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Ecuador’s new constitution “leaves the past behind”

September 28, 2008

Oscar Veintimilla of Habitat Ecuador comments on the significance of an innovative new constitution, approved this September, which explicitly supports the right to adequate shelter.




ECUADOR (September 28, 2008)
- A new constitution in Ecuador has recently become the first in the region to align national law with international human rights obligations when it comes to shelter. The title of the new constitution, “Leaving the past behind,” is certainly a progressive leap from the shadow of a less equitable history. Ecuador’s new constitution enforces the right to adequate housing, a secure and healthy habitat, and access to city services, infrastructure, sanitation, public spaces and land. The new law also guarantees governmental support in defending these rights through programs that promote the social production of housing and improvement of slums; support public sector financing for the most vulnerable groups such as women heads of household; and support cultural equality and uninterrupted public services such as water, electricity, schools and hospitals. Believe it or not…there’s more.

The recognition of these rights is not the only progressive step that Ecuador has taken in its rewrite. The constitution also recognizes the nature of Pacha Mama, the Goddess whose name in Quechua signifies “Mother Earth” and is venerated by Andean indigenous groups, as a subject of rights defendable by law. In addition, sumac kawsay, which translates as “the balanced living concept,” is now a term supported in the very wording of the constitution. Sumac kawsay, among other things, defends nature’s right to maintain and to regenerate vital cycles, protects national diversity, and prohibits the privatization of natural resources such as water.

Habitat for Humanity Ecuador forms part of a network whose proposals were included in the text of the new constitution. The Social Contract for Housing (CSV), created in 2005, is a network of Quito-based NGOs, financial institutions, businesses, professionals, academics, and institutions. The role of the CSV is to propose strategies that support the right to sustainable lifestyles through adequate housing and city access. Oscar Veintimilla, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Ecuador, describes the group as “a space for participation, action and cohesion, through which we can push housing and city rights into politics.”

Habitat Ecuador has played a key role in collecting additional feedback from populations outside of Quito, and sharing it with the CSV through a project called “Communities Speak Out.” The project organized citizens from areas where Habitat is present, and then brought their opinions to the table.

Habitat Latin America/Caribbean staff writer, Stephanie Banas, talked with Oscar about his perspective on the new constitution, the process to get there, and what happens next.

Stephanie – What is the significance of this new political phase in Ecuador?
– The new constitution in Ecuador is a living example of what can happen when civil society pressures government so much that it becomes its protagonist…civil organizations have, in a sense, become the eyes of the nation and the arm of its politics.

Stephanie – How can this constitution serve as an example for the rest of the world?
– There is certainly no one recipe that will work in every situation. I think that what does work is to strengthen civil organizations, and from there seek changes and solutions that will reorient the government towards the people and towards the restoration of their rights. Civil organizations should not be solely focused on acts of charity, but also acts of advocacy.

Stephanie – What role did Habitat for Humanity Ecuador take in the formation of the new constitution?
– Habitat Ecuador was one of the founding members of the CSV in 2005. It participated in marches and protests in favor of the right to housing and the city, took part in discussions with the Ministry of Housing, contributed to changes in the constitution text, and motivated others to join the process.

Stephanie – What are the next steps for Ecuador, and what will Habitat’s role be?
– Now that the constitution has been approved, we next need to push for the design and implementation of tangible new policies. Habitat Ecuador will have a place in these discussions…we have, in reality, become an agent of advocacy for housing and facilitators of the opportunity to participate in these processes. Our role should be that of a catalyst, ensuring that we continue to reflect Habitat’s mission of eliminating inadequate housing conditions from the face of every nation.