On Wednesday, December 14, Judge Francisco de Assis Pessanha Filho, 14th Civil Chamber of the Rio de Janeiro Court of Appeals (TJ-RJ), ordered 70 families occupying the building at Rua Alcântara Machado 24, in Centro, downtown Rio, to vacate the property within 24 hours. The countdown upon notification.
The Luiz Gama Occupation began on November 16 and was organized by the Movement for the Fight for Neighborhoods, Villages, and Favelas (MLB). Among the 70 families who occupied the property were ten children and 15 elderly. Since the start of the occupation, the Military Police acted with force, trying to break down doors, terrorizing residents, and maintaining a siege across from the occupation 24 hours a day, preventing people from circulating freely.
“It is extremely cowardly and inhumane. We are fighting for housing and we have occupied [the building] as resistance. The social function [of land] is in the [Brazilian] constitution and what is criminal is a property left unused for 20 years. It’s only workers who are here [at the Luiz Gama Occupation]. There’s an old lady who pushes a cart around, rain or shine.” — Ryan Augusto Pestana Rocha, 28
The occupation, which is named after one of most important figures in the fight for the abolition of slavery and anti-racism in Brazil, brought hope to dozens whose right to housing is disregarded, including Alexandra Melo da Silva. On November 20—Black Awareness Day in Brazil—the mother of a baby and an eight-year-old waited outside the Luiz Gama Occupation for a chance to have a roof over her family’s head.
“I’m here in this war fighting with my son so that we can at least have shelter. What stops me going inside [the Luiz Gama Occupation] are the police officers at the door.” — Alexandra Melo da Silva, 37
“It’s wonderful here [in the Luiz Gama Occupation]. We have lunch, dinner, snacks; we have four meals a day. We can’t afford to pay rent. We want our own home… [If the eviction happens] we’ll have to go on the streets because we don’t have anywhere to live.” — Dinar Verdadeiro de Souza, 46
Brazilian Bar Association and the Federal Prosecutors’ Office Criticize the Judge’s Ruling
The Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Bar Association, Rio de Janeiro Chapter (OAB-RJ) has sent a letter requesting the judge reconsider the ruling. The Federal Prosecutors’ Office (MPF)—which took part in the negotiations involving representatives of the families living in the Luiz Gama Occupation—also criticized the ruling.
“The ruling by the Court of Appeals doesn’t consider the importance of the period of 20 working days stipulated by the Court of First Instance. This period has been extremely important for establishing a peaceful agreement that avoids the use of police force and guarantees solutions for people in need of housing, that doesn’t stop people from being evicted but ensures a solution for the parties involved. This is what the MPF is doing: a round of negotiations with all the agencies [involved],” said Júlio José Araújo Júnior, Regional Prosecutor for Citizen Rights.
In addition to residents of the Luiz Gama Occupation and the MPF, the negotiations also included: the State Infrastructure Secretariat (SEINFRA-RJ) by way of the Rio de Janeiro State Housing Company (CEHAB); the Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH); the State Social Development and Human Rights Secretariat (SEDSDH); the Municipal Social Welfare Secretariat (SMAS); the Land and Cartography Institute of the State of Rio de Janeiro (ITERJ); the Federal Property Secretariat (SPU); and lawyers from the MLB.
Christmas Without Evictions and the Fight for Housing
In early December, the MLB launched the Christmas Without Evictions campaign based on the ongoing discussions of the Federal Supreme Court’s (STF) Claim of Non-Compliance with a Fundamental Precept (ADPF 828) which determines a series of requirements for courts to carry out ownership repossession orders. This includes, for example, land conflict commissions—a requirement that, according to the MLB and the occupation’s legal representative, Júlia Franzoni, was not met by the TJ-RJ.
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THE LUIZ GAMA OCCUPATION NEEDS YOUR HELP
The occupation is partnering with several allies in the fight against evictions. We have joined forces with @campanhadespejozero, @movimentoolga and @casaalmerindagama. We need your support in this act to chart an alternative route to the eviction of 70 families!
The Zero Evictions Campaign carries our Acts for a Christmas Without Evictions in several cities!
According to a survey by the Zero Evictions Campaign, today in Brazil over 140,000 families are threatened with evictions—almost 1 million people.
The Mobilization for a Christmas Without Evictions takes place at a time when the Supreme Court, through ADPF 828, stopped extending the suspension of evictions in Brazil in this pandemic period, establishing a series of conditions with transitional rules, determining that the courts create Conflict Mediation Commissions so that administrative evictions cannot result in people without shelter, besides having the obligation to include families affected by evictions into housing programs or land regularization, in the countryside or in cities.
On 12/07 the Rally for a Christmas Without Evictions will be held in the City of Rio de Janeiro at the Court of Appeals, at Av. Antonio Carlos, Centro, starting at 11am.
In June 2021, the MLB and the same families from the Luiz Gama Occupation occupied a vacant property on Rua da Alfândega, also in downtown Rio, to create the Almirante João Candido Occupation. This occupation was dismantled with the promise of affordable housing downtown for the families by the State Government under Governor Claúdio Castro’s administration.
Over a year went by, the negotiations for access to housing did not move forward and the right to housing is far from being realized. This is why the Luiz Gama Occupation came about: to ensure shelter for 70 families just before Christmas.
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ONE MONTH OF THE LUIZ GAMA OCCUPATION!
Today marks one month that 70 homeless families occupied a property that has been abandoned for decades at Rua Alcântara Machado, 24.
This month, the families organized themselves so that the occupation would become a territory free from hunger, extreme poverty, violence and humiliation. We have organized kitchen, infrastructure, cleaning, health and daycare committees. For 30 days the children were cared for and covered in the affection they deserve.
Luiz Gama, as well as all urban occupations, showed that the people united are able to solve their own problems and find a way out of issues that the government has not been able to solve for decades.
Unfortunately, the day that marks this first month cannot be a day of celebration, with the families and supporters who were so fundamental in this struggle coming together.
This is because the court granted the owner a repossession order that interprets that the right to property, the right to keep a property that has been empty for decades for real estate speculation, is greater than the right to housing of dozens of vulnerable families.
This becomes even more serious given the fact that in this month, the State and the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro were unable to organize an emergency alternative for these families or comply with the agreements established more than a year ago.
But once again the families organized in the Movement for the Fight for Neighborhoods, Villages, and Favelas show their strength and set out to continue mobilized in defense of a definitive solution to their homes and defend:
LIVING WITH DIGNITY IS A HUMAN RIGHT!
IF LIVING IS A PRIVILEGE, OCCUPYING IS A DUTY!
ONLY THE PEOPLE SAVE THE PEOPLE!
The Luiz Gama Occupation called on supporters to take part in a vigil in front of the occupation following the ownership repossession ruling. A group of people much greater than the Military Police present went to the occupation and blocked the building entrance. Police officers then stopped people walking down Rua Alcântara Machado, especially the part in front of the occupation.
“We came here [to the Luiz Gama Occupation] for housing and we don’t have housing because we’re being expelled with pressure and force.”— Kátia Dami Santana, 24
Evicted in the Rain
On Friday, December 16, the judge’s ruling put children and the elderly on the streets. Residents of the Luiz Gama Occupation vacated the building on Rua Alcântara on a rainy night and joined with supporters and other MLB activists on a protest march to Buraco do Lume.
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70 FAMILIES ARE EVICTED
According to information from MLB representatives, some of the families were temporarily sheltered by the Vito Gianotti Occupation, on Rua Sara in Gamboa, in Central Rio. The solidarity of the movement for access to housing means that, at least temporarily, the families have a roof over their heads, while the State would put them on the streets, on a rainy night, just before Christmas.
On Monday, December 19, at 2pm, the MLB held a demonstration in front of the MPF building on Rua Nilo Peçanha in downtown Rio to call for a solution that ensures the right to housing for everyone who was living at the Luiz Gama Occupation.
“[The removal of the families] is a sad moment. We have to leave without any alternative, but the families will keep fighting, the fighting spirit hasn’t changed and the families will remain organized to fight for their housing and find a temporary solution for them as to the fulfilment of what was agreed both at the João Candido and now the Luiz Gama occupation.”— Paula Guedes, MLB coordinator
About the author: Vinícius Ribeiro was born and raised in the West Zone of Rio, and currently lives in the favela of Ladeira dos Tabajaras, in the South Zone. Journalist, cinematographer and photographer, he is a member of the Fotoguerrilha Collective. He is director and screenwriter of short films Sobreviver, Dame Candole, Sob o Mesmo Teto and Entregadores, and is currently involved with a project about the Uberization and precarization of labor.