Summary of the Situation Occurring In Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas After The Historic Rains of Early April 2010

The Tragedy:

  • Torrential rainstorms hit Rio de Janeiro beginning April 5th 2010, lasting through April 8th, triggering landslides that devastated many areas of the city.
  • The landslides left hundreds dead/disappeared and roughly 12,000 thousands more homeless.
  • In Rocinha 3 people died as a result of the rains/landslides, 2 of them in Laboriaux.
  • Several houses were damaged/destroyed in Laboriaux; dozens have been left homeless as a result.
  • In Morro das Prazeres, 30 people died from sliding land, more than anywhere else in Rio.

Community Facts:

  • Laboriaux was established by in 1982 when the government relocated people there from another area of Rocinha, known as Valão, which at the time they also deemed an ‘extreme risk’ because of flooding.
  • According to a recent census, from July of 2009 Laboriaux has over 823 households, however, the Civil Defense which traversed the entire community, found there to be approximately 750 houses, all of which were marked for removal.
  • Laboriaux is a close-knit community of roughly 3000-4000 residents, mostly migrant workers from Brazil’s impoverished northeast and/or their decedents.

The Municipal and State Government’s Reaction:

  • Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, signed a decree on Thursday April 8th permitting the forced removal of residents in eight “extreme-risk” areas for future landslides/floods, stating that the city would immediately remove several thousand families from these areas.
  • The eight areas were identified in a scientific report conducted by Geo-Rio (The government’s Geotechnical Institute in Rio) recommending the immediate and complete removal of the following communities: Urubu (Pilares), Prazeres (Rio Comprido), Fogueteiro (Centro), São João Batista (Botafogo), Cantinho do Céu e Pantanal (an area of the Turano community, in Tijuca), Laboriaux (Rocinha) e Parque Columbia (in Acari).
  • The relocations in certain communities began immediately after the rains stopped, around the 8th and 9th of April.
  • On April 13th Eduardo Paes delivered Geo-Rio’s technical report to Rio de Janeiro’s Attorney General and promised to sign a Terms of Adjustment of Conduct Contract, which so far he has avoided doing.

The Media:

  • The Brazilian media is strongly supportive of the plans to remove many of the city’s slums.
  • Resistance to the “complete removal” is widespread in the communities being effected, but is scarcely covered by the media. Rather, the issue is portrayed as though favela residents are happy to leave the slums and go live in safe areas.
  • The government has been carrying out this eviction process quickly and quietly (so far, outside of Brazil, only London’s The Guardian has reported on the forced evictions and local resident’s suspicions). Local residents and certain human rights groups believe that the process is occurring rapidly in order to avoid questioning and mobilization.
    Treatment of residents by the Government:
  • Residents of Laboriaux, and other communities facing removal, have widely complained of the arrogant and offensive manner in which the authorities (particularly the Civil Defense) is managing this forced removal, calling their actions “psychological terror.”
  • The families who have lost their homes and who have no other place to stay have been relocated to makeshift shelters. The homeless, there are approximately 150 in Rocinha, are complaining that the shelters are poorly organized, dirty and increasingly dangerous.
  • The government officials have already made their way through Laboriaux spray-painting the walls and doors of houses in very large letters/numbers making it clear for all to see that no house will be spared demolition.
  • This rapid eviction process, based on supposed scientific proof from the Geo-Rio, began before any scientific evidence was presented to the communities. After complaining of the lack of clarity/transparency a representative of Geo-Rio came to Laboriaux and presented a report that is based entirely on satellite imagery to community leaders, indicating that the entire area is in ‘extreme-risk’ of future landslides. When asked is any real field work was carried out, such as collecting data and analyzing topographic factors, such as soil, forest, land use, slope etc, the answer was no.

Government Promises:

  • As of week of April 19th, the government has promised all of Rio’s residents living in makeshift shelters will be transferred to better equipped locations.
  • The government authorities are promising various forms of social assistance to the homeless and evicted. Residents are complaining, however, that this process is confusing and few seem to know exactly what is being offered, when it will be delivered and for how long.
  • The homes that have been marked for removal are being promised a monthly stipend from the government called “social rent”, which a few residents have already received. This stipend consists of 400 reais (1200 reais, or 3 months’ rent provided up front) to cover monthly rent while the authorities try to figure out where to relocate the displaced residents of Laboriaux.
  • Community leaders are advising residents not to accept the ‘social rent’ unless they have no other choice, because many view it as a kind of ‘bait’ to attract poor people, so that they will leave their homes quickly and quietly. Once the ‘social rent’ is accepted residents have legally turned over their homes to the government of demolition.
  • Currently the government has presented only two possible housing solutions for Laboriaux’s families – either they will be relocated to Frei Caneca (an old prison complex turned into a housing project) in an rundown area close to the center of the city, or to apartments in Jacarepagua, located about an hour away from Rocinha, in Rio’s Westside.
  • The government promises new houses will eventually be provided to all the displaced, mainly through partnerships with the Federal Government’s My House, My Life Program. When, where and how have not been explained.

Suspicions:

  • Although many areas of the city, rich and poor, experienced flooding, landslides and destroyed houses, all eight areas marked for immediate complete removal are favelas (urban slums).
  • This issue is of great importance in a city like Rio (soon to host the World Cup and Olympics) where there is a long history of forced slum removal and where property values are among the highest in the world.
  • In the past authorities have used ‘supposed scientific data’ to force favela residents to leave ‘areas of extreme-risk,’ but many of these same areas, only a few years later are dotted with mansions and luxury high-rises.
  • One interesting case that exemplifies the suspicion of real-estate speculation is in Botafogo, a very traditional neighborhood in Rio’s Southside. There an entire community, a small favela called São João Batista, is being evicted even though not one person died and not one house was destroyed, yet the entire community, located in a very expensive area of the city is facing rapid removal.
  • It is no secret that the people from more advantaged social classes, who live in close proximity to these communities, have long dreamed of their removal. It seems that powerful interests groups are taking advantage of the recent tragedy, strategically playing on people’s fears and emotions and using ‘supposed science evidence,’ to achieve their goal. Many of the people being evicted believe that this is the driving force behind the rapid and complete evacuation.
    What is being advocated by those suspicious of this eviction process is straightforward:
  • That the removal process be slowed down from its current fast-pace and be conducted much more responsibly and compassionately. Everything needs to be done appropriately without causing hysteria within these communities by forcing their removal so quickly.
  • Priority should be on addressing the thousands of Rio de Janeiro residents who have been left homeless or injured. The homeless need safe, clean and appropriate (close to where they work/study) places to stay while as they restart their lives.
  • Homes that have been damaged/destroyed, or which are located in areas of obvious/visible risk of future disaster/loss of life, should be removed with the accompaniment of local leaders and that the effected families receive prompt and proper assistance.
  • That priority also be given to the over 300 children who study in the public school located in Laboriaux. These children have been without class for almost 2 weeks. Most of their parents work fulltime and many of the children are literally roaming around Laboriaux with nothing to do until their parents come home. Also there is a risk of undernourishment as the free meals these children received at school are suspended.
  • That local residents are involved in the entire process and that additional scientists/experts analyze any evaluations from the government.
  • That no one accept any offers from the government unless they also receive the keys to their new house. There is a long history in Brazil of authorities not following through on their promises.
  • That alternatives to complete removal be serious considered and discussed, such as reinforcing the slopes and improving the foundations of houses, providing the area with proper sewage and water services, and other general improvements to the area to make it safer for everyone. This would also be less expensive than removing, demolishing and relocating thousands of people to newly built houses elsewhere.

Mobilization

  • In Laboriaux residents are mobilizing, and a committee representing the community in front of the government was form on Tuesday April 13th.
  • In Morro das Prazeres, a community of roughly 12,000, resistance to ‘complete removal’ has been mounting. Residents are demanding that the city treat them with more dignity throughout this difficult process and provide them with proof that the entire community is indeed an area of ‘extreme-risk.
  • On Tuesday April 20th committees from all areas marked for removal will meet together for the first time.
  • On Wednesday April 21st there will be a very important meeting open to the general public in Morro dos Prazeres in which all news/updates and decisions will be presented and discussed. (Time and Location will be posted on Mundo Real’s website, www.1mundoreal.org by Tuesday evening).

Please see this link, from IBASE, Human Rights Organization located in Rio de Janeiro.

http://www.ibase.br/modules.php?name=Conteudo&file=index&pa=showpage&pid=2855

If you can help in any way please call or contact:

mundoreal@1mundoreal.org