The April rains caused over 250 deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro, with about 65 occurring in the city of Rio. In Laboriaux (the area of Rocinha where Mundo Real has been active for years) two residents died when a large tree gave way and crushed their house. In the wake of the deaths and homelessness caused by the rains and landslides, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, announced sweeping plans to remake the city, including the highly controversial return of policies permitting the eviction of poor communities. Laboriaux was one of the first communities to be selected for “immediate and complete eviction.”
The residents of Laboriaux, mainly poor migrant workers and their families, united in the face of incredible opposition and fought the forced eviction and demolition of their community. They are doing so in opposition to the second largest municipal government in Brazil and the billionaire corporate interests that pressure it. Threats, intimidation and smear campaigns have been launched against residents and their supporters. They have not given up and what was intended to be an “immediate forced removal” has yet to occur on a significant scale. This is not to say that all is well in Laboriaux. The community has not received an official response concerning its future in months.
Many speculate that this is because the City is strategically weighing their options, meticulously trying to calculate risks before making a next move. Residents here won’t give up an inch of slack until the Laboriaux is ‘officially un-condemned’, the elementary school where 307 students once studied is reopened and until the City and State begin investing here. Laboriaux, regardless of the April rains, has long needed and pleaded for adequate water and waste infrastructure, better roads and lighting, as well as retaining walls and concrete slope reinforcement projects in the few locations where there really does exist a possibility of future landslides. In these areas where there is considerable risk of future tragedy then we defend the policy of re-housing families to safer areas in the vicinity, preferably in the same community.
Since April there have been many ups and downs. Currently Laboriaux’s fate remains up in the air. Laboriaux’s residents are time after time ignored by the City, which provides no official information to residents and local leaders. The last official update they gave us came months ago and specified that Laboriaux is scheduled for complete eviction. Since then we have only received unconfirmed reports and gossip. On occasion Rio’s hard working Public Defenders are able to wrestle a response from the City, which they then forward to us. On November 11th they informed us that the Ministry of Cities, an agency of Brazil’s Federal Government, sent an official communiqué to them, at their Nucleus for Land and Housing, concerning Laboriaux. The document states that all work on securing land and property titles/deeds for residents of Laboriaux, which was initiated by the Bento Rubião Foundation in 2006, should be continued. This strongly implies that the Federal Government does not believe that entire community should be evicted but rather that process should continue in order to advance the housing rights of Laboriaux’s residents. The official memo also mentions that any circumstances involving the ‘re-housing’ of residents must be conducted case by case, and never applied to an entire community. When residents do truly need to be removed because of risk of natural disaster, then they must be resettled to locations as close as possible to where they lived before in accordance to the Organic Law of Rio de Janeiro, or Municipal Law 429. This is encouraging news from the Federal Government and we hope it will influence the City and State to abandon their plans of evicting all of Laboriaux’s residents to far off locations. Instead they should begin the critical infrastructure projects the community desperately needs and assist more vulnerable areas like Macega. To find out more about Macega [ click here ].
This state of limbo, uncertain of what the future holds and with reliable information virtually impossible to get from the City, causes residents to live in a constant state of insecurity, unable to make important decisions in regards to their life plans/dreams. In some communities facing eviction, such as Favela do Metrô, Comunidade da Restinga, Vila Harmonía, Vila Taboinha and others, there have already been confrontations with the government. On November 9th the residents of Vila Taboinha, a small community of approximately 260 families (over 1000 residents in total) in the West Zone of Rio, were aggressively confronted by the police, who launched tear gas bombs at residents who were peacefully resisting eviction. The crowd included infants, children and the elderly, but that did not stop the police from violently attacking them (see photos below)
Although neither Mundo Real nor the residents of Laboriaux are directly involved in the case of Vila Taboinha we do support their right to decent housing and their right, if need be, to be re-housed in an area very close to where they currently live. Our solidarity is with the residents of Vila Taboinha, Vila Harmonia, Favela do Metrô and other communities currently facing forced eviction.
It has been eight months since the tragic rains of April and the ensuing threats of eviction. In retrospect, and now that the scenario has changed somewhat favorably for the residents of Laboriaux, it is possible to admit that in the beginning it seemed Laboriaux would lose this battle. They City came with such force and with so many supposed scientific claims and threats that it seemed little could be done. Even worse, virtually the entire mainstream media has supported the City’s drive to removal all visible signs of poverty from touristy areas of the city. What the residents of Laboriaux and a few other favela communities have accomplished thus far has been amazing. Eduardo Paes is already thinking about his prospects for re-election in 2012, and it is likely that he is starting to regret disturbing the lives of so many poor people in Rio de Janeiro. What Lula proved over and over again is that in this day and age to be a successful politician in Brazil you must be on the side of the poor and the middle class, who make up the vast majority of this country. Paes made the critical political mistake of thinking Brazil had not changed much in the past 8 years and that politicians could still do as they please with the poor and not suffer the consequences. He was mistaken and in the end will likely pay at the polls and possibly in the courts as well.
That said, throughout his political career Paes has proved to be a obstinate individual and it is doubtful he will easily give up his drive to remove entire communities. Paes and his administration are merely representative of an ideology alive in a powerful business community that maintains strong pressure on him to carry out these human rights violations. In light of the upcoming mega-events and Rio’s ‘rebirth’ this pressure is increasingly coming from international sources, further complicating the scenario. We will continue posting relevant updates on our website and Laboriaux’s blog, www.laboriaux-rio.com.