Tuesday, September 14, 2010

France targets Roma

In recent weeks, the government of Nicolas Sarkozy has evicted more than 1,000 Roma residents from their encampments in France and deported them to Bulgaria and Romania. Now,the European Union has called France's recent crackdown on Gypsy communities "a disgrace," The Guardian reports.

This was a U-turn for the EU, which had previously been mum on the evictions. The reason for the about face? A leaked French document seeming to show that Sarkozy had ordered local authorities to target Roma residents.

"Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority," the memo says. "It is down to the préfect [state representative] in each department to begin a systematic dismantling of the illegal camps, particularly those of the Roma."
If this truly represents official French policy, it would be unconstitutional and a violation of EU rules that block ethnic discrimination in member countries.

In response, French officials have noted that twice as many Roma were deported in 2009 as have been sent out of the country so far in 2010. "Free movement in the European area doesn't mean free settlement," France's immigration minister, Eric Besson, added. "What has been forgotten is that each of the European countries is responsible for its own national citizens."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

squatter TV in Buenos Aires

Residents of the Buenos Aires squatter community called Villa 31 have started a TV station, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports.

The new station is called Mundo Villa, and the article says it will offer original programming plus shows from three countries that many of the residents of Villa 31 hail from: Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru. "There are 25 guys in the neighborhood working to gather news, while journalism workshops are being given by students from different universities," said Mundo Villa TV director Victor Ramos.

The paper reports the station will be available to 1500 households--a number that seems suspiciously small given that a local cooperative claims the neighborhood's population is more than 120,000.

Ramos said his group would be meeting with the head of TV-Roc, the cable franchise that brings signal to Rocinha, most famous favela in Rio de Janeiro, to establish "a network of channels from Latin American slums."

When I was in Rocinha in 2001, TV-Roc did no original news programming. Perhaps that's changed. Does anyone know? Doew anyone know of other efforts by residents of squatter communities anywhere else in the world to produce news programs?

Monday, August 30, 2010

more Murambatsvina?

Another violent raid on a squatter community in Harare leaves 100 families homeless, the Zimbabwe Standard reports. Police burned scores of shacks, and arrested 55 people, though a department spokesman later denied any knowledge of the raid.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

thousands of squatters In New Orleans

Three to six thousand New Orleans residents are living as squatters, a house-by-house survey of the crescent city has revealed. The Times-Picayune reports.

UNITY, a local non-profit, surveyed 55,000 derelict buildings on 500 blocks chosen at random throughout the city. Among its interesting findings, the proportion of squatters in New Orleans who are elderly is four times the national average for homeless people--11.3 percent in NOLA vs. 2.8 percent throughout the US. The article suggests that these older squatters stay out of the city's shelter system because they want to "avoid the hubbub of traditional homeless shelters, preferring to hole up in vacant homes in familiar areas."

This is totally understandable. How sad, then, that the solution UNITY proposes amounts to more of what the squatters fear: "increased funding for case workers, homeless shelters and mental health services, as well as more assistance for moderate and low-income homeowners still trying to repair their houses."

Why not a program that works with the squatters to empower them to join together to bring the houses where they are currently encamped up to code? The fact that one in ten of these squatters is over 62 doesn't mean these people don't have skills to help the city rebuild.

Friday, August 20, 2010

the slippery slope

The Liberian Daily Observer editorializes against squatters who live around Monrovia's Ducor Intercontinental Hotel and are resisting government efforts to evict them. The squatters recently demonstrated at the hotel, brandishing sticks and broken bottles as well as chanting slogans and holding placards, the newspaper reports.

The key to the paper's argument:
Those who are resisting government's efforts should know that it is government's responsibility to give and assure protection to its people. It is also government's obligation to seek enabling conditions for economic growth and development. Mamba Point and the Ducor area have long been set aside as prime areas for hotels, embassies and restaurants. Should it now abandon its plan for economic development to satisfy squatters and liars? ... No government worth its salt should surrender to cabal of stick-wielding humbugs. They must be made to see the wisdom of government's plans and what social and national benefits will accrue there from.

This is trickle-down economics at its worst. It's simply disingenuous to say that social benefits will result from luxury redevelopment of the area. There may be some small economic advantage for the nation (though the redevelopment effort is likely induced through government subsidies that negate any real contribution to the national or local treasury), but luxury development simply engenders more luxury development and eats up an inordinate amount of government services.

The history of the site demands more. The Ducor closed in 1989 due to instability and violence in the country. It was occupied by squatters for better than a decade, as were the areas around it. Fairness for those who were most battered by Liberia's 14-year-long civil war demands that the government seek out a middle ground. Perhaps the squatters can be given the tools to rebuild on an area near the hotel. Or the government can provide relocation housing near enough to the center of the city for the squatters to retain their jobs.

Summarily evicting people who have lived there for better than a decade is not a development policy. Expecting that people quietly accept their annihilation is inhumane.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

let the dead bury the dead

How's this for life in South Africa's capital? A squatter community is using a slimy, algae-filled pond to wash their clothes, the Sowetan newspaper reports.
Jacob van Gardeneren, of Lawyers for Human Rights, said: "The surrounding neighbourhoods used typical excuses to justify their involvement in these evictions - such as that the informal settlement hosts criminals. The reality is that this informal settlement hosts their gardeners, domestic workers and construction workers, who are often paid so poorly they cannot afford to travel home every day."
The squatters are threatened with eviction because the land had been allocated for the expansion of a nearby cemetery. Thus the dead have more rights in life than the living.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

pushing the poor to the fringes

That's the story in Cairo, as documented in this article from the Los Angeles Times. The city is creating a comprehensive development plan, one which residents fear means removal, not renewal.

As one former municipal official told the paper, "The best solution would be first to prevent the spreading of any further slums, then to develop the existing slums from the inside rather than tearing them down." Still, his words ring hollow too: preventing the spread of squatter encampments requires creating a vast supply of affordable housing--something that governments and developers have never shown the ability to do on the scale required.

But officials can, of course, seize land in the same squatter areas for their own purposes. The article ends with the vision of a luxurious new sports facility. But locals "couldn't use it. It was for the children of government and military employees. Membership required."

Thus inequities perpetuate themselves.

slum tourism

A take on the phenomenon, courtesy of a Kibera resident and Wesleyan student, in The New York Times.

I've always thought that the impulse to connect is laudable, but that most tours through squatter communities amount to little more than gawking and taking photos.

Of course, it's also true that very few charities and NGOs are transparent, either.

Monday, July 12, 2010

demolition derby in Delhi

The depressing truth: when a city wins the right to host a sporting event, the brutal evictions begin. The Guardian offers some ugly details from Delhi, site of the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

think like a squatter

As this New York Times article makes clear, many who were previously not squatters now are and will be for for the foreseeable future in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

And its not just residents like Ginette Lemazor and her family, who, the article notes, live "in a flimsy structure fashioned from plastic sheeting and salvaged wood. They have a bed — “Please, make yourself at home,” she said, pointing to it — and a chair." Schools are operating under tarps. Impromptu latrines are so full that people are invading half-wrecked houses to use their toilets. And one thought unites everyone: the government doesn't communicate (except to falsely promise supplies) and is doing nothing. Indeed, in a recent interview, President René Préval, rather than speaking about rebuilding, promised there would be more earthquakes.

There's hope, however, in the words and actions of this man:

"Jean-Claude Gouboth, 36, the leader of a small encampment on the grounds of an old villa, said he had ignored the president’s remarks “because the president ignores me.” Mr. Gouboth has already rebuilt his small convenience store with wood from inside his heavily damaged house. “You have to face the facts and recoup,” he said. “Nobody’s going to do anything for you."

Monday, April 26, 2010

This cup is empty

Sad to say, but former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan serves up nothing but platitudes in his recent Guardian column on the importance of the World Cup for Africa.

"The World Cup has the real potential to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes," Annan writes. "I sincerely hope that all of us will carry the spirit of the World Cup, that being part of a family of nations and peoples celebrating a common humanity, into our daily lives and works."

But nowhere does he mention the evictions and rip-offs that make a mockery of what he has written.

In three paragraphs, John Pilger catalogs some of the sordid details:
A new stadium near Nelspruit will host four World Cup matches over 10 days. Jimmy Mohlala, speaker of the local municipality, was gunned down in his home in January last year after whistle-blowing “irregularities” in the tenders. An entire school, which was in the way, has been removed into prefabricated, sweltering steel boxes on a desolate site with a road running through it. "When the World Cup is over," said the writer Ashwin Desai, "it will become obvious that these stadiums are going to be empty shells, that our money has been used for what is really a pyramid scheme."

A community of 20,000 people, the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement, is threatened with eviction from where they live near the main motorway between Cape Town and the city’s airport. They are deemed an “eyesore”. Street vendors will be arrested if they fail to comply with FIFA rules about trade and advertising and mention the words "World Cup", even "2010". FIFA will earn about two and quarter billion pounds from the TV rights, exceeding its income from the last two World Cups combined.

Incredibly, South Africa will get none of this. And this is country with up to 40 per cent unemployment, a male life expectancy of 49 and thousands of malnourished children. This truth about the "rainbow nation" is not what fans all over the world will see on their TV screens, although they may glimpse an unreported feature of modern South Africa, which is a vibrant, rolling resistance that has linked the World Cup to an economic apartheid that remains as divisive as ever. Indeed, another kind of World Cup for effective popular protest has long been won in the streets of South Africa’s townships.

Africans can be rightly excited about the Cup without a whitewash about the costs. I fear for the favelas of Brazil, which is set to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

UPDATE a few hours later:
Just came across this: the 27th of April is Freedom Day in South Africa. As in other years, the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo will instead be celebrating 'Unfreedom Day.' As part of their declaration, they write:
Is this a free country when grassroots organizations that have done everything that is required in terms of the Gatherings Act to organise a march find that their march is banned by Mike Sutcliffe just because he has power to do what ever he wants? Is this a free country when the police service who are suppose to protect us shoot to us? Is this a free country when the ANC can just decide to 'disband' our movement? Is this a free country when women are not safe on the streets after dark? Is this a free country when our children are chased from the schools because we don't have money? Is this a free country the people that live in the informal settlements are being dumped in the ’Transit Areas‘ which are situated 37 KM away from the City? Is this a free country when street traders are driven from the cities? Is this a free country when the taxis that are majority owned by black people will not be allowed to operate in the city center and only government buses will be allowed to transport commuters in the city? For example in the City of Durban the Public Taxis will end at Warwick.

In forty five days the world will be enjoying the so called,”African World Cup”. The question is will the poor enjoy or benefit? The answer is No. Who will benefit? The same people who will be celebrating the freedom day on the 27 April. The poor are being denied the right to sell near the stadiums and forced to sell their things far, far away from the stadiums. The taxis operators are also in trouble. Who will buy there? How will poor people be transported? Has the BRT replaced the black led transport industry? Can we really say that anyone in Blikkiesdorp is free?

2nd update:
"Street traders at the Grand Parade in Cape Town have been told to leave the area from May 1 until the end of the Soccer World Cup because of Fifa by-laws that relate to host cities." That's 300 traders being evicted from the best location at the center of town. The Mail & Guardian has the depressing details.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

favela demolition

"A total of eight shantytowns in the city of Rio de Janeiro will be torn down and some 4,000 families will be forced to abandon their homes," the Latin American Herald Tribune reports.

Rio's Mayor Eduardo Paes has announced that 2,000 homes will be built on the site of the former Frei Caneca Prison, which was torn down last month. But that, of course, is only half the number that will be needed to house the people being displaced in these evictions. The article says that the Rio state government will pay 400 reais ($230) a month to the families while the new dwellings are under construction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

forced evictions in Rio?

In the wake of mudslides that claimed more than 200 lives in the region, Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes has signed a decree permitting the forced removal of residents in 158 "high-risk" areas, The Guardian reports. The newspaper notes that Paes also signaled that two favelas – Morro dos Prazeres, where 25 people died, and the Laboriaux neighborhood of Rocinha, where two were killed – would be permanently removed.

"We are not animals. We are human beings and we need the support of the town hall," Elisa Rosa Brandão, president of the Morro dos Prazeres residents association, told the news website G1. "This community has history and the families do not just want to leave."

Across the harbor in Niteroi, one resident of favela Morro da Bumba, which had been built on a former trash heap and was a scene of great tragedy after the rains, pointed out that forced evictions are no answer if replacement homes are not available. "I'm against violence but if the government doesn't help, what I am supposed to do? Go and sleep outside the town hall with my kids?"

While mudslides on the many hills in Brazil's former capital are normal occurrences, the threat of forced evictions is a putsch against these communities that house one in five city residents. The government needs, instead, to work with these neighborhoods to create solutions -- both short term, to house those who have lost their homes, and long term, to create proper drainage and sewers and construction standards so the communities are not at risk ever again. Otherwise, these kinds of tragedies will simply continue.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

landslides in the favelas

More than 100 people, many of them from the favelas, have died in landslides as strong rains have hit Rio de Janeiro. Nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours Monday and Tuesday. And though the rains have slowed or stopped on April 7, the dry interval is apparently temporary and more rain is in the forecast.

Reuters and RTE have some details.

UPDATE a few hours later: The BBC has more.

More, one day later, from The Associated Press via The New York Times, detailing the landslide in favela Morro Bumba in Niteroi, across the Bay of Guanabara from downtown Rio.

A close-up of the devastation in Morro dos Prazeres near Santa Teresa in Rio:

WEEKEND UPDATE: The death toll in Rio and Niteroi is now more than 200. But as people dig out from the disaster, thoughts have turned to the politics of the problem and the city's response to it. Here's one important take, from Luis Odison, a resident of Morro dos Prazeres. He told the BBC: "What I want is politicians to stop worrying about World Cup or Olympics and think a bit more about the needs of the people who live here."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

beneath the World Cup

People who were booted from all over Cape Town to make way for the soccer World Cup have been forced to take shelter in Blikkiesdorp, a.k.a. Tin Can Town. The Guardian takes a look at the horrific underside of South Africa's deal to host the global football contest.

South Africa has spent 13 billion rand--or $1.8 billion U.S.--on infrastructure. But the government hasn't provided housing for the people it has evicted to make way for the soccer facilities.

Columnist Andile Mngxitama, the paper reports, is publishing a pamphlet titled Fuck the World Cup. "We never needed the World Cup. It is a jamboree by the politicians to focus attention away from the 16 years of democracy that have not delivered for the majority of black people in this country."

Friday, March 26, 2010

learning from Phnom Penh

This article from The National, an English-language paper from Abu Dhabi, offers a fascinating squatter history of the Cambodian capital. In the decade after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, the city developed on a self-built model--but over the last 20 years, more than ten percent of Phnom Penh's residents have been displaced.

Among the great points made by writer John Gravois:

1. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, "the Vietnamese made a bold, perhaps brilliant move: they rendered all prior property claims in the city null and void....Phnom Penh was opened up for settlement on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. All property still technically belonged to the state; real estate transactions were illegal. This period of “spontaneous resettlement” produced an otherworldly urban landscape. What qualified as a dwelling was left up to the imagination; the city essentially presented a set of containers and surfaces. And so, for example, more than 15,000 people across Phnom Penh still live on rooftops; the largest such settlement, called Bloc Tanpa, was home to more than 1,000 people, who lived in a dense shantytown atop a single apartment building until it was destroyed by a fire in 2002. The rooftop – located just a few blocks from the city’s Central Market – boasted its own local government, schools and a village square, all connected to the street below by a single dingy stairwell." Amazing: a squatter city, by design.

2. "For the urban poor, property takes a back seat to proximity." A vital point. People need to live close to where they can make money. Otherwise, the commute may cost more than the money they make.

3. "The current population of the Jakarta metropolitan area is larger than that of the world at the time of the French Revolution. A wave of humanity this large cannot be excluded forever, and the future of the developing world may depend on whether its cities make peace with the slums in their midst." A crucial truth: social and economic inclusion is key to the future of the world's cities.

Monday, March 22, 2010

railway eviction planned

Once again, the Kenya Railways Corporation is pushing to evict squatters in a 200 foot wide swathe around its train tracks, The Nation reports.

Among the crazy allegations: that a derailment in Kibera last December that killed two people, was caused by 'flying toilets' -- the waste disposal method of last resort in squatter communities that don't have toilets or sewers: people defecate in a plastic bag, tie it closed, and fling it as far from their homes as possible.

The people operating the rail line have never worked to keep the tracks clean and clear. They have never offered for form a partnership with communities like Kibera, to find solutions or build replacement homes for those around the tracks, or, even, as one commenter on The Nation article pointed out, to build toilets so people would not have to shit in plastic bags.

The only solution they push for is summary eviction.

It's an awful, short-sighted, and anti-human policy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Squatters and the World Cup

South African squatters are suggesting that they will protest during the soccer World Cup to dramatize the lack of affordable housing and horribly deprived and neglected condition of their communities.

Understandable. After all, the South African government and various municipalities are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the Football World Cup, including, the Telegraph notes, $170 million just for security.

But what a difference a different newspaper makes. Here's the lede from the coverage in The Star: "Poor and homeless South Africans are threatening to turn the World Cup into a bloodbath by unleashing a wave of riots during the tournament."

A bloodbath? Riots?

The Star seems to believe that people have no right to point out the horrible inequity of spending millions for the sporting event while spending almost nothing for people's homes and communities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

colin ward's ideas

Colin Ward, the visionary British anarchist who died on February 11 at the age of 85, was an inspiring advocate for mutual action and a staunch defender of squatters.

Most relevant to squatters was his recent work on what he called 'housing's hidden history,' Cotters and Squatters, published by Five Leaves.

Here's a review of that book, from The Independent

And here's Anarchism as a Theory of Organization, an essay from 1966.

You can read more about him on Wikipedia, in a profile that ran in The Guardian a few years back, and in this generous appreciation from Next Left.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Black Thursday

That's the day the big classified newspaper in Paris comes out with all the housing ads, and it's a horrible day for apartment seekers. The squatter group Jeudi Noir has now occupied #1 Place des Vosges. The Guardian calls it "a luxurious Parisian address which once housed Madame de Sévigné and Isadora Duncan." Jeudi Noir reports that the building has been empty for 44 years.

The Guardian's Jessica Reed writes: "It might be hard to immediately sympathise with squatters – the right to own property runs so deep in modern western society that anything challenging the status quo is bound to make waves. I would, however, question the intentions and principles of those willing to let their own buildings decay uninhabited for 40 years while homeless people die every winter from exposure. How to rationalise that? I struggle to find any excuse for leaving the most impoverished section of the population out in the cold, when buildings go unused and unlet for very long periods of time."

Four decades? Zut alors, it's about time someone took it over.

Cité Soleil

The Independent offers a clear-eyed view of the situation in the notorious Port-au-Prince shantytown.
"We don't have doctors, we don't have food, we don't have water," said Louis Jean Jaris, a 29-year-old resident. "The aid comes to Haiti, but it goes elsewhere. In Cité Soleil we are all victims, just like everyone else, but compared to the rest of the country, we are a low priority. To the people in power, we are not considered to be victims."

Black Hawk helicopters were thundering overhead yesterday, taking aid from the airport to desperate survivors. But the shanty town does not have an official food aid distribution post, and only one small water truck was to be found on the streets, surrounded by a fractious crowd.

Small amounts of supplies are of course available, to those who have money. But Cité Soleil's biggest employer, a garment factory, has yet to reopen, and most locals are instead forced to walk miles into central Port-au-Prince in search of handouts. So far, the dysfunctional international aid effort means they are very lucky to find any.
One significant thing the article doesn't say: whether Cité Soleil experienced much destruction due to the quake. There's no doubt that the people there are victims, just like everyone else, but I wonder if the smaller-scale structures of the squatter community were extensively damaged.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

can solar help squatters?

The Times of London thinks so.

It's an appealing idea: The NGO SolarAid has organized a program to bring solar panels and bulbs to Kibera, a community where most people have no electricity, and those that do have illegal hookups that short out regularly and barely power a feeble bulb.

A few caveats and thoughts:

1. cost: "the panels and attachments were sourced in Switzerland, where a well-wisher subsidised them to bring the price down."

2. Though it's not clear whether this is with the subsidy or without, "they cost about 2,500 shillings," which, according to the article, is the cost of about five months worth of kerosene. That works out to be $33, which is a huge amount for most people in Kibera. After all, Josephine Anangwe, the mother who is mentioned at the beginning of the article, survives on her husband's 750 shillings-a-week salary. So it would take 1/4 to 1/3 one month of her family's yearly earnings to buy the solar set-up. This is similar to what I discovered about stoves when I was living in Kibera. I bought a set-up offered at the local Total/Fina gas station--$50 for a small stove and a bottle of gas. That single gas bottle lasted me almost three months. Over the course of a year, the gas bottles would be cheaper than charcoal and kerosene, which most people used to light fires for cooking. But few in Kibera had $50 to pay for the stove. So they continued to cook with charcoal and kerosene. And this arrangement made me wonder: the tiny burner and gas bottle that I used when I lived in a gecekondu community in Turkey cost $8. Why was Kenya six times more expensive?

3. Though I have no idea if this is true, one commenter pointed out that kerosene fumes, though toxic, serve as a mosquito repellent and thus help reduce the prevalence of malaria & dengue and other insect-borne ailments.

4. A communal charger--perhaps available at a church or through a merry-go-round (a group of women who pool money)--might be a way to bring down the cost for a family.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

evicted in Madrid

Police in the Spanish capital have moved against El Patio Maravillas, a building which has been occupied by squatters since 2007, Typically Spanish reports.

A similar action last year failed because of public resistance. What accounts for the difference this year, I don't know.

The squat apparently was a popular and busy cultural center, but people who lived nearby on Calle del Acuerdo in the university neighborhood called Malasaña routinely complained about noise.

Organizers of the squat have vowed on their website (in Spanish) to continue their organizing activities.