Poor, or Excluded? Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean

By Cabannes, Yves | UN Chronicle, March-May 2001 | Go to article overview

Poor, or Excluded? Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean


Cabannes, Yves, UN Chronicle


Cities are expanding and so is urban poverty. However, emerging regional trends indicate that the profile of poverty is different today from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. These new trends have to be taken into account when adjusting human settlements development policies and poverty eradication programmes to intra-regional differences. One of the key issues for the urban poor in Latin America and the Caribbean is the notion of exclusion. In October 2000, some 300 representatives from 33 countries, mostly from Latin America, met in Mexico City for the World Assembly of Urban Dwellers to "rethink the city from our perspective and to have our voice be heard". In addition to the lively exchanges, visits to neighbourhoods, dances and spontaneous bursts of laughter, the meeting was very different in style from conventional conferences in that it provided urban poor leaders an international forum to present ideas from their own perspective.

The World Assembly of Urban Dwellers made it clear that I most of the representatives of social movements in the region reject the term poverty and prefer to speak of exclusion. According to Martin Longoria, member of the Continental Front of Community Organizations and the Continental Cry of the Excluded (see box on page 46), the difference is quite clear: "Poverty for us refers to a level of access to goods, while exclusion refers to the level of access to our rights". First priority is not the struggle for access to land or housing, but for "citizens' rights" as a whole. Still, individual members of the movement are generally active in one or more specific dimensions of exclusion. They fight for the voice of the excluded to be heard, especially when policies at the local or national level are defined. Mr. Longoria continues: "You know what is the opposite of exclusion for us? It is not inclusion, but participation. Active participation is what makes you a full citizen."

Experience clearly indicates that poverty eradication starts with listening to the poor, giving them a chance and supporting their initiatives. The Regional Office of the Urban Management Programme (UMP), executed by the United Nations Development Programme and UNCHS (Habitat), has developed a set of activities that aim to secure the active participation of the excluded.

Participation in the Regional Consultative Forum. Movements representing the interests of the excluded and the urban poor participate in the Regional Consultative Forum of UMP, where they are equal partners with UN specialized agencies, international organizations, such as the International Union of Local Authorities and the Confederation of Credit Unions, and the most active regional networks of universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and researchers. UMP reports to the Forum, which guides the Programme's activities. All partners have underlined the importance of this unique forum because of the diversity of views expressed.

Urban Pact. In each of the 40 city consultations and many other projects, organized expressions of the urban poor are formally part of the inter-partner agreements. This kind of "urban pact" defines the objectives, activities and obligations of the local governments, as well as those of the peoples' organizations and other partners; these may vary from city to city.

Entering practical partnerships. The joint objective of all partners is to explore, legitimize and strengthen forms of participatory urban governance as a means to formulating policies and initiating projects which fight poverty and exclusion. So far, dialogues at regional and city levels have led to some concrete partnerships:

* Setting up in Santo Andre, Brazil an inclusion and exclusion map as a management tool for reducing social and physical inequities;

* Co-managing funds for microcredit in Ecuador, leveraging municipal resources in Quito, Belem and Maracaibo;

* Improving land management and regularization in cities with a high proportion of migrants or displaced people, in Leon and Belize;

* Developing multicultural and pluralistic action plans that include indigenous people (in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala) or youth (in Cotacachi, Ecuador, and Barra Mansa, Brazil). …

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