A large, flat empty lot just to the north of the downtown core of Lima, Peru, filled up suddenly, over the space of only one night, with squatters.
The well orchestrated ‘invasion’ took advantage of a speculator’s desire to hold on to the vacant space out of a desire to maximize the profitability of the land.
Leaving the land idle until conditions were just right to develop it seemed logical.
The makeshift dwellings of woven grass mats and plastic sheeting suggested that a fair number of people thought otherwise.
Over the last three and a half decades I have walked through favelas in Brazil to callampas and campamentos in Chile. The scraps of building material cobbled together into the most basic of shelters for impoverished families were similar, so to was the dynamism of the squatters.
People desperate for basic services, take the initiative and create solutions to their needs.
From the tent city in Edmonton last year to our own campgrounds we have seen that here in Canada as well.
When a government fails to satisfy basic needs the fundamental covenant between it and its citizenry is called into question. As well, can property rights be held as sacrosanct when the resource held is not being properly utilized or outright wasted?
The British philosopher John Locke, 1632-1704, pioneered thought on the idea of the social contract.
It implies an agreement by the people to give up some rights to government in order to hold society together. Locke thought that we individually do not have the right take more than we can make good use of from the commons to which everyone has rights.
In his Two Treatises of Government he states that if a resource held by one is idle or wasted it “might be the possession of any other.”
Years ago, I sat in on a kgotla, or village council in Botswana.
A piece of land had been allocated to a family, but they had not properly used it.
The thorn bushes around us clearly demonstrated their lack of care for the land according to one speaker.
A local group sponsored by aid from Canada’s Mennonite Central Committee sought the land to develop a mini-experimental farm to demonstrate the viability of new crops for local farmers.
Under the hot African sun all had a chance to talk before the elders rendered their decision.
They found that the land, a village resource, would best serve the community as an experimental farm. The common good outweighed the rights of the one family.
In the last two weeks, hundreds of billions of dollars and euros have been allocated to bailing out a global financial system that has not been able to effectively address the pressing needs that threaten our global community.
At the same time, world leaders find it difficult to dig up the $40 billion to $60 billion in additional foreign aid needed annually according to the World Bank (http://www.worldbank.org/html/extdr/mdgassessment.pdf) to meet Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
There are eight of them including “eradicate extreme hunger and poverty”, “achieve universal primary education” and “ensure environmental sustainability.”
John Kenneth Galbraith, who would have been a 100 years old last Wednesday, pointed to unfettered greed, excess and outright fraud as hallmarks of an un- or under-regulated market place.
Governments have a social contract to maintain with all of us.
Should bailouts of an inequality producing, environmentally destructive economic system be their priority?
Or should it be the reclamation and reinvention of the world economic system for the good of all?
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact email@example.com.
Sunday, October 12 – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Matthew 22: 15-21.
Monday, October 20 – The birthday of the Bab (1819-1850), one of the central figures in the founding of Baha’i faith, is celebrated.
Monday, October 20 – The Adi Granth or First Book of Sikh Scriptures is honored as this religion’s perpetual Guru.
Friday, October 24 –Disarmament Week begins on the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and highlights the need for global conventional and nuclear disarmament.