Uruguay: victory in squatters struggle

On July 28, thousands of people marched in Montevideo, Uruguay, to demand the repeal of Law 18.116, which modifies the penal code to impose prison sentences of between three months and three years on people who take part in the occupation of a property not their own. The march was called by the Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives for Mutual Aid (FUCVAM), together with the Union of Sugar Workers of Artigas (UTAA), the September 10, 1815 Movement of Tacuarembo and residents of the Las Laminas neighborhood of Bella Union in Artigas department.

FUCVAM secretary general Daniel De Souza told the crowd that the government of the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front) had generated an “expectation” that they were going to hand out plots of land and credits for housing construction. “Of the 14,000 housing units announced, they’re only going to build 3,000,” said De Souza, a leftist who has declared his independence from the government. “We have no other option than to occupy the land,” he warned.

At the rally, UTAA leader Nicolas “Colacho” Estevez announced with “hopeful joy” that a group of sugar cane workers in Bella Union appeared to have won title to the land they had occupied 18 months earlier. On Jan. 15, 2006, a group of 56 Uruguayan sugar cane workers and supporters occupied a 36-hectare farm, Colonia Espana, near Bella Union, to demand farmland for six working families. The occupied land was owned by the National Colonization Institute and had been abandoned for 11 years. (Resumen Latinoamericano #921, Aug. 1; La Republica, Montevideo, July 29)

In a July 29 letter, Flaco Belletti of the Movement for Land confirmed that on July 26 the courts handed over the lands to the National Colonization Institute (INC), formally evicting Conrado Villalba, a settler who had claimed ownership, for nonpayment of rent and failure to make use of the land. The INC in turn handed the farm over to the state liquor company ALUR (Alcoholes del Uruguay), which then handed it over to a cooperative formed by six of the people occupying the land: two women and four men. The farmland is already largely planted and prepared for new crops, with sugar cane over 20 hectares and the other 16 hectares reserved for food. There are also plans to set up an agricultural training and education center on the land, coordinated by the UTAA, the Calnu Workers Union (SOCA) and the Association of Small Farmers and Rural Workers of Bella Union (APAARBU). The school will have the support of the government’s Colonization Institute, the Agriculture, Ranching and Fishing Ministry, and the University of the Republic. (Belletti Letter, July 29 published in Resumen Latinoamericano #921, Aug. 1; La Republica, July 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 2

See our last post on Uruguay.