Demonstrators protest threats of removals

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For the original article by Sheila Jacob in Portuguese published by Núcleo Piratininga de Comunicação click here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 — Around 200 people gathered in front of Rio’s city hall to express their opposition to the removal of 119 favelas, or squatter communities. The list of communities was released in an article from the newspaper O Globo early this year. After the announcement, community residents and leaders formed the Olympics Does Not Justify Removal Movement, to guarantee their right to housing and decent living conditions.

Vera Lúcia Araújo, a resident of Vila Autódromo (the first community slated for removal), was one of those present to show her indignation with the announcement. “I’ve lived in that area for over forty years. It was there that I slowly built my home, and all the income I’ve had was invested in it. I never imagined that a catastrophe of this sort could happen, of them wanting to send us away.”

Another demonstrator was Antonio Alonso, from Alto Camorim, one of the threatened communities. The justification in this case is environmental, since the community is outside the Pedra Branca State Park. According to him, there are condominiums with mansions near the community that will remain intact, showing the differences in attitudes according to social class. “These enormous houses would have to be forbidden for the same reason, but they are not under threat. Our community is very old, and everyone wants to stay.”

According to Altair Guimarães, president of the Vila Autódromo Residents’ Association (AMVA), the Olympics is simply a pretext to remove the community, which is located in Barra da Tijuca, a prime area in the West Zone of Rio, and the community has already been threatened on other occasions. “We know there is the issue of real estate speculation in that area, and that many consider our community to be visually polluting to the neighborhood. We are also human and we want decent living conditions, instead of having to leave.”

Maria de Lourdes, from the Struggle for Housing National Movement, summarized the main claims: “The residents present here do not want to discuss removal, but rather assert their right to stay. For the cases of risk, after the technical report has been presented to the residents, the community should be resettled in a nearby area, one of social coexistence for those families. All of this should be done in dialogue with everyone, of course.”

Mayor Eduardo Paes (PMDB/RJ) met with a commission of 16 community representatives on Wednesday, around 2:00 PM, including those from Vila Autódromo, Arroio Pavuna, Camorim, Canal do Anil, Taboinha de Vargem Grande, Horto, Pau da Fome, Pontal Recreio dos Bandeirantes, as well as Maria Lourdes, from the Struggle for Housing National Movement, and Rossino Diniz, President of the Federation of Rio Slum Residents’ Associations (FAFERJ).

After listening to the concerns of those present, a meeting was scheduled to deal with the particular situation of Vila Autódromo, since the reason for resettling the families is the hosting of the Olympics in 2016. The Media Center and the Olympic Training Center are planned to be built in that area. The residents, however, do not want to leave their homes, which they have been stating since November of last year in assemblies held in the community. The meeting to handle this specific case will be on March 3, at 8:00 AM, at the City Hall, as confirmed by the Mayor and by the President of the AMVA, Altair Guimarães.

Early in the year, a group of Vila Autódromo residents, accompanied by the Public Defender’s Office, had already requested that their homes be allowed to stay in a meeting with the Secretary of Housing for the city, Jorge Bittar (PT/RJ). “We already have our title deeds. What we want is to remain where we are, even with the Olympics there. It would be much better for city management to urbanize our community and let us stay there, offering us good living conditions,” said Guimarães.

Regarding the other communities, the Mayor guaranteed that no measures will be taken without discussion and prior agreement with the residents. The meeting representatives demanded land title regulation, in addition to improvements. Paes said that included in his plans for the city is an urbanization project for 500 squatter communities in Rio, which he has called the “Accelerated Urbanization Program”. For this purpose, an investment of around R$5 billion is necessary. Support from the Federal Government and other investment funds still needs to be obtained.