Latin America is made up of diverse countries, peoples and cultures. It is a continent rich in resources, however, it has many problems facing its people, such as; debt, urbanisation, environmental issues, multinationals and continuing wars and unrest. Many people in Latin America withstand sever hardship because of these issues and how their governments lack the ability to respond. This essay will examine 1 key issue facing Latin America; urbanisation. This issue will be analysed on more micro level through local social movements and how particular communities have come together to meet their needs and face an often-imposing government. This essay will concentrate on the time during the 1980s, however, will have to add some historical context leading up to this period.
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The last half of the 20-century saw many rural third world nations become rapidly urbanised. Latin America was one of these continents to transform. Most of this is due to migration after the Second World War where migrants from rural areas were forced to leave to find wok in order to survive. Many countries in this area couldn’t cope with this urban growth, which led to people living in conditions well below the poverty line. Families migrating to the city centres quickly erected autonomous houses through squatting or claiming land through land invasions on land surrounding the city that was either owned by the government or privately. Food, shelter and community services are the main issues that these people dealt with everyday often with little or no help from their government.
Urbanisation is caused by many factors, studies have been done in ‘modernisation theories, dependency theories and urban bias all to analyse how and why urbanisation exists. This essay doesn’t explore how urbanisation has come about but more how different communities have coped and organised social movements to change their lives for the better. These movements have often been in the face of dictatorship or military styled governments who did little to help but rather hinder people from making changes to their community. Three countries are examined on a social movement basis, they are, Mexico, Chile and Uruguay.
Mexico experienced a growth period between 1940-1970, where the government created incentives for industry and set up infrastructures. However, the rate of growth was slower than the rural to urban migration.
Bennet (1992, p242) states, “between 1930 and 1980 there was a radical shift of the population from rural to urban areas: In 1930 two-thirds of Mexico’s population lived in the country side; by 1980, two thirds lived in urban areas.”
This led to a deficit of four million homes by 1980, which affected 30% of the population. During the early 80’s the urban poor became even worse off by the fall of the petroleum prices with the cost of living increasing drastically. By 1982 Mexico was virtually bankrupt from massive debt due to loans secured by Mexico’s petroleum, however petroleum prices plummeted in the early eighties causing increased inflation. (Bennet 1992)
Bennet’s study of Mexican urban popular movements (UPM) examines how the people formed groups to deal with issues such as lack of work, lack of housing and community services such as health care, education and transport. These UPM groups started in the 60’s varied in government support.
Rapid urbanisation of Mexico cities caused many problems for a government that either couldn’t or didn’t want to face the problem. From 1979-1980 Mexico felt a resurgence of growth from huge burrowing power on the back of petroleum reserves. With this boom in the economy, business started to expand, however this did not always have favourable benefits on the poor urban masses. An example of this is when in 1980 the government made plans to remove 125,000 low income residents for tourism development, in Acapulco Bay, alleging that the poor slum areas were polluting the bay. Bennet states, ‘the Consejo General de Colonias Populares de Acapulco (CGCPA) was formed by the residents to prevent relocation from settled neighbourhoods to unserviced zones.’ (1992, p249).
The CGCPA fought the government over the issue of relocation and also publicised the real reasons for the pollution in the Bay. With much support from the people the government was forced to making concessions, however, in the end it did not carry out all the promises made to the people. However, the CGCPA did make some progress saving 24 neighbourhoods from relocation.
Chileans like in Mexico had urbanized quicker than governments could stabilize housing, labour needs and community services. In Santiago the population went from 2 million in 1960 to 3.9 million in 1982, 34% of the total population. R Klaarhamer (1989, p177) states, ‘individual households started to build their shacks illegally on idle land at the edge of popular neighbourhoods. The settlements which originated from this kind of occupation are known as callampas (literally: fungus).’ The autonomous housing made by individuals gave many poor families struggling to meet basic living levels a place to live. In the early 70’s the Marxist President Salvador Allende came to power by force. This authoritarian government stamped down and prohibited any activist groups. However, the people quickly became unhappy, as the government wasn’t meeting their needs causing widespread disloyalty.
In 1983 a huge amount of organizations formed through dissatisfaction with their urban situation and unsatisfied with how the government was ignoring their problems. And even though they faced police terror for their actions they began to demonstrate and riot. Klaarhamer states, ‘from 11 May 1983 onwards, the popular neighbourhoods came to play a central role in the struggle.’ (1989, p186). These protests led to one of Chile’s biggest land invasions that were made up of 8000 households. This situation lasted on and off through the eighties until the government finally collapsed in place of a new democracy. Schneider (1992) suggests that it was this widespread movement of organizations that helped to make way for a new styled government.
Uruguay in the early eighties was another nation under strict dictatorship. The urbanisation of Uruguay also left the poor struggling to meet basic needs, and the harsh government did nothing to relieve its people. This led small groups to rally together forming food clubs to purchase food and produce at wholesale prices. Other small groups gathered round creating soup kitchens. These groups were held together mainly from women who worked organising and raising money. Canel states, ‘by 1985 there were 43 soup kitchens in the country, providing food for an estimated 10,000 people. (1989, p278). Canel goes on to suggest that these groups grew from 4 in 1982 to over 60 in 1986 in Montevideo. This was a direct result in small communities and neighbourhoods coming together to meet their day-to-day needs. Canel states, “the community supported these activities through food and cash donations and by lending space in community centres, sports clubs or trade union locals for the groups activities. (278). In 1984 Uruguay saw the fall of their government and a new beginning with democracy, however, the new government didn’t meet the people’s expectations returning to an older style of politics and communities belief in their selves fell and with this, urban social movements began to wane.
Urban social movements throughout Latin America sprung up to deal with day-to-day problems rather than long-term changes in the political atmosphere. However, some social movements have made measurable impact on their governments, but their first intensions were for communities to improve their basic living standard. The social movements discussed in this essay range widely from dealing with relocation issues to community kitchens. However even with these vast differences they all have one thing in common, they all live in poor urban areas, which lack the support of a government committed to pursuing their peoples welfare. This unique element gave them a place to unite within their local situation, a place where they could make a change, even if only slightly. This essay discussed briefly three differing situations looking at the urban social movements in three different countries and why they began and their outcome. But this outcome only consists of what took place in the 1980s and obviously this part of history is not finished.
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