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CONAM’s successful national campaign ends with a demonstration and public hearings in Brasilia

With caravans bringing in approximately one thousand five hundred community leaders from around the country, CONAM’s day in Brasília was characterized by a protest march through the Esplanade of Ministries, public hearings at the ministries and a ‘blitz’ on Congress.

A protest march carried out in Brasilia on Wednesday 13th June 2007 painted the Esplanade of Ministries yellow and marked the conclusion of the national campaign of struggles of the National Confederation of Inhabitants’ Associations (CONAM). The voices and strength of nearly one thousand five hundred leaders of the grassroots community movement from across the country demanded that priority be given by government to four key areas, so that even greater progress can be made on social issues: “ Development, Employment, Urban Reform and Social Rights ”.

The day started early, with the first buses beginning to arrive before dawn. Buses from Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiânia, São Paulo and many others parked in front of the Cathedral of Brasília. Around 10.30 a.m. the march began, passing in front of the Palácio do Planalto and the National Congress.

With banners, flags, t-shirts and caps, the community leaders reaffirmed the key points of the inhabitants movement’s platform of demands. The guidelines had been established over the course of the year in meetings carried out with organized civil society through municipal unions and state-level federations of inhabitants’ associations.

The platform of CONAM’s “National Caravan to Brasília” consists of demands in a range of different areas. Generally speaking, the organization defends the universalization of rights and quality of life, with special attention given to the following issues: the struggle for decent housing; the rights to health, public transport and education; environmental sanitation and the preservation of the environment. CONAM is also calling for more effective civil society participation in the formulation of public policies at all levels of the process.

According to the president of CONAM, Wander Geraldo, the social movements are looking to exert pressure on government with a view to increasing the amount of resources in the National Social Interest Housing Fund, which attends those earning from zero to three times the minimum monthly wage and which corresponds to approximately 80% of the housing deficit. “We need to guarantee the resources that are in the PAC program, but which are without social control. We are struggling to ensure that the housing resources in the PAC program are placed under social control,” he declared.

Public hearings at the ministries

In order to pressure the Federal Government to address these demands, transforming them into concrete actions, CONAM made arrangements for meetings and public hearings to be held with 11 ministries and the CAIXA Federal Development Bank. For each portfolio, a specific document was presented with the key points considered to be of utmost importance for the formulation of a national development project that would favor the most disadvantaged layers of the population.

At the Ministry of Labor, for example, the demands revolved around problems relating to the lack of professional qualification among young people and the issue of first-time employment.

At the Ministry of Communications, Minister Hélio Costa personally welcomed the CONAM representatives at his office. The main issue addressed was the persecution and closing down of community radio stations by Anatel and the Federal Police.

The minister explained that his portfolio has no intention of closing down those radio stations that are truly committed to community causes. In order to resolve the issue, he committed to regularizing all of the radio stations attested to by CONAM as truly carrying out a social function. It was agreed that a list should be sent to the minister with information on the stations backed by the organization and that the ministry would then speed up the regularization process for the community radio stations included on the list.

A public hearing also took place with the Minister of Cities, Márcio Fortes de Almeida, involving the participation of more than 200 community leaders.

The key points discussed included the following:

  • the regulation and implementation of Provisional Measure 335/07 which allows for the concession of federal property and public spaces for social housing purposes;
  • the expansion of resources in the National Social Interest Housing Fund (FNHIS) as a means of addressing the housing deficit (82% of which represents families currently earning up to three times the minimum monthly wage) with social control;
  • ensuring social control over the PAC program resources through CONCIDADES, in the areas of housing, sanitation and public transport;
  • the end of evictions and a comprehensive policy of land tenure regularization.

At the Ministry of Culture, Secretary Américo Córdula received the committee and signed an agreement for the allocation of additional resources for cultural projects developed by the grassroots movements. The Ministry will be creating a funding line specifically for projects carried out by the residents’ associations.

The Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Henrique Paim, also received a committee of community leaders calling for a National Conference for Education to be carried out and for a place to be made available for the grassroots movement on the National Education Committee.

The struggle for the regulation of Constitutional Amendment 29, which guarantees minimum resources for public health, was taken to the Secretary of Participatory Management of the Ministry of Health, Antonio Alves.

At the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the committee was received by advisor Aurélio Farias. The key issue presented involved the revision of criteria for the low income rate, combining income criteria with electrical energy consumption. CONAM also called for greater access to the Light for All Program.

At the CAIXA Federal Development Bank, CONAM requested the debureaucratization of programs that attend people on incomes below five times the minimum monthly wage. “Its own real estate fair (‘Feirão’) only reaches those on higher incomes. And today, 92% of the housing deficit is comprised precisely by those on this income level, which is not being reached by the Feirão”, declared president Wander Geraldo.

In an audience at the Treasury with Executive Secretary Nelson Machado, CONAM called for a reduction in interest rates and in the primary surplus, both of which block the country’s growth as well as social and economic development. Amnesty was sought for Inhabitants’ Associations which have been heavily indebted since 1998 as a result of a decree by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

At the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger, the meeting with Minister Patrus Ananias served to open a channel for permanent discussion between CONAM and the Ministry as a means of strengthening social control over the Ministry’s programs.

At the Ministry of Sports, Executive Secretary Wadson Ribeiro demonstrated appreciation for the work carried out by CONAM and took on board all of the proposals presented by CONAM on themes related to the Ministry, particularly with regard to the expansion of social programs such as ‘2º Tempo’ with community-based organizations.

At the Secretariat of Special Policies for Women, a committee of women leaders of the community movement were received by Ms Laice Morieri, advisor to Minister Nilcéia Freira.

The overall conclusion reached by CONAM leaders is that the process of the campaign carried out in the various states and municipalities since April – as well as the caravan to Brasília – has been a positive one, with a large number of promises made on issues to be addressed. According to CONAM the key challenges for the future will be to maintain the mobilization of the people in order to ensure success, to continue to struggle for the issues not yet resolved and above all to strengthen the process of popular mobilization as an important tool in the defense of national and civil society interests.