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February 13, 2006
Even the poor are losing in Venezuela
Venezuela's Marxist dictatorship is destroying property rights across the country. We've noted in the past how it's happened in the countryside, at sugar farms, on nature reserves, among the large and small corporations, and in apartment and office buildings. But these aren't the only places — the destruction of property rights also is happening in the poorest neighborhoods.
In an unexpectedly good article, Alex Holland, a writer at Venezuelanalysis, a Chavista propaganda organ, unwittingly describes how even poor shantytown dwellerss with desperate need for title—deed ownership are being badly affected by collectivization, which is destroying the weak property rights these urban poor once had. The writer explains the horrible dynamic with perfect clarity and honesty and then ineptly defends it, making the Marxist propaganda easy for us to gloss over. Evidently, the facts on the ground were just too big for this writer.
Here is how it happens:
People who live in the urban barrios, those ramshackle red brick houses that starkly encircle Caracas on mountain after mountain cannot just get title deed but must join a 100—200—strong collective called an "Urban Land Committee" or, CTU, first. If they don't join one of these, they get no title deed and are shut out of the system. The system came into being based on a 2002 decree by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.
There are over 5,200 of these collectives, averaging 147 houses in each, representing more than a fifth of Venezuelans, or 5.7 million of Venezuela's 25—million strong population. The author notes that the explicit aim of them is social "change."
Then the issue of who the land really belongs to is brought up.
In a loaded passage, the article says many of the slum houses are on land that is vaguely described as belonging to other people. Some houses are said to be longstanding squats that no one did anything about. That's one justification for ascertaining who has a right to property. The other is of numbers. Large numbers, as in collectives, not length of stay, or effort to get title deed, or tax payments, or investments, just numbers, are the other criteria for determining who has a right to occupy a property.
The article describes a planned takeover of a "mansion" by a group of 23 homeless families, due to the mansion being occupied by a lone woman who apparently got it somehow from the army. This woman is said to not have title deed (any more than squatters do) but since there are more of them (at five per family, that should be about 120 people, quite a number even for a
The author then speaks of the fears the so—called rich have for such occupations of private property moving from the poor areas to inside the better parts of the city. Based on the news, the actions in the barrios encourage takeovers in other parts of the city. The question of who decides who gets taken over and who gets left alone is left up in the air.
Somehow the title—deed system is flawed all over Venezuela but only the poor, and only in collectives, have any right to declare title deed. A shantytown dweller without title deed is a good guy deserving of title deed or whatever Chavismo understands as such, but a rich guy in the city without title deed is a thief whose property needs to be confiscated accordingly. There is literally no recognition of rule of law grounded in inviolable property rights.
According to Hernando de Soto, (who's cited disdainfully in this article), the only purpose of property rights is their inviolability. That's what makes them a basis for rule of law. Without inviolable property rights, there will never be rule of law, but only arbitrary rules and confiscations, all of which create uncertainty and a disincentive to invest.
Meanwhile, what goes on in the CTU collectives is scrutinized as well.
The writer didn't ask what happens when someone disagrees. What happens to someone who doesn't want to go along with something? Can they count on giving up title deed because they'll be out of the collective? The right to dissent is highly suspect in such a setup given that it's tied to one's title deed. How freely can anyone speak in such circumstances?
Discussions about water and electricity are mentioned as one thing — and I've yet to meet anyone who's against water and electricity so it's hard to see what's to discuss or why a meeting is necessary. But the author gives away the game by explaining that the discussions are more likely to be Marxist indoctrination, as in "social charters." It doesn't say what happens to people who don't agree with the indoctrination.
What's more, maps are made of the barrios, which is ok in itself, but obviously, given the collectives running these things, are more likely for coercive security purposes from the state which has its hands on everything.
Meanwhile, these CTU collectives are cursed with the usual curse of Marxism
But the CTUs are sources of handouts, the only handouts accessible to these urban poor. Naturally, they are for collective projects, as decided by the collective nomenklatura, ever mind the dissenters. Some of the funds are also for individual houses, such as "repairing an old lady's house" the author says, though in reality, they are just as likely to go for that extra fourth floor on the house of the collective chief. The point is, it's discretionary, inherently disadvantageous to the dissenters and inherently advantageous to the barrio leader and his select cronies.
Of course it's a money—pit. The state financer, called Banfonades, is reported even in the Chavista media as being bankrupt and mismanaged, with vast funds disappearing. Its funds may well have gone to support "housing" for Chavista elite in places like Miami.
What's more, the government administration of the funds has resulted in long delays and inefficiencies. Barrio dwellers tell the writer that life is exactly the same as before, dismissing the claim that the people have become beggars of the state. That doesn't sound like improvement — it sounds more like housing money in Miami. The writer describes housing protests to the government for its inefficiency. Obviously, it's another hallmark of a Marxist regime right there. The writer didn't say if the barrio dwellers ever got any relief for their protest.
There is a single good point the Chavistas make, which is that the slum collectives should not be cleared for big Stalinist housing projects that were so characteristic of blighted Paris during its 2005 riots.
But that doesn't help the existing slums if people cannot own their own houses no matter what their political views, cannot buy them or sell them as they please, cannot make improvements without dependence on government financing and are forced into collectivist indoctrination sessions to partake of any benefits, the most basic of which is title deed. Private property under these conditions is nothing more than slum housing and given the fact that these slums are on hillsides instead of high—rises, amounts only to a more organic way to get a view.
A.M. Mora y Leon 02 13 05