Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cambodian eviction

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions reports on a sudden, horrific eviction in Phnom Penh. More than 400 families were pushed out of their homes in Dey Krahorm, in the fastest growing part of the Cambodian capital, by a real estate company, with the assistance of the police.

COHRE lays out the duplicity:

1. The land at Dey Krahorm was granted to the community as a Social Land Concession in 2003.

2. In early 2005, a private company, 7NG, negotiated a contract with the then village chiefs of Dey Krahorm, effectively swapping the prime land in Dey Krahorm for a relocation site 15km outside of Phnom Penh.

3. Dey Krahorm residents have maintained that they were never consulted about the contract and never agreed to move away.

4. Despite community challenges, the local government awarded title to 7NG in 2006.

5. Negotiations between the community and the government were in the works as the eviction was carried out.

COHRE’s Executive Director, Salih Booker, called the eviction nothing more than "an attempt by 7NG to grab valuable land through fraud, threats and violence."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

20,000 Caracas squatters safe--for now

The Mayor of Libertador, the municipality that encompasses the western part of Caracas, says that squatters in 241 apartment buildings will stay in their homes, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports. Mayor Jorge Rodríguez has issued a decree to ban evictions in the area, says the paper, which seems to stand against the squatters.

The squatters seem caught in the middle of a dispute between supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chavez. The former 'Chavista' mayor allowed the squatters to move in to several hundred vacant buildings in the city. In the last election, the opposition won, and took over the reins of city government, while Chavistas like Mayor Rodriguez won in some local government areas. The Chavistas seem to be trying to keep the squatters in, while the opposition may be currying favor with landowners and developers.

the trashing of Juba

Demolitions have started in Juba, capital of Central Equatoria state and Southern Sudan, the Sudan Tribune reports. "Illegally constructed shops with corrugated iron sheets, some of which are sometimes used for family accommodations at night, were demolished at Juba Market in the town center. Hundreds of people whose houses or shops were destroyed after they were moved out in the morning of the first day exercise were standing by looking worried as they watched their houses being demolished by bull dozers."

Many of those who are being chased out say they have tried for years to gain legal possession of their property. These people are being penalized because of the government's inept handling of land laws. As the article notes, "it is to a large extent difficult to obtain land in Juba through legal procedures because of unsettled jurisdiction over which level of government should be responsible for the capital and to handle its land issues."

Monday, January 26, 2009

villa 31, or area 51

The Economist and The Yale Globalist offer two takes on the Buenos Aires Mayor's fight against Villa 31, a squatter community in the downtown area of the Argentine capital. As the Yale piece points out, "The central location of the Villas [31 and its neighbor, known as 31 bis], next to one of the city’s main transportation hubs and surrounded by valuable downtown real estate, is one of the most desirable in the city." Which seems to be why Mayor Mauricio Macri is proposing to crack down on the community.

The Buenos Aires Herald editorializes in favor of Macri's recent effort to prevent building materials from being brought into the neighborhood. The editorialist concludes,
No country or city can tolerate a society within a society, regardless of whether it is privileged or unprivileged — otherwise it becomes impossible for all citizens to have equal rights and responsibilities. How can anybody dream of a 'bullet train' heading out of Retiro Station with Villa 31 right next to it?
But, despite the rhetorical slight of hand--no society within a society, whether rich or poor--the sad logic of development, endorsed by the paper, says the luxury uses staywhile the lower income community goes.

Hasn't anyone thought of allocating money to work with the residents to make the homes that are there meet local codes? (The buildings in the photo I've posted above (it comes from the Yale article, courtesy of the Taller Libre de Proyecto Social) are all made of reinforced concrete and brick, and hardly seem to merit the derision the Mayor and his minions are casting their way.) There are solutions that won't destroy the neighborhood and push out the residents. They don't want a city within the city....just the right to the city that every resident should have.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

but who are the real criminals

JoongAng Daily calls Nam Gyeong-nam, a leader of the Seoul squatter resistance, a "hard-line anti-poverty activist." Police are searching for him and apparently want to charge him in connection with the military assault on squatters early this week that turned into an inferno that left six dead.

Question: if, as the paper reports, Nam has been wanted since 2003, when he allegedly threw Molotov cocktails at a police station, shouldn't authorities have been aware that such weapons could have been in the building that they attacked this week? And, given that knowledge, shouldn't cops have proceeded with caution, instead of mounting an all-out assault? It sounds like the cops are trying to transfer the blame onto the victims here. It was the police action that made a bad situation worse.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

people vs. planning

Authorities in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan, plans to embark on a demolition drive that will make thousands of people homeless, the Sudan Tribune reports.
"The Central Equatoria state governor, Maj. Gen. Clement Wani Konga has announced that the demolition exercise was aimed at immediate recovery of grabbed land by unauthorized squatters, saying it was in accordance with the town’s Master Plan."
The article refers to the demolition as a 'bulldozing exercise.'

Violation of the master plan is a sad excuse for destroying people's lives and livelihoods.

isn't there a better way ...

...than state-sponsored violence?
Six people are dead and 17 injured after Korean police stormed a squatter-occupied building in Yongsan, an area of Seoul slated for redevelopment,
the Korea Times reports. It was tactical squat: the squatters had occupied the building to protest a local redevelopment plan. And here's a terrible irony:
"The incident comes two days after President Lee Myung-bak replaced his police chief, who had been criticized for excessive police crackdowns on protesters."

Monday, January 19, 2009

sensible solution

In Panama, a new law would provide land for squatters, reports
La Estrella (the Panama Star). The idea is to pay landowners a fair price, then extend infrastructure and sell the land to the squatters. But the proposal doesn't address the groups that might be the majority of squatters, who have settled in parks and on other federally reserved land. They would be evicted under the proposal, housing minister Gabriel Diez said.

And here's another complication, as reported by the Star:
For many years squatters have invaded prime plots of land all over the country. The majority of the properties around the Pacific coast of Herrera, Veraguas and Los Santos do not have titles, just possessory rights, because nobody really knows who the owners are.

The proposed squatters bill will help to a certain extent to solve the housing problem in Panama, but on the other hand what will happen to those owners who want their land back to build a resort, or want to sell it to a third party or keep it within a family, will the government make those people sell it or evict the squatters.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

no smiles for squatters

Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental province in the Philippines, calls itself the 'City of Smiles.' But there are no smiles among squatters as the city is preparing to eject 3,000 of them, The News Today reports. The city seems inclined to find land for the squatters, but the articles makes abundantly clear that nothing is certain, and that property owners could begin the demolitions at any time.

100 years of squatting, one summary eviction

How much is 100 years of continuous occupation worth? If you like in Kolkata (Calcutta), five days notice before eviction and demolition. The Times of India reports that the squatters in Howrah actually work as recyclers for the Muncipality. But that apparently counts for nothing. A rickshaw decked out with a PA system broadcast the eviction news on January 8th. The squatters were given until this week to leave. There has been no court case, and there is no relocation plan.

"Three generations of my family have lived here," says Shanti Devi Paswan, one of the residents. "I don't what will happen if the eviction takes place. Who will rent a house to a scavenger?"

It's discrimination and a perversion of law that people who have been in continuous occupation for so long, and are actually providing a municipal service, can be thrown out like this.

Update here: Authorities have started demolition (razing more than 150 shops and factories) and the squatters are mobilizing.

Friday, January 09, 2009

iraq evicts

The clock is ticking for squatters in Baghdad The UN news service IRIN reports that the government has set up a committee to set up "meetings between relevant government officials and the squatters to raise awareness and discuss the negative impact of squatting on government property." Squatters are supposed to leave their dwellings within 60 days. If they move, they may qualify for cash payments, IRIN reports, that could run between $850 and $4,300.

Sounds great, no?

Well, not really. The Associated Press reported three months ago that an average apartment in one still-dangerous area of Baghdad costs $400 a month. Home prices have doubled in the past year. If that kind of inflation continues, the seemingly generous payments would not count for much.

Meanwhile, the AP article continues, "in the U.S.-protected Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices, there are plans for luxury hotels, a shopping center and even condos."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

war on drugs or war on squatters?

As The Washington Post reports, Rio's police have occupied Santa Marta, a favela overlooking the upper-middle class Botafogo neighborhood. Among the police strategies: banning moto taxis (the unlicensed motorcycle taxis that many residents depend on to get up and down the community's steep slope), depriving residents of pirated cable tv and internet service, and imposing curfews.

The reporter compares this strategy to the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. But this is not a war zone. Rio may be a violent city, but most of the shootings actually involve the police. Indeed, many favela residents (and some government officials) find the drug dealers more honorable than the cops. And, anyway, the police have done these kinds of occupations many times--invading favelas and terrorizing residents, all justified by the claim that they are trying to root out drug gangs--and they have always failed. Their actions, while temporarily preventing shootouts between rival gangs, actually kill the community in order to save it. As the article notes, so few people are out on the street that stores are closing in some favelas. And, though walking may be safer, there's nowhere to walk to. Here's a description of Santa Marta now:
The paths snaking among the houses were nearly deserted on a recent afternoon, unusual in such a densely packed community. As the search continues in the neighborhood and surrounding jungle for stashes of drugs or weapons, police regularly question residents about their activities. The neighbors don't like being outside for fear of getting hassled, said Alan Basilio, 27, a student on his way home.

"At this time of day, you'd normally see many more people outside, sitting around and talking," he said. "Daily life has changed a lot."

"Of course, since the police arrived there are no more gunfights, no more shooting," he said. "But the way it was before, we had freedom to go where we wanted, to do what we wanted, for as long as we wanted. I'm not sure how long it's going to be like this, but it seems like it could be a very long time."

And there's another, more sinister angle to the story: Santa Marta is controlled by the Comando Vermelho--the Red Command--one of three drug gangs operating in Rio. But from what I have heard, the police have historically been cozy with another drug gang--Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends.) A cynic might say that the police are simply doing their friends in AdA a service by cracking down on the CV.