Venezuela: New laws, funds to help flood victims

Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez has passed a series of laws to help people affected by floods, including big investment in new housing. said on January 20: “Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez issued a law-decree on Tuesday to address ‘rights and justice’ of the roughly 125,000 Venezuelans made homeless during last year’s record-setting rains and floods.”

Chavez said the “Law for Dignified Refuge” would serve to “institutionalise” the concept of a “dignified and human refuge” and establish the responsibilities of the government.

Chavez was granted an enabling act by Venezuelan parliament in December to allow for the rapid passing of laws to assist victims of the flooding.

On December 30, Chavez decreed more than US$2 billion for the construction of thousands of homes for those affected, said that day.

On January 11, after meeting housing activists, Chavez decreed a further US$500 million for emergency housing. He also passed a decree banning the forced eviction of tenants.

The Venezuelan government has also expropriated a large swathe of unused private land in urban and rural areas on which to build new housing. The British Guardian reported on January 26 that Chavez had urged the poor to occupy vacant land owned by the rich.

On January 25, Chavez passed new agricultural laws to assist small fisherpeople and farmers affected by the rains, the Venezuelan News Agency said that day.

Chavez said the government will seek to support those sectors affected by flooding by relieving debts and making loans available to allow the rapid resumption of food production.

On January 20, Chavez presented dozens of families from an improvised shelter in Caracas’s low-income 23 de Enero neighbourhood with a newly designed “refuge” that meets the “dignified living” criteria laid out in the new law.

That day, said a total of 60 “dignified refuges” were expected to be up and running within days.

Venezuelan minister of the communes and social protection Isis Ochoa said the new law seeks to “convert temporary shelters into state institutions, into spaces in which the basic human rights of the people are guaranteed”. said the new law also seeks to promote “popular housing committees” in order to “promote popular participation and shared responsibility in the management and maintenance of the shelters”.

The law states that every 20 families are to elect their own representatives to the committees. These committees then become the only entities with the legal authority to call meetings, form commissions and organise the internal day-to-day operations of these shelters — until permanent government-built housing is made available by the end of the year.

Ochoa said: “In these centers we have focused on the most vulnerable population. There are children, adolescents, seniors, people with disabilities, and pregnant women, all of whom — thanks to the dynamics of the capitalist model — found themselves in situations of great risk.”

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