I moved back to Caracas in June, 1999, after living abroad for the previous eleven years. Chávez had taken power just five months earlier, and I was torn: on the one hand generally inclined to side with the social justice instincts of the left, but on the other hand, well aware of the dangers.
Within 3 or 4 days of my return, I see an ad in the newspaper for a Citizen Participation Workshop attached to the Constituent Assembly to discuss social rights. I decide to go. It’s in Parque Central. It’s my first political outing since coming home.
At the head of the table, an already ancient Pedro Ortega Diaz presides over a session on the right to housing. For the next 150 minutes, a coterie of ñángaras passionately discusses whether they should enshrine the right to “housing”, to “adequate housing”, to “secure housing”, to “adequate and secure housing” or to what, exactly.
One upmanship reigns. Nobody dares question any adjective added onto the project, for fear of being seen as a neoliberal wrecker.
I sit in astounded silence, wondering whether house building would be touched on in any way, whether feasibility would come up at all in the discussions. We’re there for two and a half hours. It never does. Not even obliquely. Not even once.
The result? A constitution that, with a straight face, says:
Artículo 82. Toda persona tiene derecho a una vivienda adecuada, segura, cómoda, higiénica, con servicios básicos esenciales que incluyan un hábitat que humanice las relaciones familiares, vecinales y comunitarias.
I walk out, my head spinning, realizing my brief, half-week-long flirtation with NiNi-ism was well and truly over.
These people are evidently insane.
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