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Venezuela: Emergency without management

By Veneconomy

28.02.05 | The heavy rains that hit the country recently have shown up how seriously deficient the government is when it comes to management. It is clear, first of all, that there are no disaster response policies and, second, that the housing construction program has been completely neglected.

The lack of housing policies is a very serious matter, if account is taken of the fact that 50% of Venezuelans do not have a decent place to live. Some experts claim that the housing deficit currently is as high as 1,600,000 units and that, since 1999, the government has not managed to build even 100,000 units.

The government’s reaction to this situation could not have been more inappropriate. Its responses have been totally improvised and many of them are setting a terrible precedent for the country, particularly when these improvised solutions are accompanied by attacks on private property, both agricultural and urban.

Announcements are being made of plans and programs that, in principle, seem unlikely to come to anything; the construction of 72,000 housing units in 2005 promised by the Housing Ministry, for example. To achieve that goal, it would be necessary to build 72,00 units a month for the rest of the year; that is equivalent to 240 homes a day.

The most negative aspect of all this has been the “expropriations.” According to the arguments being put forward by the government, these expropriations do not fall within the scope of current legislation. Expropriation is permissible only when it is “in the public interest,” when it benefits an entire community, as in the case of the construction of bridges, tunnels and freeways. However, this is not the purpose of these so-called “expropriations” on which government-coalition governors and mayors are insisting; they are an attempt to provide solutions to the problems of individual citizens, in this case the people who have been left homeless or who, for any other reason, have nowhere to live.

The correct approach, so that the State can give a response that is in accordance with the law, would be to go ahead and purchase housing units on the market, paying the owners of the properties their fair value, to hand over homes to those who really need them, without the intervention of any kind of political proselytism, based on a well drawn-up census that provides information on the country’s true housing needs, and, lastly –an this is essential- to develop plots with all the necessary utilities, so as to avoid the propagation of new shantytowns that are lacking the most basic amenities.

Dealing adequately with the housing problem means taking a long-term strategic view that is capable of focusing on the sector’s structural problems by establishing well-devised plans and goals, and, of course, it requires transparency in the management of resources.

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