On November 7, Professor Pimentel Walker gave a presentation on three distinct participatory government initiatives, their origins and their outcomes on communities.
First, we learned about rural land development initiatives that Professor Pimentel Walker had researched in Porto Alegre. There, efforts to break up large single-owner farms, or latifundios, have taken place for many years. Early advocates of this program were the Landless Workers Movement (MST), as well as the many Brazilian clergymen influenced by Liberation Theology. Initial goals of the program were to expand agribusiness generally (since this was a region with few job opportunities), and increase production of sugarcane for ethanol (a major fuel source in Brazil). Communities are compactly built, so that electrical and other infrastructures are more efficiently provided. 70% of lands are collectively owned, and 30% are individual land titles. The major problem with this program is that, although Brazil’s constitution guarantees a husband and wife equal title on their land, only the 3 single women in Professor Pimentel Walker’s research sample of 70 homes had their names on the title. This had an enormous impact on their financial independence. Hence, Professor Pimentel Walker pushed reforms which would promote joint titling, as well as make access to micro-credit program easier for women. In a region with few economic options, these programs, combined with Bolsa Familia funds, are essential to their economic future.
Second, we learned about how land-use laws attempt to regulate urban areas. The Ministry of Cities is in charge of this task; it would not exist today without the consistent advocacy of groups such as MST. In 2001, the Ministry mandated that all cities with more than 20,000 residents create a Master Plan for land-use. This often includes regulation of the different types of informal housing we had previously learned about, as well as Adverse Possession clauses, whereby squatters who live on land for five years without objection from the owners can gain title to that land. There are also several federal initiatives underway, including Minha casa, Minha vida (My house, My life), and zoning for social housing (ZEIS). Seeking to emulate Bolsa Familia, implementation of Minha casa, Minha vida and other land-use initiatives are incentivized by providing extensive federal funding for projects that include low-income housing. While well received, it is still unclear how much affordable housing these programs will create.
Finally, we heard about participatory budgeting programs that are underway in 500 of Brazil’s 5,000 municipalities. Professor Pimentel Walker studied Porto Alegre’s program, and told us about some of its successes and challenges. Its focus on clear language and direct input from community members has been very well received. Residents of squatter settlements receive a great deal of infrastructure funding through these outlets. Afro-Brazilians also gain a great deal from these programs, though the history of Quilombos (settlements first founded by escaped slaves) means that they rarely present a unified agenda. However, political changes often cause inconsistent funding of the program. Leftist governments typically embrace the program, while conservatives often reject it, to the point of not seeking out guaranteed matching federal funds for projects funded through this process. Again, while this system has been successful in many places, its consistent application in Brazil is still not a reality.
Thank you to Professor Pimentel Walker for her time and insights!
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