Housing is a huge issue in Caracas. Millions live in homes that have been precariously built on the hillside looking down on the city centre. They have, in some cases, been literally thrown together with whatever material happened to be at hand. Many lack even basic amenities, such as water sewage and electricity.
In recent weeks, several homeless families, whose homes have become uninhabitable due to heavy rain and the threat of mudslides, have organised to "invade" and occupy up to 32 empty buildings in the capital. They are demanding that the authorities provide them with decent, permanent accommodation.
The "invasions" highlight the contradictory nature of the revolutionary process in Venezuela. On the one hand, working class and poor people are organising and attempting to take control over their lives. But, on the other hand, they are blocked by sections within the government and the state apparatus.
One of the "invaders" explained: "This is the first time I’ve done anything like this - but we have no choice. We’ve been to the authorities, we’ve tried to speak to them but nothing has happened."
We spoke to Elvis Rivas, who is on the Committee of Sin Techo - a grassroots organisation that helps the homeless. "The revolution took me out of the rancho (slum)", Elvis told us: "I was in to drugs and crime - I had no opportunities. But the missions (welfare organisations set up by the Chavez government) gave me hope and now there is something to fight for. I want a better world, a socialist world where everyone has a job, a home and access to health and education."
Just then Norma walked in. "I’m involved in a cooperative which delivers gas to the homes of the poor", she explained. "We help those who are most in need." We were then invited to attend a meeting of representatives of the cooperatives involved in "Mission Gasifera".
It is very positive that people like Elvis and Norma are becoming organised and helping their communities. But, at the same time, there are those who, through bureaucracy and inefficiency or conscious sabotage are holding back the movement. "We are not going to accept invasions of any kind", declared Raul Yepez, Director of Police Coordination for the ministry of Home Affairs and Justice. He warned that "anyone who violates private property will be evicted, arrested and taken to court." Some members of the Metropolitan Police, suspected of helping the ‘invaders’, are under investigation and could face disciplinary action. Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto says that he has a list of buildings which will be "legally" expropriated to house the homeless but the "illegal" occupations must stop.
But the socialism that Elvis envisages - where the needs of the majority are met, including the right to a decent home - will only be possible through the self-organisation of the working class and poor, expropriating not just empty buildings but the main industries, bank and financial institutes and the large landholdings and democratically controlling and planning the economy and society, at every level.