Land for Homeless -- Policy or Pre-Election Posturing?
Land Distribution Raises Urban Planning Questions
Below are excerpts from an IPTWNA bulletin.
by Abraham LamaLIMA, PERU - President Alberto Fujimori announced land donations for the homeless and three weeks later more than 800,000 families have signed up for the programme, a massive response that has fired up the debate on planned urban growth.
''The problem is not just about the need for planning, we must also establish who has the right and obligation to participate in the debate on how cities should grow,'' commented urban architect Mario Zolezzi.
''Fujimori promised to give away land for housing in order to resolve a political problem, without taking into account urban planning techniques or the municipal governments, which represent the population,'' he added.
The president's offer was formulated in February under strong political pressures and was made in an attempt to stop the invasions of privately-owned farmland in Lima's outskirts involving tens of thousands of homeless families.
''The problem with the invasions is that the national government has usurped the metropolitan government's role in urban planning, it did not create any organisation responsible for the issue and is handling this serious social problem using political criteria,'' criticised Michel Azcueta, an opposition candidate running for parliament.
A major land take-over occurred in late January in Villa el Salvador, involving 25,000 people who may have foreseen that Fujimori, who is seeking a third consecutive term in the April 9 elections, is in no condition to order their expulsion by force.
Attempts to persuade the squatters to leave were unsuccessful and the image of a weakened government triggered a wave of land occupations at several sites in Lima and thoughout the country.
The opposition parties were ready to denounce excessive measures of repression if the homeless families were forced out with violence, or to accuse the government of failing to respect private property if the people were not removed, but Fujimori found a way out by offering the squatters government-owned land.
The families occupying Villa el Salvador accepted the land offer and were moved, along with their scant belongings, in army trucks to an area known as Ciudadela Pachacutec, where each family was granted a 90 square metre plot.
Later, the government promised to build streets, sanitation facilities, schools and medical centres.
These actions prompted immediate invasions in other parts of Peru, which national authorities contained by registering all homeless families, promising to give them plots similar to those at Ciudadela Pachacutec ''after the elections.''
By March 4, just three weeks after the initial announcement, 821,000 families had signed up for the Fujimori government's land programme, and more than half hope for 90 square metre parcels in the hills surrounding the Peruvian capital.
If the Peruvian government complies with its promise, Lima's total geographical area will abruptly expand by 20 percent.
''Fujimori avoided jeopardising his electoral bid, but he has created a very serious problem that the next government is going to have to face,'' said Ricardo Llanos, a sociologist at the Lima- based Population and Development, a non-governmental organisation.
''If the next president - whether Fujimori or anyone else - ignores the promise, (he or she) will face political problems and probable social violence. But if the next president tries to comply with the promises it will mean enormous expenditures and will aggravate the chaos and deficit of urban services that Lima already suffers,'' Llanos pointed out.
He emphasised that the origin of nearly one-third of the capital's current territory was the massive land 'invasions' by rural immigrants to the city that occurred during the second half of the 20th century.
Governments generally try to force squatters off private land, but many times the homeless win the battle and the State ultimately recognises their ownership of the area in question, then later intervenes to organise the settlement, laying streets and, usually after several years, providing services.
This form of obtaining real estate has generated a widespread ''culture of invasion'' in Peru, which accelerates the massive immigration from the countryside to the capital. The phenomenon is repeated in most of the nation's cities along the Pacific coast and some in the sierra.
Immigrants settling in the neighbourhoods encircling the city tend to lack urban habits, live in poverty and put up with the non- existence of sanitation services - problems the government, short on resources and adequate housing policies, cannot resolve, according to Llanos.
The expectations created by the Villa el Salvador project ''are essentially a one-way road, because to prevent Fujimori from gaining an electoral advantage, the other candidates have adopted the land promise as their own,'' said architect Jorge Ruiz, presdient of the Lima government's Urban Development Commission.
This report was distributed by the InterPress Third World News Agency.
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