April 26, 2017

Introduction, Planning Latin American Cities: Housing and Citizenship

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Planning Latin American Cities: Housing and Citizenship
edited by Clara Irazabal and Tom Angotti                                                                

After the 1973 coup in Chile, the Pinochet dictatorship, aided by advisers from the United States, became a proving ground for neoliberal reforms in Latin America. Its efforts to minimize the public role and maximize private initiative have strongly influenced social housing programs in other countries in the region. In effect, Chile’s housing reforms were recognized as best practices. The massive social housing program it launched in the early 1990s has been emulated throughout the Americas, most notably in Brazil’s Minha Casa, Minha Vida program. Following its developer-driven and neoliberal approach to housing, Chile produced a significant volume of new housing units. However, from the larger vantage point of community development and citizenship rights, the new housing has been deficient. It has generated new urban ghettos and peripheral neighborhoods and contributed to suburban expansion, auto dependency, unevenness in the provision of services, and a new form of poverty.

April 25, 2017

Book, Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens: Essays on the Politics and Economics of Underdevelopment, 1804-2013

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Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens: Essays on the Politics and Economics of Underdevelopment, 1804-2013
by Alex Dupuy

This title focuses on Haiti from an international perspective. Haiti has endured undue influence from successive French and US governments; its fragile 'democracy' has been founded on subordination to and dominance of foreign powers. This book examines Haiti's position within the global economic and political order, and how the more dominant members of the international community have, in varying ways, exploited the country over the last 200 years.

April 24, 2017

Abstract, Dealing with Dangerous Spaces The Construction of Urban Policy in Medellín

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Dealing with Dangerous Spaces
The Construction of Urban Policy in Medellín
by Luisa Sotomayor

In Latin America, cities with security challenges are increasingly invoking urban planning policy to rebuild governance in neighborhoods perceived as unruly. While the state’s “arrival” in marginalized areas is long overdue, it is also embedded in complex histories of violence and socio-spatial marginalization. Medellín’s Comuna 13 has historically been materially and discursively constructed as a space of relegation. Interview and focus group data show how policy cycles for Comuna 13 evolved from discretionary programs (1978–2002) to securitization and (para)militarization (2000–2003) and then social urbanism, a program of participatory urban upgrading (2004–2011). The latter, a reformist approach, aims to provide better services, foster participation, and reduce socio-spatial segregation. Underlying these positive aims, however, two contradictions remain concealed: deep-seated inequality resulting from decades of normalized exclusion and the perpetuation of a regime of hypersecuritization and (para)policing that recreates itself under new governance and spatial arrangements.

April 21, 2017

Political Report # 1246 Authentic Hope in the Twilight of Failed Neoliberal Capitalism

In the wake of the most backward-looking presidential campaign in modern US history, it is now clear that we live in what the late sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman described as a "retrotopia," a society in which fear of the future has caused mass nostalgia for a past that never existed. The current retrotopian movement is a reaction to an institutional politics, on both the left and right, that for nearly four decades has posited the future as an inevitable continuation of globalized neoliberal capitalism.
In spite of being packaged in the guise of 24/7 wired modernity, this vision of the future is horrifying to voters because it is a formulation in which they do not matter. Tayyab Mahmud, director of the Center for Global Justice at Seattle University School of Law, notes that as the "iron hand of the state works in concert with the hidden hand of the market" to maximize profits worldwide, people increasingly feel like pawns at the mercy of deeply impersonal global forces over which they have no control. Nearly 1 billion people, Mahmud reports, are already considered to be a form of "surplus humanity" for whom modern capitalism has no use. Even for those who might not feel immediately threatened, incessant resource wars, the seemingly ubiquitous threat of terrorism and apocalyptic environmental degradation create a sense of subliminal dread about the future.
Donald Trump was the first major US political figure to talk consistently in the hyper-nostalgic language of retrotopia, and he did so using overtly racist, sexist and xenophobic appeals to paint a vision of a society in which the power of white men would once again be resurgent. This strategy, though not sufficient to secure the popular vote, resonated with tens of millions of anxious voters who heard in Trump's retrotopian fantasies a rejection of the idea that the only political option was a suffocating extension of the neoliberal present into the indefinite future. Rather than accept this neoliberal version of the future, even if it was sweetened with tepid incremental reforms, many of them chose to invest their hopes in the imaginary glories of an idealized past conveniently scrubbed of civil rights and environmental activism.

Abstract, Urban Governance and Economic Development in Medellín An “Urban Miracle”?

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Urban Governance and Economic Development in Medellín An “Urban Miracle”?
by Tobias Franz

Many of the academic analyses calling Medellín’s development an “urban miracle” fall short with regard to discussion of the political economic implications of institutional shifts. An emerging transnational capitalist class promoted ‘good governance’ reforms and the embedding of neoliberalism in the urban context. Medellín’s neoliberal development agenda is not only a market-led strategy but also a particular form of hierarchic rule and distribution of power. Increased economic activities in the tertiary sector, the promotion of flexible labor markets, and the incorporation of the city into the global economy at the lower end of the value chain have not served as sustainable growth escalators for Medellín’s economy. The city continues to have high rates of un- and underemployment and is still the country’s most unequal city. These developments can by no means be described as miraculous.

April 19, 2017

Abstract, Failed Markets The Crisis in the Private Production of Social Housing in Mexico

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Failed Markets
The Crisis in the Private Production of Social Housing in Mexico
by Alfonso Valenzuela Aguilera

A confluence between the state, the housing market, and the rationale of financial capital has led to excessive growth of social housing in Mexico in the past two decades. This growth has been one way of channeling excess capital into global financial markets rather than the result of a public policy to address the housing needs of the low-income population.

April 18, 2017

Book, Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know

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Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Miguel Tinker Salas

Among the top ten oil exporters in the world and a founding member of OPEC, Venezuela currently supplies 11 percent of U.S. crude oil imports. But when the country elected the fiery populist politician Hugo Chavez in 1998, tensions rose with this key trading partner and relations have been strained ever since. 

April 17, 2017

Political Report # 1245 Amazon rainforest's final frontier under threat from oil and soya

Celso Carlos has made a modest living for 10 years growing manioc and coconuts and rearing poultry on a few hectares of lowland in Brazil's northern Amazon.
But three years ago, out of the blue, Carlos was told by an Amapá state judge that he had to move because his land had been bought by a businessman living more than 1,500 miles away in São Paulo. Within months, fences had been put up, and Carlos and other assentados, or settlers, had been forced off their land.
Carlos's land - along with hundreds of thousands more hectares across Amapá state - is the new frontier of global agribusiness. It lies unused for now but will almost certainly be sold on and used for soya production. The ubiquitous crop, which is part of most western diets and feeds billions of animals, will most likely be shipped as animal feed to the UK from a new Amapá port.
Having swept through Brazil and much of Latin America, causing ecological and social devastation by displacing people, ripping up the savannah and driving forest destruction, soya is now poised to do the same in Amapá, Brazil's least developed and most forgotten state, says Sisto Hagro, a Catholic priest.
Hagro, who works with the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) to defend peasant farmers' rights, blames government corruption and greed for what he calls a massive land grab. The state, he says, is illegally redistributing land bestowed on it by the federal government and moving existing smallholders to promote large-scale agribusiness. It is then legitimising its actions by changing its laws, he claims.

Abstract, The Future of Global Peripheral Cities

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The Future of Global Peripheral Cities
by Erminia Maricato

In June 2013 an unprecedented movement spearheaded by young people took to the streets of Brazilian cities. Despite the diversity of explanations of the protests, one thing became clear: the urban question was at the center of events. Brazil has become an international role model for its innovations in social policy and even urban policy. There have been social struggles for a democratic city. New policies, new programs, new projects, and a Ministry of Cities have been created. This democratic and participatory process has taken place in the context of fiscal adjustment and therefore contention over resources. When the federal government resumed investment in cities following a developmentalist project, capital linked to the production of space took over the leadership of the urban process and the virtuous cycle of urban policy declined. Investment in works directed by the real estate market in the context of mega-events such as the World Cup and the Olympics together with tax relief for the purchase of automobiles deepened the deterioration of urban living conditions, especially housing and mobility.