Note from BW of Brazil: The ruthless brutality of Brazil’s Military Police has been a regular feature on this blog. Whether invading and indiscriminately firing bullets into poor neighborhoods, participating in death squads or constantly harassing people who happen to be black and poor, the regularity of their repression simply cannot be denied. In the middle of this week, they provided yet another incident that proved the validity of this reputation. Whether this aggressive eviction was a case of gentrification because of the coming multi-billlion dollar World Cup or it is some other business venture, the result, as it happens in other countries, is the same: powerful interest want a piece of land, the poor have to go! Below are the story, the shocking photos and videos.
Rio’s brutal Military Police invade slum and evict residents; mayor breaks promise, removes people who have nowhere to go!
by Isabela Vieira, Francisco Chaves, Mídia Informal, Paula Kossatz and Felicity Clarke. Photos: Francisco Chaves
On the morning of Tuesday, January 8, city officials arrived unannounced at the Favela do Metrô – Mangueira slum to demolish houses, causing panic and despair among hundreds of people who currently live on site. About a dozen homes were demolished, some still with the belongings of the residents inside.
Outraged, local residents held a demonstration during the afternoon and evening, for several hours blocking Rua Radial Oeste street, the main street that passes through Metrô-Mangueira and Maracanã stadium. Violence erupted between police and protesters with police firing rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash bombs, while some demonstrators threw rocks and bottles. Amid the mayhem, a police officer drew a gun on a guy.
“It was a war scene,” said Marilene, a young mother who has lived in an abandoned house in the slum for a year and a half.” The police fired tear gas everywhere. Children got sick. It was terrible.” Like most who live in the slums of Metrô, Marilene occupies a house that was unoccupied for a long time with the removal process that began in November 2010 having been delayed.
Paula Kossatz, 38, who defines herself as a photographer, activist and humanist, was at the Metrô-Mangueira protest against the expulsion. She was shooting photos on her own: “I was there to prevent atrocities from being committed…when you have the press, PMs hold back a little more…they get intimidated,” she says. That experience made Paula write in her Facebook profile the report below:
“Today I saw hundreds of people living in absolute poverty with an unbearable smell of garbage, with children cutting their feet at the side of giant rats, with 8-year boys addicted to crack, with mothers caring for their one month old children that passed unnoticed, or not, in the arms of dozens of comrades, with drunken men with no more love for life, with young people carrying tires to make barricades with girls who are mothers after their first period, with workers who sold pies to sustain a bunch of kids, with people who strive to be, just to be…And this is a small portrait of Brazil, which is crazy. Any existing drug on earth would not bring me so many surreal experiences as the Brazilian reality.
“Yes, my day was surreal. I had to try to understand all those worlds, those realities lost because of a word that escapes us daily: such a word is RACISM.
“Those lives don’t matter, do they? Even though they have two arms, two legs, a brain and a heart…But the sad fact of having a darker skin, black, they are excluded, placed on the margins. They simply do not exist in the conservative and colonialist imagination of every Brazilian who still sleeps in the cradle of splendor. Wake up, Brazil.”
In another scene described by anther witness, an armed policeman yelled in a loud voice:
“Arrest that bitch, go there and fucking arrest her! Get the fuck out of here, I’ll shoot a rubber bullet at the children and throw gas and bombs at them, the fat one, hold him, bring the two to the wagon, bring the pregnant girl, she was the one who threw a rock at us.”
The social context of the location is the prototype of exclusion in Brazil: Black. Poor. Open sewage. Fountains with no water, houses with no lights, muddy ground. Low self-esteem. Unrest. Determination. Loneliness. Revolt.
A gentleman, partially hidden in the fury of that day, makes a point of saying:
“Because of this I vote null, we are uneducated, the government wants submission, but the morro (hill/slum) will come down from the morro, where the whites will go running to the morro, or they’ll die of fear.”
It’s in the middle of a lot of garbage, debris, open sewage, flies and mice that the residents of Metrô-Mangueira favela resisted. Located near the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, better known as Maracanã Stadium, which will stage the final of the World Cup, the community had the demolition of houses resumed January 7th by the city, and residents reacted to the possibility of losing their homes with protests in the morning and evening. Policing was reinforced the following day to prevent further demonstrations.
The homes of the favela (slum) have being disappropriated and destroyed since 2010, because in this location there is planning for the construction of Pólo Automotivo Mangueira (factory). However, during the process of removal of the residents, other new families moved to Metrô-Mangueira, occupying houses already marked for demolition.
The Metrô-Mangueira favela was founded 35 years ago by workers in northeastern Brazil who were employed in the construction of the Maracanã metrô (subway) station. In 2010, 700 families who built and developed the favela learned that the community was under threat of being removed. On November 4, 2010, a demolition team arrived on the site and 107 of the most vulnerable families were relocated to a condo of the Minha Casa Minha Vida program 70km (43 miles) away in Cosmos, in the West Zone. Families that stayed resisted, but after two years living among rubble and experiencing high levels of theft and unhealthy conditions, which were the results of first removals, they were reallocated to better quality apartments in Mangueira 1 and 2 complexes and next in Triagem. However, after all those families left early last year, the land and many of the structures were abandoned and the plans of the city for the region were still uncertain and were not disclosed. The result is that in recent years, hundreds of the poorest and most vulnerable families still occupied the dwellings that had been unoccupied.
The current situation is a direct result of the negligence and mismanagement of city hall. After removing longtime residents to units of affordable housing without any public consultation on the use of land, which is required by law, the city left the land and existing dwellings to be occupied by those who really were in desperate need of public housing. Public housing is, in theory, specifically targeted at the poor and needy and not the workers with established houses as was the case for the majority of former residents of Metrô-Mangueira. And now, the extremely vulnerable families currently living on the location appear to be destined to receive nothing.
On Tuesday, while houses of residents were demolished, all had been advised that they needed to leave their homes by Friday, but no solution or alternative accommodation was offered. However, all those who spoke Rio on Watch said Mayor Eduardo Paes personally promised that no one would be left homeless in a meeting held in the community church a few months ago.
But the confusion and despair continued on January 7th for residents who have little and no place to go. Valéria, a collector of recyclables and mother of eight children between 4 and 20 years of age, and has lived with her family in Metrô favela for almost three years, says: “To look for a place to live you have to have something, and what do I have? Nothing.” She continued: “Everyone needs to have their own corner. I do not know where I’m going if I leave here. If I had anywhere else to go, I would have left from here.”
Some residents report that social workers urged those who receive Bolsa Família assistance to go and register for an apartment of the Minha Casa Minha Vida program, but as locals then pointed out, such an application can take years to be processed.
Vera makes payments on a loan and supports her family with about R$500 (about US$212) per month. Her children between 6 and 12 years old, help how they can. One assists in the removal of copper wires for iron – that gets stuck in the slums, on Avenida Radial Oeste.
Also with her house being demolished, the domestic Tatiane Souza Gardêncio, collects assistance from the city to move and is requesting a new property. She has lived in the community for eight months with eight family members, including children and grandchildren, after leaving the favela in Campo Grande in the west zone of the city. “They [the city] say it’s an invasion. But would prefer to live on the streets with my children than in an invasion? No.” he said. “I came because it was empty. I picked up and moved in.”
According to an agent of the Pastoral de Favelas, Luís Severino da Silva, who has been monitoring the situation since 2011 when the community was notified to leave the site, the buildings standing were appropriate for families living in extreme vulnerability. “You have to sort this out and relocate these people urgently. Putting everyone on the street doesn’t solve (anything),” he said.
For Silva, the city failed to leave the premises of Metrô-Mangueira standing and now evicting the new residents. “These people don’t have homes, they never had (homes). No use dumping them, throwing them in the street. Shelters don’t work. The city has to accept them,” he stressed.
Located next to the Maracanã stadium, the future headquarters for the final of the World Cup, the original reason for the removal of Metrô-Mangueira was believed to be a parking lot for the tournament. Only in September of last year was there a confirmation by city decree that the land would be devoted to an automotive factory with 96 commercial units and a park with a bicycle path, a skateboard ramp, fitness for seniors, a children’s playground and 400 trees. The project will cost R$30.5 million (about US$12.93 million). Even so, there are rumors that it’s being used for a shopping center or other such facility, showing how municipal communications are problematic and unclear to the public.
But now, hundreds of vulnerable residents, many of whom came from the streets or shelters to occupy homes in Metrô-Mangueira, are potentially facing another episode of violence as brutal shock troops of the Military Police that are currently in place. A volunteer attorney with the Instituto de Defensores dos Direitos Humanos (Institute of Defenders of Human Rights) was present on Wednesday to register residents to prepare a collective security order to challenge the legality of the eviction. She explains: “Justice has to take cognizance of this act, because human lives are being put into play. There are children, elderly women, pregnant women who have no where to go…There were negotiations in which the mayor has pledged to provide assistance to these people and this agreement is not being honored. It is important not to leave these people aside without help.”
The Secretaria Municipal de Habitação (Secretary of Municipal Housing) said that about 630 families who originally lived in the community and who were resettled residents and that subsequently occupied the expropriated properties are enrolled in the Minha Casa Minha Vida program, awaiting the draw of a new home. The only alternative for them is waiting in city shelters.