By Julia Duranti-Martinez
Colombia’s National Victims Unit has registered more than 440,000 victims of forced displacement in the Valle del Cauca province just since 2012. Home to roughly 3 million people, the provincial capital of Cali is a major receptor of these internally displaced persons from the Pacific Coast, leading to an acute housing crisis. Within this context of protracted armed conflict waged over natural resources, Cali’s urban Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (Land Use Plan, POT) mirrors other Colombian cities in its appeal to private actors like real estate developers and finance institutions (Koch 2015) to address housing issues. However, the “Paradise City” project spearheaded by the public-private Empresa Municipal de Renovacion Urbana (Municipal Urban Renewal Company) has led to evictions in central Cali neighborhoods in the service of urban renewal.
Facing these multifaceted challenges, in April 2015 the national Hogar Digno Hogar Campaign for Habitat, Dignified Housing, and Public Utility Services emerged as a collective effort between diverse actors under the umbrella of the Congreso de los Pueblos (People’s Congress) and spearheaded by the center-left Polo Democratico Senator Alberto Castilla. A series of forums, educational and social media campaigns, and a national caravan culminated in a hearing in the Colombia’s National Congress in September 2015, which was attended by delegates from participating regions and accompanied by simultaneous public demonstrations in the capital of Bogotá and around the country.
Hogar Digno Hogar’s rhetoric reclaims Lefebvre’s “Right to the City” (1968) and articulates concerns over housing quality in addition to access. Their framing relies on a Marxist critique which holds that under neoliberalism, the state has abdicated its responsibility for public service and housing provision to private companies. However, the varied and at times contradictory ways in which Colombian state institutions act can also be understood as producing “territories of exception” (Roy 2007, Sotomayor 2015), since the city administration has “excepted” itself from Colombia’s Constitutional guarantee to dignified housing as well as laws guaranteeing the right to prior consultation for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities.
Multi-layered displacements in Cali revictimize internally displaced persons from informal settlements and low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, they are deeply racialized processes. In November 2015, Afro-Colombian families living in the Las Orquideas informal settlement were violently evicted by Colombian riot police ESMAD, who shot tear gas and rubber bullets and taunted residents with racial slurs. More than 70% of the residents had already been displaced or otherwise affected by the armed conflict. The Las Orquideas case helps illustrate how urban development in Cali serves as an institutionalized mechanism to whiten the city (Perry 2004), which has the largest Afro-descendant population in South America outside of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. The exclusion of black residents from the “Paradise City” plan provide an ironic counterpoint (Smith 2016) to a city branding strategy that seeks to produce Cali pachanguero as a national and international referent for music, dance, and artistic expressions rooted in Afro-Colombian cultural traditions. While Hogar Digno Hogar does not explicitly address the racialized dynamic of Cali’s housing crisis, it did issue a statement in solidarity with the Las Orquideas community. The larger Congreso de los Pueblos structure also has a mandate focused on Afro-descendant and Indigenous issues, and the movement often articulates with Afro-descendant and Indigenous social movements.
At the same time that Cali’s housing crisis in racialized territories of exception is continually reproduced by state and parastate actors, other state institutions like the Victims Unit, the local, regional, and national Ombudsmen, the Health Secretariat, and the Center for Historical Memory do facilitate limited “invited spaces” (Miraftab 2009) and concessions to movements like Hogar Digno Hogar. Hogar Digno Hogar leverages legal frameworks and rights-based discourses in creative ways to hold the Colombian state accountable to its guarantee of dignified housing, a holistic framing that stands in contrast to debates around “affordable housing” in U.S. cities. That said, the spaces of exception and parastatal armed groups that allow Colombian state institutions to deny their responsibility in Cali’s housing crisis pose significant limitations to the utility of invited spaces alone for more democratic planning approaches. However, even as it cooperates with strategic Polo Democratico elected officials, Hogar Digno Hogar emphasizes both vias de derecho y vias de hecho (legal channels and direct action), creating “invented spaces” (Miraftab 2009) via encuentros, public street art, and demonstrations that raise consciousness around the need for structural change. Through simultaneously engaging with state institutions to make what material gains it can and going outside these officially-approved channels, Hogar Digno Hogar exposes precisely the limitations of institutionalized planning efforts under neoliberal regimes.
While Hogar Digno Hogar was originally envisioned as a six month campaign, it provides a useful lens for analyzing how insurgent planning processes may be articulated in a context of armed conflict and para/state violence. By making demands within legal and human rights frameworks and forming partnerships with strategic elected officials, Hogar Digno Hogar makes itself legible to the Colombian state, even as it also draws attention to the varied mechanisms by which the state legalizes displacement. Raising consciousness regarding the strategic nature of displacement for Colombian para/state actors is significant in a context where many analysts continue to erroneously reference a “failed state,” and opens space for more radical proposals to take shape. Planners should therefore acknowledge the important role that social movements like Hogar Digno Hogar play in working toward the utopia of deep democracy (Appadurai 2001) and recognize them as the primary actors that may be able to construct cities not determined by spaces of exception. This also requires critical planning analysis to incorporate the racialization of space and spacialization of race as a central feature of global urban development.