Municipal and Urban Projects Manager, Centro de Estudios Urbanos y Regionales, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra
Interviewed by Jennifer Goldman — 2003
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Q: The first thing I'd like to do is just get a better sense of the field you're in and the work that you do and your background. So I have a sense of it from the material that I've seen from you, but before we officially begin the interview, if you can help me gain a better understanding of your background and of your work. So anything you think would be particularly helpful for me to know.
A: Okay, I studied architecture, but in our country architecture is just related to building houses. So it wasn't enough for me. Then I joined a group of architectural studies...students, and we were collaborating with this Center of the University what I worked. It's called Centro D'Estudios Urbanos ?Spanish word? Urban and ?__________?...Studies Center.
Q: Urban and...?
A: Urban and Regional...
A: Studies Center.
A: EUR. It is a special group. It's like a department of the university. It's the main private university of the country from ?__________?...Universidad Catolica Madre Maestra. You got in ?__________?... And this group started like collaborators with the center. Then I stayed working in the center...I've been then about eight years. In this place, we do research. We are producing knowledge related with vitamins, poverty, and urban planning, and all this kind of tools that our country, our ?__________?...needs to develop. We live in a very poor country, and our communities suffer the lack of main services in many cases. The work I've been doing in this time is trying to understand how these communities survive and which are the needs...how do they organize in order to get what they need? And this point we enter...we get in the situation as a companion. We try to help but from the outside...without ?__________?...help them with techniques and with training. I don't know if training is the word. We say 'capacitacion'.
A: Excuse me?
Q: Capacity-building, perhaps?
A: Yeah, could be. I don't know, but I use 'train'. I'm not sure if that's the word, but...
A: It is that we show them how to do things, you know, how to ?__________?...how to organize, how to resolve the situation. And in this project is being by four years in two communities... One here in Santiago is the second city of the Dominican Republic and the other community is in Santo Domingo, which is the capital city. It's the main seat of the country. But in Santiago we have four years working in this project. It's called Community Development Program...like Programa de Desarrollos Comunitarios. And this program, first we choose...we select a neighborhood...it's a poor neighborhood, and we start being in contact with organized groups. We have to work with organized groups. And the first thing we do is to ?__________?...the abilities of these groups to get ?__________?...organization, to make their goals clear, to get to the point to what is what they really need. Because sometimes we found that they are a little bit loose about what they are looking for because they have a lot of needs because they...they suffer the lack of basic services; they are confused sometimes. So we...the first we do is try to make a profile. We call it an environmental profile. But this concept of environment is a wide concept, including their...not just things related with nature but everything that is related with quality of life.
Q: You said environment is a what concept?
A: We work in a wide ...it's a big concept of environment. In our country, and in other countries, sometimes when you speak about environment, people think about nature.
A: ...rivers, trees. But this concept of environment, we are using is a wide concept that includes not just nature but social relationships and what it built over this nature. Like a triangle...you know....nature, social relationships and what is built. This may be build environment. I'm not sure ?__________?...streets in the cities. This concept of environment we were using is a relation between these three elements . So it's not just the nature but what people do over nature. Sometimes we accuse poor people because they harm the nature resources. But really it's a relationship in two ways. So I need the resource to survive because I have a lot of needs. And I use them to fulfill this need. But the idea is that we make an environment profile with this organization groups...these community groups that are organized in the neighborhood. Sometimes they call them ... I don't know how to translate it--juntas de vecinos. It's like neighbor groups. And those groups are created because...their many of cases...they have a situation. For example, they don't have good garbage disposal service, for example, or they want the streets to be paved. So they make this group in order to make a demand of the local government or national government to demand for this service. ?__________?...find to...sports groups and cultural groups. But the quality is... They are small groups and belongs to the same community. They are together because they have something to solve together. But these groups sometimes are weak because they don't have clear goals; they don't have a method to do things. So they get together inconstantly, maybe twice a month, maybe monthly. Sometimes they have three months without get together. So the results that they get are weak, loose, because they are not doing a good job. So what we do after we explained them what we are trying to do as a companion. We are going to help them. We are not going to substitute them. We are not going to substitute what they have to do and what the authorities have to do. We ?__________?...a university. We are doing a service, a community service and research because we want to know. We want to understand these communities. But we cannot assume the role of the community leaders, the role of the authorities. We are going to help them to understand each other to make a very effective job..
Q: So your job...
A: Excuse me.
Q: I'm sorry. You're job is to help the government officials and the community understand each other and work better together?
A: Yes. But we work from the community.
Q: Okay. So you're not...
A: Our main job is from the community because those authorities are mutual. We have local governments; we have national government or central government; we have private institutions. But the center of...who receives the service is the community. You know, we work from the community, even though we have a connection...we have communication with the authorities. We work from the community.
A: And we are doing that because we are a university and we are trying to use it in classes. We teach... We teach other people, other professionals who to work in community development. So we use this experience. We produce knowledge; we produce books and class materials; and we use it in our Masters. You know, that's why we do it. But in the meantime, we all help in the communities, and we are good. We make good alliances with them. The first thing we do is this profile with them. We help to get...to get out...to ?__________?...out what they need. We help them to clarify what are they looking for because the first thing I see that is related with your concept of intractable conflict, is that sometimes they focus in just one thing. We want this. We want this. If we don't get this, we are lost. But when we put this focus point, this focus issue aside and we discuss from the beginning, okay, what's the story of this country...excuse me...of this place...this neighborhood? Why are you here? How are things been in all these years? And we help them understand why they are in this situation. Many times this settlements are using a land that they don't have legal rights for use this land. You know. It's like an informal settlement. But they have been there by ten, twenty, even thirty years. So they feel they belong to this place. But ?__________?...sometimes they are outside of the city...in the...outside of the city...you know...those places which are outside of the web of services. So they don't have the basic services, like water pipeline connections, electricity service, street pavements. Sometimes there are nearby contaminated polluted streams.
A: Can I jump in here for a minute because I want to focus now specifically.. You're starting to talk about the conflict or the problematic situations that these people are in because the community has trouble getting along with the government, and it's sounds like and other things.
Q: Can you focus now more on how you think about these kinds of enduring situations that last and go on and on for these people and feel free to tell me about what you think causes these situations and how you try to approach dealing with the situations.
A: Okay. I told you that I think the issue of the conflict is basic services and the demanding of these basic services. What I feel is ... First, I told you that they are very focused on an issue. We need this. We need this. That's the first thing. When we get into the problem, we found that there are many other situation that have to be solved and can improve their quality of life even though they get this they are claiming for. You know?
A: That's the first issue. Then the other thing I see is that sometimes they don't know how to demand what they need. I say myself. For example, in our country, local government the mayor is supposed to supply many of these services. But traditionally we have very weak local government because we have a very centralized central government. So people is tired...people are tired to claim to local government as they don't answer them. They go through central government. But it's not central government who can help them. You know. They are supposed to ask these local government. So the other part of the conflict, they don't have this very clear...they don't know who ask to solve the situation. But the words, I think, is sometimes they get an answer of the central government is a political decision, you know, a...we call this ciente lismo...is like the government want to get from these people? Well, there's not a simple way to explain it. But the word is sometimes government answer them so they confirm that they don't have anything to do with local government because the central government answer them. But the truth is we are making local government even more weak. But in the middle of political campaign, for example, every politician goes to the neighborhood and they promise that they are going to solve the situation and they have been saying it by twenty years. ?__________?...the situation. So different periods of time that these situation explode in riots and ?__________?...in the middle of the streets. And they have days burning tires and throwing garbage and making a lot of noise and this situations are repressed by police, and there many destruction. Sometimes people die, people go to jail. It's the kind of escalation of conflict. Then it...this happens many of times because of one situation, for example...if they are claiming for the houses to be moved from a place that is dangerous, that is near a cliff and they have many days raining and a lot of ?__________?...I don't know...a piece of this cliff fall down and smash some houses and people die, you know, this situation make the conflict raised again. And it's happening time from time in different part of the year. And they don't know where to go to ask for the solution of this problem they have. So they are in conflict with everyone. They are in conflict with local government; they are in conflict with central government.
Q: Because they don't know how...they don't even know who to talk to or where to go to help resolve the situation?
A: Yes. Yes. Sometimes the authorities are like throwing a ball, you know, you have to resolve it, no, it's you, no, it's you. So that the people are confused. The communities are confused over time because of... The rules are not clear. Responsibilities are not clear defined because we have something in the law, but in the practice it's different. You know? And our government not have all the time the will to solve the situation. And I was thinking about this interesting concept of evasiveness...that you have in your papers.
Q: Which concept?
A: Excuse me.
Q: I'm sorry. I didn't understand which concept you said.
A: The conflict pervasiveness.
Q: Pervasiveness. Okay.
A: Yes. I think it's very interesting. Concept because you can imagine we are talking about quality of life; we are talking that you wake up in the morning and you don't have water to do what you need; and you don't have electricity...even though you have the wires, but you don't get the service. And the pervasiveness is...is clear because it's every time; it's all the time. And even though, I think, it's an issue is not resolved issue, it's related with identity because I feel that even thought I am working; I am a productive human being; even though I am paying taxes, I don't get what I deserve. You know?
A: And people is angry all the time.
Q: Right. Now, you just mentioned ... Can I jump in here for a second?
Q: You just mentioned something that you liked about the paper that you read by Peter Coleman. And I'm wondering from that paper... What we're really interested in is...was there anything you thought was missing or did you disagree with the something in the paper, or what else is your experience like that was not captured the paper?
A: Look. First, I was not sure if what I've been dealing is intractable conflict, you know... We are talking about ?__________?...situations that last for years and where people die and suffer. And we're talking about this situations of differences between countries. I haven't been related with this kind of situations. I include... I'm not sure if what I'm talking to you can be called an intractable conflict. You know. I try to identify all these characteristics and like timed issues, the hopeless, ?__________?...to harm the resistant solutions, is things I can identify it in what I'm dealing, but I'm not sure if it's in intractable. But I see that the approach of this concept is clear. And from experience, I think it's complete because as I tell you, it's the first time that concept, even I started conflict resolution I have to say that we didn't; we didn't saw this kind of extreme situations. But what I see when you told me that, try to figure the kind of questions you can do to me, I try to identify this element in the conflict I'm dealing and the extreme part of the conflict I'm dealing and I think I could identity all of them. So I don't know...I think that the approach is complete. Maybe if I can check it from a little more time, I can tell you anything...something else. But by this idea related with the conflict I'm dealing, I think it's clear. You know?
Q: Okay. So just to make sure I understand. So you're saying that you think the reading that we sent you is comprehensive when it talks about the different characteristics of intractable conflict situations? Is that what you mean?
Q: That there's nothing missing there.
A: Not yet. I told you about three, two situations. I want to tell you the third that I thought is when.... Remember our role as helping the situation...
A: So I am gonna put you an example...I'll give you an example.
Q: Of how you help in the situation?
A: To go...to raise the third point, I think is related with intractable conflict. When this community, for example, are claiming for water pipeline connections; they need running water in their houses... And we help them to identify the institution that is supposed to offer them the service...but it's part...very important part of a good claim. If they are going to demand for something, you have to demand the right institution. So when we help them to identify this institution, we arrive to an interesting point of the conflict. For example, they are demanding running water in their houses, but they are not paying for the services. When we go to this institution...to the corporation which is supposed to offer the service, they say, we don't offer the service because they don't pay. And we have been in many communities where there is this conflict. We don't get the service because we don't pay...we don't offer the serve because we don't pay. So it's a point where you don't have a place to go. And many of the cases, the conflict is there; it's like a thing...it is called intractable. So what we do is act as an intermediary. We act as a guarantee, you know. We offer to mediate in the situation, and we make the organization to make a commitment, and we help to make an arrangement between the community and the institution. And the institution trusts on us because we are intermediary, and the community, which don't trust the institution, neither, because they have offered to help them many ties and they haven't done it, they trust on us. But we are in the middle.We help them to make an arrangement in places...in space of time. For example, we, the community, we are making the commitment that we are to learn how to not waste the resource, the resource is water. We agree to fix our pipelines in order to don't waste the resource and we agree to pay a minimum amount for the service. And this corporation, the institution, which is going to offer the service, they agree to start offering the service first by a period of time. I'm going to give you water, for example, ten hours a day. So they try each other, but in the meantime, they get close and they learn how to work with each and we think this is the best...
A: Everyone involved in the situation gets. That's what we learned...how to understand each other. Because in this...
Q: But how do you help them understand each other?
A: We are in the middle; we are intermediary. And we help them to explore their...what they need. How do they work? Sometimes the communities are kind of blind. You know, I need it and I need it now.
A: They are pouting; they are protesting. But they don't know how can they help to get this problem solved.
A: So we can make an arrangement where the institution offers part of what they need. But the community make the commitment that they are going to make the other part. Sometimes it's... They do part of the job with their hands. You know? They do part of the job with their hands, you know. They are gonna make the connections. You give us the materials, and we are going to make the connection. We got ?__________?... You know...
Q: So you're talking about a problem-solving approach where they figure out a solution that meets both sides' needs. They stop just 'I need' and they say, okay, well here's how I can help you and here's how I can help and they start working together.
A: They stop accusing them. You know...
A: They, all the time, they think that the other part is the mean part; you don't do what you have to do; and in all the cases, they don't have an approach; they don't speak to each other because they are ?__________?...in their interest ?__________?...explore the other side. So what we do is we act in the middle of the situation for them to...
Q: Right. I understand. I want to get back to something you said to me at the beginning of the conversation about the relationship between nature, social relationships, and the human man-made buildings or the man-made environment. How do you think about those three concepts and how they relate to each other?
A: Okay. When these three elements are interacting all the time, we cannot see nature like something that we see and enjoy and we cannot touch it. Because human beings...we are alive because we can use nature. But in this approach that we do with the community, we want to teach them how to have reasonable relationship with nature. How can I use the resources without harm them and how I can understand that these resources are limited? And they know...they learn how...the way they use the resources are affecting them. For example, I told you about the example...I told you about the streams...streams...like small rivers. Our country has a very big river and a lot of small rivers that the most part of the year are dry. But when it rains, they full of water. And those places are...are free land and people go there to live, and all the ?__________?...you know, dirt water, they throw into the streams. But then we teach how this situation affects their own quality of life.
Q: So you teach them how to have a better relationship with nature, so you understand that it's limited resources and that they should not harm the natural environment.
A: It's a very important part of the methodology we use. Because they stop... Because we help the institutions...the local governments to stop seeing them like the one that damage the nature. You know, poor people damage nature. It's all the time happen here the way that these institutions see the community...how they affect the nature. But the truth is, as they don't have good services, they still have another choice. If you have garbage
and you don't have a good service of garbage disposal, you have to put the garbage some place. But they don't know that the garbage is harming their life.
A: And how do you think about the nature relationship with the other components of your model of the social relationships and the man-made buildings?
A: Okay. So this man-made building and streets and all services, is something that we create over nature. And we need nature resources to make them work. We need water; we need power for electricity; we need ground materials to make buildings and make constructions. So when this relationship between the nature, that is the base, the people who live in the nature and what people build over the nature...when this relation between these three elements is not based in harmony, you know, it's not a rational relation, is when environmental problems rises. You know, it's a matter of...how do I say equilibrio..
Q: Equilibrium? Okay.
A: Equilibrium between the relations between these three elements. You know?
Q: Mm-hm...people, buildings and nature?
A: Yes. If you want I can send you some paper about this.
Q: That would be great.
A: Maybe it's bad explaining in English. You know I think it sounds better in Spanish.
Q: I think it's a very interesting concept and makes sense to me when those three things are in balance, things are harmonious and equilibrium. And when they're not relating to each in the correct way , there's environmental problems, people problems, other kinds of problems.
A: It's amazing the change that you can see in the neighborhood when they can understand this. And they stop...they stop feeling victimized, you know? We are smashed all the time. They discovered...they found that they have... In that point is when I told you they are focused, we need this, but when you help to strengthen, to identify a lot of things they can do even if they don't have an answer from this institution, their self-esteem grows and they feel more able to discuss because they have something to offer.
Q: You said their self-esteem grows when you teach them these kids of concepts?
A: Yes. Because they can identify the things they can do...that they can learn how to do things. They can learn how to improve. For example, even though they don't have a good disposal...garbage disposal service because, for example, the trucks...the vehicle that local government uses to take the garbage away cannot go into the streets because the streets are too narrow and it is an excuse. I don't get your garbage away because my trucks cannot get in your streets. And something that you cannot help. But when you teach them how to deal with garbage and you can organize them and make this program, like a project and they communicate between them, they agree... Okay, we are going to put the garbage this day at this hour in this place where the truck can go and pick up the garbage.
A: And it works all the time that they stop claiming in front of the City Hall, you know we want this, we want this. They go with a proposal. We offer you that we can organize and we can do this if you give this to us and their relationship change because they have something to offer.
Q: And it sounds like you're saying that there are certain limitations or problems that arise, specifically in poor communities, mostly what I'm hearing you say is because they have a lack of information or knowledge about how to do things that other communities that have more money, that have more wealth have. Would you...? Is that right? Am I getting what you're saying right, that the poor communities mostly are lacking information that other people have?
A: It's not just about information.
Q: What else is it about, do you think?
A: I think... Okay, it's about information, but it's not just because they don't get information, it's because the rules are not (side A ends here)
A: the law is not clear and anyone understands the law the way they prefer...the way they read. You know? For example, it's the national government who is supposed to offer the water connection, for example. But when you read the law that says what local government has to do , it talks about water supplies. So it's not clear because what I told you because of the centralization of local government ...it's not clear what are the responsibilities of each institution. And that's what confuses people. Because people doesn't know where to go, you know.
Q: I'm also interested to hear...how does your background in architecture influence or inform the work that you do or the way that you think about things in conflict? So I can imagine somebody like you who's trained in how to build structures... Can you think about how in the world of architecture...how do you think about conflict there?
A: Let me see if I understood. You're asking me how my knowledge in architecture influence what I'm doing...the way I'm understanding what I'm doing now?
Q: Well, actually, thank you for clarifying because I think I asked you two different questions. So let me ask you just one question.
Q: How does your work in architecture influence the way you think about conflict...intractable conflict or any kind of conflict?
A: Wow! I'm not sure. When I was studying architecture, I told you this first...in the beginning, in our country, architecture is just related with building...with construction. So I almost never worked in building even though my husband has a company that builds. He's an architect, too. But I never worked in an architectural...I think it helped me understand things about ...about housing...about how people live and which are the needs of...the needs that people is trying to fulfill when they need...they ask you to design a space...a house, you know... I think that what we build, as an architect is almost the same than a community. We are looking for protection; we are looking for comfort ability; we are looking for our space. So the community is the big house. So the interest of people who came to me in order to....because they want me to design a house...I could learn what was people looking for that fits more than a beautiful place; it's related with a very inside desire...very inside interest...told you...protection, of good life. So that's what people is looking for in a community, too. I am looking for protection of the group...between the group of people I'm living in. And I am looking for comfortably because I need a minimum of services, and I don't know. I think could be that idea.
Q: Okay. In an idea world, what do you believe needs to happen to deal with these kinds of conflict situations?
A: In an ideal world, what I think needs to happen?
Q: Yes, ideally.
A: Ideally. I have a very personal idea of conflict in general. I think, kind of ?__________?...I'm not sure it will help you. But I think that we have conflict inside of us first. When we live in a community, we are trying to understand each other. When we get married, we try to understand with our couple. But the truth is, we don't understand ourselves. Sounds very profound, but I think the idea is that sometimes...Even you don't know what are you looking for, what do you need because we don't know ourselves. And I can see in the case of a conflict between a couple it's... Every time that I'm trying to fulfill something that I need inside of me, but I am waiting for to fulfill it, you know. I'm trying to get it...what I need in my inside, I'm trying to get it from you. So every, every, every time is about my feelings, it's about what I need because I think it's not... it's something of the human nature is something that I...it sounds selfish. But I think our nature is selfish, all the time. We are... It's very profound. We need something so we are trying to get them. And when I speak with the community and I listen to what they are talking about what they need, they are talking about what they need, I can imagine in their inside what they are trying to get. It's not about the house. This problem is related more with the identity than with resources. But they are related because what I'm trying to get is a ?__________?...is what I think I deserve from my work as a human being...it's something of identity. I want to be a better person. I want to be in a better situation. I wan to have a place in social relationships...all the time I think it's related with our needs inside. So in this ideal situation, I think the work has to be done through the inside of a person...learning how...learning with people how to understand each other. How do they have to observe, to watch how are they acting. Because sometimes we do things and we think that "It wasn't me. It was so terrible what I said that it was kind of another person". But the truth is it's really me, but it's a part of me that I am denying because I don't know myself. When you can get inside and be more profound in your...in the knowledge of yourself, you can have more comprehension of what is happening outside of you because it's the same. Everybody is trying to get the same. Oh my God, you got the idea?
Q: I got that. I think that... I appreciate that what you said makes a lot of sense. And if we could only have a bunch of people walking around who really know themselves, we'd probably all be a lot better off. I think you're right.
A: And again, it sounds terrible in English.
Q: Well, I don't think so. I want to ask you one last question and then we'll close out with a couple of logistical details. If you could use a metaphor or an image to describe the kinds of situations that we're talking about, what metaphors or mages would you use and why would you use them?
A: I understand the word image, but I can't understand the first word.
Q: Metaphor is like an analogy or something that...it's like an image...and image of these kinds of situations.
A: An image. An image. Of the kind of conflict we are talking?
Q: Yeah, and so I...if it would help to give you an example, I can do that.
A: Yes, please.
Q: Okay. So some people might say conflict is like a swamp, it's very easy to get stuck and it's very hard to get out of it. That's one example.
A: I think I need to think about.
Q: Do you wanna think...? Are you thinking right now or do you wanna tell me...
A: I will try to think right now.
A: I'm not sure if I'm gonna get something, but I'll...?__________?...in my images...imagination, so I think I can get it...maybe not now. Maybe we can continue speaking and I can...
Q: Okay. Or you can send it to me by e-mail as well, if you like.
A: That's much better.
Q: Is there anything else you want me to know, or you think I should know before we close.
A: I made some notes and I'm checking them.
A: If you want, I can try to write something about what I told you?
Q: That would be wonderful.
A: Yes, because maybe if I try to figure it out in English...slowly....?__________?...
A: And I can send you the idea of the three parts of environmental concept?
Q: Yes. Yes. I wrote that down and if there's any other references like books or articles or your teaching materials that you'd like to share, or audio or video tapes, anything that you think would be helpful...
A: I think it's interesting that the group that was ?__________?...partners, the whole groups works directly trying to solve situations to make training, to help people, but the only in the group who knows a little bit about conflict management is ?__________?... Conflict management is not part of the methodology you are using, you know. But they are dealing with conflict, and I pay attention of this situation, and sometimes I try to use some of the tools I learn but what I want to say is they don't have such techniques to deal with conflict because they consider it part of the job. But, in the meantime, I am learning too much all the time about conflict because I think it is the main idea of the situation...in the situation.
Q: Anything that you would like to send me that you write or previous written materials that you have, would be great. So I will send you an e-mail to remind you of the one thing that you told about the paper...the three elements of nature and social relationships and building.
A: Okay. I'm not sure I can send it to you this week.
A: Because I'm out of the office.
Q: Okay. That's no problem.
A: I'm leaving the city...on vacation. Remember?
Q: Yes. That's great!
A: But maybe by Monday or Tuesday I can send it to you.
Q: Very good.
A: Is that appropriate?
Q: Yes, that's fine Would you be sending it by e-mail or by regular mail?
A: By e-mail.
A: Our regular mail is horrible.
Q: Okay. Well, e-mail is so great for everybody, all around. Okay. So before we finish up I want to loop back to the confidentiality question and... You had said it was okay for us to report your name in reference to this conversation, is that still okay with you?
A: Yeah, it's okay.
Q: (honorarium info) Okay. And I think that's it.
A: I hope it could it be useful for you.
Q: I think it will be, very much. It's been really...a pleasure to talk with you.
A: Ah, it was a pleasure for me, too.
Q: Thank you.
A: It was a very interesting...curious...I have never done something like this.
Q: Well, I'm very appreciative of your time, especially on vacation. So I hope you get to enjoy the rest of the day and the rest of your week off.
Q: ...and we'll definitely be in touch now by e-mail.
A: Okay. It was very nice to ?__________?...
Q: You, too. Okay, be well.
A: Bye, bye.