United Evictions Protest Finally Yields Meeting with Housing Secretary

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On Friday, March 2, approximately 35 favela community residents and allies came together to protest outside Rio de Janeiro’s mayor’s office in Botafogo. The demonstration was the latest installation in an ongoing series of actions by residents aimed at calling attention to the numerous neighborhoods under threat of eviction under Mayor Crivella‘s administration. Residents from locations currently facing eviction—including Horto, Barrinha, Rio das Pedras, Araçatiba, Maracajás, and Rádio Sonda—were present along with supporters from other favelas such as Vila Autódromo, Rocinha, and Vidigal.

The protest began in Praça Corumba, in the shadows of the Santa Marta favela, and marched the brief distance up Rua São Clemente to the gates of the Palácio da Cidade (City Palace). There, a commission of eight representing the neighborhoods facing eviction entered the palace to meet with the new Secretary of Urbanism, Infrastructure and Housing, Verena Andreatta. The meeting with the Secretary was arranged at the last minute: Rocinha community organizer Antonio Xaolin explained to the gathered demonstrators and media that Secretary Andreatta had gotten in touch with the organizers the day prior to offer to meet with them in exchange for the protesters not blocking the busy street outside the palace.

As a result, the protest did not block traffic, but occupied the sidewalk and City Palace gates instead, with residents spreading their message that they want their housing rights guaranteed and the law upheld. Jaqueline Andrade Costa, a Barrinha resident, declared via the megaphone: “The mayor, the governor, nobody is going to take our homes away from us, we will resist until the very last day. We have rights, we have the right to a dignified life. They want to take our land away to build luxury housing.”

A number of protesters including Janine de Costa, another resident of Barrinha, emphasized this was a peaceful protest, as were all their protests. In comparison to other recent demonstrations, the police presence was understated, with approximately 10 police officers present and dialogue taking place between the police and protesters about where the protest would take place.

In 2017 the City broke several promises to favela residents seeking answers about evictions, including promises by the previous Secretary of Urbanism, Índio da Costa, to meet with community representatives. The actions of the new Secretary Verena Andreatta opening a dialogue with protesters was met with tempered optimism, as little is yet known about Andreatta and there is now deep mistrust towards Mayor Crivella’s administration. One positive outcome of the day’s protest, as emphasized by a number of speakers, was the reinforcement of unity among residents from different favelas. Activist Beto Vidigal stated: “We are poor, we are humble people, we are people who don’t always know our rights, which is why we need to stick together and be united.”

When the meeting with the Secretary was over, the protesters gathered to hear how it had gone. Eliane Sousa de Oliveira, a member of the Popular Council and the Catholic Church’s Pastoral de Favelas, remarked that the meeting was a step in the right direction, with the Secretary promising to uphold last year’s promise that there would be no more removals: “Each community was able to talk about their demands, they were noted… I think it was very good, very positive, we are going to see what happens.” As the Popular Council shared on Facebook after the protest, Secretary Andreatta also promised to create a team to meet with the communities and listen to their demands. However, as Costa noted after the meeting, the Secretary did not give a specific timeline for actions or solutions, and Costa, along with other residents, is hoping that it will not be a case of more empty promises from the municipality. The Popular Council’s Facebook page also lists some of the residents’ ongoing demands: “We want to know what the social housing budget will be in 2018. We also demand that the City open a channel of dialogue with the federal government, in order to guarantee the permanence of threatened families on federal land.”

As such, regardless of what promises are made, in Antonio Xiolan’s words, “the fight continues.” This Friday March 9 at 9:30am, Horto residents will be continuing that fight, holding a protest at the Botanical Gardens to draw attention to their community’s ongoing plight.