Casas de Carton

How sad sounds the rain on the roofs of cardboard
How sad live my people in the houses of cardboard

These are the opening lines of Casas de Carton, the ballad for the struggling poor in the countries of Latin America. It is an appropriate theme song for those who live in houses of cardboard and plastic sheeting in areas in and around San Salvador.

They are the marginalized of El Salvador's society, the poorest of the urban poor, who live in squatters shacks on land which is not their own. Since December, new "communities" have sprung up around Soyapango, which neighbors San Salvador. The growth of this marginal community has been chronicled recently in El Salvador's digital media including a story in this week's El Faro and in Contra Punto.

The shanty town featured in El Faro is a dusty place, built next to and above an old municipal dump. The presence of methane and other gases from the decomposing garbage below makes it an unfit place for building houses, but for those who are desperate for a place to live, the risks are ignored. There were promises and rumors of promises, which led more than one thousand people to locate here, on the hope that they would be given a piece of land they could call their own. They build their "casas de carton" from bamboo, scrap wood and cardboard, plastic sheeting and anything else which can serve as four walls and a roof. This photogallery from El Faro shows scenes of daily life a a community on the margins.

When journalist Juan JoseDalton wrote about the situation of these shanty towns, he quoted statistics from the Salvadoran Association of Architects and Engineers which find a housing deficit of 540,000 homes in a country with a population slightly less than six million. He notes that the inability to obtain dignified housing for this segment of the population is due primarily to the inability to obtain a loan and the lack of formal job opportunities.

The housing deficit is a symptom of poverty, but it is also a cause perpetuating poverty. The residents of these communities face disease; their children don't attend school; they are constantly at risk of losing what little they have to the weather. They are also constantly at risk from being expelled by the actual owner of the property. It is a multi-faceted problem, and one which needs multi-faceted solutions at both the national and municipal level and with support from both public and private sources.

The complete song Casas de Carton can be heard in this YouTube video. The pictures in the video aren't from El Salvador, but they still convey the reality of urban shanty towns.


Anonymous said…
On Friday April 4th while visiting San Francisco California, Saca told reporters that he welcome everybody to visit El Salvador and to see for themselves the big changes ARENA has brought to the country.
All this in regard to what some protesters shouted at him in front of SF civic center and the hotel where he was staying.
Is he going to take visitors to see only the new buildings, mansions and shopping malls?
Anonymous said…
no shit, all well to do people in el salvador brag about are the new malls that have been built there, and they call them 'modernidad'. but please, we are not such fools as to think things are at least tolerable in el salvador, i mean, we know or we at least talk to real salvadorans about how things really are over there. i suggest to plan and build a whole new city for all the homeless and destituted peoples. a mass-housing project, that would also help reclaim a lot of land from the railroads, city districts and the streets and use it for development. it wouldn't hurt to get the railroad systems of el salvador on their feet. but also, look at the plus side of giving everyone who doesn't legally own a home and may possibly live on the hilly side of a river bank a place of their own. not for free of course, nothing in life is free, they would have to at least chip in their own labor to build their own homes and paying for the land can be worked out to the point that it could come very close to being free. so there, to all those who always want free everything for the poor.
Anonymous said…
El-Visitador said…
What a heartbreaking reality.

But poverty and deprivation are the natural state of Man, and it is only through the work of industry and commerce that wealth is created.

Wouldn't these poor people's lives change completely if they could work in a mine or a textile shop?

Sure, for wealthy Europeans a "mine" or a "textile shop" are cuss words, an insult: but for the poorest of the poor, such a job would mean an actual house, with plumbing, and access to Social Security.

People from the U.S. forget their great-grandparents worked the coal mines of the Ruhr and the sweatshops of Manchester, and that it was such backbreaking work that fed them and took their children out of poverty. They now ignore this, and conspire to deny Salvadoreans the same opportunities their ancestors had.

Let's not keep denying opportunity and hope to the people of the casas de carton.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
The fact is that most Salvadorans that know anything about mining don't want it in their country—and to be very clear, it is Salvadorans that are leading the resistance, it is Salvadorans protesting, it is Salvadorans standing in the way of mining companies.

MINING IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH DEVELOPMENT IN EL SALVADOR. Only 2% of profits will stay in the country. The only jobs created for Salvadorans will be low-paying and dangerous. The use of tons of cyanide to extract tiny gold particles from rock will contaminate rivers and land used as sources of drinking water and for farming (an amount the size of a grain of rice is sufficient to be lethal). Large amounts of privately owned land, some of which is reforested and some of which is used for agriculture, will be destroyed. Mining will result in the displacement of individuals, families, and entire communities—where will they go? Some of them I imagine to the type of perilous squatter communities described in this post.

While the promises of mining sound wonderful, the realities of the negative consequences for El Salvador can’t be ignored. Rather than lifting people out of poverty, mining will only exacerbate the perilous economic and social conditions that already exist.
El-Visitador said…
«The only jobs created for Salvadorans will be low-paying and dangerous»

Low paying and dangerous in relation to what?

I can assure you these workers would no longer have to "live" on a casa de cartón on top of a municipal dump.

See: you are actually suggesting people are better off unemployed and half-living in the inhumane situation described in the article.

Anonymous said…
Mining, textile shops, maquilas, etc. are simply a band aid. Yes, there will be jobs but will people actually be able to afford a home? Let's not forget about the huge discrepancy between wages earned and cost of living. In addition to the fact that they will endure INHUMANE conditions. And yes, people may have worked the coal mines and in sweatshops but they were as you said our great-grandparents. There is no excuse for extremely poor working conditions this day in age. Let's not forget we are talking about PEOPLE and not get lost in abstract discussions that dehumanize Salvadorans.
Anonymous said…
casas de carton is about poor people going against the government during th e civil war in the 1980's it was the prohibited song of the guerilleros going against the government and all of the poor salvadorian speeking up about the poverty and going against government rules.them wanting to speak up broke out the civil war and this song was sung by all of the people against the government whoever was opposed 2 the government was kiiled.and also if they listened 2 it they were considered rebels and killed.sad storie and song.
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