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Groups work to avoid Puerto Rico land grab

Three PC(USA) ministries will travel to San Juan in December

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A community reunion in Las Monjas, Puerto Rico. Presbyterian Mission Agency personnel are speaking to residents concerned that gentrification could cost them their homes. (Photo Courtesy of Fideicomiso)

LOUISVILLE — Continued hurricane recovery as well as the protection of land rights are key reasons that Presbyterian Mission Agency staff will travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico next month.

Three One Great Hour of Sharing ministries — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People — have been working together for months on the Fideicomiso project. They’ll pay a visit in mid-December that will also include a day touring a Presbyterian camp that’s been recently renovated as well as a farm. They’re also set to meet with PC(USA) presbytery and synod partners.

Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña is a land trust established in part to prevent the gentrification that could follow ecological improvements to the Martín Peña channel, which flows through the heart of San Juan. If gentrification occurs, the fear is that thousands of low-income residents living on about 200 acres will be forced out of their homes.

For decades, families built their homes informally on land that previously belonged to the government of Puerto Rico. Thanks to a change in the law, that land is now the property of the community through the land trust. The land trust has identified a need to hire specialized workers to assist in the complex task of handling and submitting the documents necessary to process and maintain title to residents’ property. The three ministries have approved a $15,000 grant for the land trust’s use.

“The collective land trust really looks out for the people, helping to slow down or prevent gentrification, and helps with relocation,” said Margaret Mwale, SDOP’s associate for community development and constituent relations. “We hope we can be of assistance as they get back on their feet and continue on with their lives.”

The cash grant, said Lyvia Rodriquez, executive director of the land trust, will “ensure that a new generation of residents have the opportunity to live along a restored Martín Peña Channel.”

Learn more about the land trust’s work here.

The group will also visit El Guacio, one of the few religious conference centers on the island. El Guacio wants to re-establish cultivating bamboo and producing bamboo products, a process severely limited by Hurricane Maria.

It’s also working to host volunteer crews from abroad who are interested in helping with recovery efforts.

“They have ambitious designs,” said Beth Snyder, associate domestic program administrator for PDA.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People assists the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to carry out its global commitment to work toward the self-development of economically poor, oppressed or disadvantaged people who own, control and benefit directly from projects that promote long-term change in their lives and communities.

Presbyterian Hunger Program’s mission is to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance enables congregations and mission partners of the PC(USA) to witness the healing love of Christ through caring for communities adversely affected by crisis and catastrophic events. It’s the emergency and refugee arm of the Church.

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