unbearable, worsening the quality of urban life.
The social movements of the continent have a view on the causes of such insecurity for the people in our countries and we would like to share these with you, since at present a number of governments have indicated they would like to contribute to solving the situation.
We have found the following causes:
• The policies implemented by the majority of governments in the continent have been to service the unfortunate directions of international organisations (the World Bank, IDB, IMF, TNCs) taking into account the priority of paying external debts, on which some 25% of national budgets is spent on average, which prevent national budgets being spent on the development our own towns;
• Speculative investments in the urban sectors, in the construction of large infrastructure considered megaprojects, such as Panama’s Town Plan, financed mainly by foreign investors;
• Internal and international migration due to the loss of small towns through the growth of agricultural monocultures and industrial fishing;
• Abandonment of the state social welfare, particularly the privatisation and liberalisation of the real estate sectors, rent and basic services;
• Geopolitical factors of a distinct Latin American nature, such as internal conflicts (principally in Colombia, and Chiapas and Oaxaca in Mexico), the economic blockade of Cuba and the presence of narco policy among other issues.
The results have been political appeals from UN Habitat, regarding fundamental issues such as changing the neoliberal model that has been adopted, and the privatisation of land and housing sectors. This has clearly resulted in an inexorable growth of economic, social, and racial barriers and general exclusion. Housing programmes, such as through the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB), whose credit is orientated to middle and higher income sectors, have excluded the poorest in targeted cities.
It is the poor who have had to resolve the problems on their own, constructing and producing their own houses, creating the cities that we see across the continent today.
We sincerely feel that the governments need to pay serious attention to inhabitants and not further deepen the social debts that they have contributed to increasing significantly via the international bodies. It is fundamental that the governments of Latin America and the Caribbeans critically review these policies.
We request therefore, for a commitment to listen to the ‘voices without voice’ of those inhabitants that call for the fulfillment of international agreements mentioned above, including the Millennium Development Targets no.’s 7-11, that governments establish and implement adequate legislation where it presently exists, in order to guarantee secure housing to allow people to live in peace and dignity.
In the face of this pressing reality of poverty and exclusion resulting from the neoliberal model, the social urban movements of the continent ask that you, as participants in the XV General Assembly of Latin America and Caribbean Housing Ministries adopt the following requests:

A humane approach to adopting the Right to Housing and Adequate Living:
• Implement social policies for housing and living, setting aside neoliberal policies that privatise housing;
• It is essential, first, to strengthen sub-regional processes such as the South American Community of Nations, MERCOSUR, the Andean Community, and CARICOM and not subscribe to the USA’s TLC which has had grave consequences to the quality of life of our people.
• In this way local, regional and state governments can play a fundamental role in constructing suitable conditions of social justice in our towns. This will require decentralisation of powers from the centre and the handing over of some national government control. This is important to enable real social participation and bottom-up approaches, ensuring real citizen representation and supporting participative budgets.
Recognising the importance of the XV General Assembly we request that you establish an agreement to seriously address the problems of human settlements/slums and we therefore propose the following platform:

1. Recognise without restriction the Human Right to Housing, established in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in accordance with the General Commentaries n. 4 and 7; Article 34 of the Charter of the Organisation of American States ratified by every country of Latin American and the Caribbeans, and support the recognition of the voice of inhabitants, as rightful city builders, enabling exchanges of experience and partnership.
2. Approve the Charter of the Right to the City as annexed in this letter.

3. Declare a regional moratorium of evictions, through:
• Institutionalising areas that are ‘free of eviction’;
• Prevent national and foreign speculative investment in infrastructure that results in slum evictions recognising basic human dignity and ensuring prior agreement;
• Support international cooperation to enable progress towards peace and justice in areas of conflict
4. Formulate and adopt plans for neighbourhood, municipal and metropolitan development in a participatory manner, guaranteeing access to land, in partnership with citizens.

5. Establish round tables for consultation regarding land and housing at local, national and regional levels for:
• Reform of land titles to limit speculative use of land;
• Develop plans for public social housing in a cooperative basis, recognising the principle that housing is a basic human right;
• Establish policies of social housing
• Constitute popular funds for land and housing, financed through the cancellation of external debts that are contributing to insecurity in land and housing for slum dwellers;
• Relocation of the displaced with dignity and protection for evicted communities, including those affected by disasters.
6. Stop the liberalisation of the real estate sector, the privatisation of natural resources such as water, as well as public services.
Esteemed Ministers:
We ask that each of you individually and together take account of these reflections and proposals. We are available to discuss these further and to collaborate with you in their future adoption.
Cesare Ottolini
Coordinator AIH
publication in Argentina


letter , MINURVI