Isn’t this Berlin?

05/10/2021
By Rodolfo Castellanos

“Do you want the Berlin government to expropriate 240,000 homes from the large landowners?”

It is the question that 57% of Berliners answered with a resounding “YES” in a referendum in the framework of their general elections on September 26; in which (everything seems to indicate) was also elected Olaf Scholz as the successor of Angela Merkel, the members of the Bundestag, the mayor of Berlin and the representatives of the 12 districts of the capital.

This exercise of citizen participation was possible thanks to the articulation of the movement “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and company” (Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen), a real estate giant that, to date, controls more than 100,000 homes in increasingly disadvantageous conditions and precarious for tenants.

While the result in favor of mass expropriation is not binding, it represents a strong message from a citizenry fed up with the rampant speculation in the real estate market.

For some years now, the German capital has been present in the public conversation in Mexico City because of the lightness with which militants of univocal realities publish texts in which they equalize the quality-of-life conditions between both territories. Tamara Velázquez has responded forcefully to these conceptions, placing them in the corresponding context.

However, it is worth reflecting on the conditions that make a referendum of these proportions possible in Berlin, while in Mexico City testimonies of evictions in defense of big capital are daily. Be it the tenants of the Trevi building, the inhabitants of the town of Xoco and their dignified fight against the MÍTIKAH agandalle, or the millions of stories of people who see their right to decent housing violated.

The Berlin referendum was the consequence of an inertia in force since at least 2019, when the city parliament, bordered by social pressure for affordable housing, approved rent price caps and freezing them for five years. The measure was annulled by the German Constitutional Court in April of this year alleging that the legislature did not have the powers to approve said measure; but the citizens have clearly expressed their position through another democratic means.

It would be deeply unfair to say that the citizens of Mexico City have not articulated over time in defense of decent housing. Since the movements of victims of the earthquakes of 1985 and 2017, added to the multiple social groups that from their own trench as a collective demand the same; be they indigenous communities, original neighborhoods, or simply people in a vulnerable condition.

A fundamental difference is found in the absence of effective channels to exercise their demands; In a capital political system where the city’s Housing Institute is a stagnant entity, the opposition led by the PAN (National Action Party)  in the City Congress has no incentives to verbalize an agenda that would show its complicity with developers (particularly in the Benito Juárez mayor’s office) and an internally divided MORENA (National Regeneration Movement) bench that has failed to build a consistent legislative agenda since 2018.

Additionally, to date there is no precise statistic of the number of properties invaded or controlled by organized crime in areas of high added value, a reality that represents another dimension of the complexity of access and management of the territory in a city that, together with surrounding townships, it is the largest urban area in the Western Hemisphere. And the Government of Mexico City? The groups in defense of decent housing and the territory should be asked if they consider that the innovation and rights agenda has been translated into actions, not words.

German referendum sets a precedent for the citizens of more capitals in the world to raise their voices in the face of the voracity of neoliberalism and its dystopian consequences that we all suffer.

Isn´t this Berlin? Maybe yes, maybe no. The truth is that in the Political Constitution of Mexico City, its Code of Electoral Institutions and Processes and in the Law of Citizen Participation, steps are foreseen to activate a consultation of the Berlin dimensions.

We lose nothing by keep reading them. Because capital does not rest and will not collapse without community articulation.

Rodolfo Castellanos

Rodolfo Castellanos

Mi Valedor’s General Director. He’s convinced that Mexico would have been a better country by now if Heberto Castillo had been President.

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