The rapporteur of the National Right to the City, Platform DHESCA, Orlando Jr., professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, spoke during a hearing at the Regional Attorney for Citizens’ Rights, on June 21, 2011 about the findings of DHESCA’s official report on Rio de Janeiro leading up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. The Report tracked complaints and violations of housing rights due to the forced evictions which have taken place due to the upcoming games. He said the state capital is in a perverse process of urban dispossession and violation of the rights of poor communities.
The audience included representatives of the judiciary, the Municipal Housing and the general population. Including The People’s Committee for the World Cup and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the People’s Council of Rio de Janeiro, Slums and the Pastoral Care of the residents of nine communities that reported violations of housing rights – Favela do Metrô Mangueira, Campinho, Vila Harmonia, Vila Autódromo, Restinga, Recreio II, Estradinha, Providência and Sambódromo.
In the first part of the meeting, residents complained about a lack of information, the pressures of the municipal government, the withdrawal without notice, the absence of documentation and lack of payment of claims after the destruction of homes. The agent of the Ministry of Favelas, Erika Gloria said the City uses the justification for the removal of the slums for the construction of the roads Transcarioca Transoeste, but does not present the projects or communicate the cities intentions to the communities affected. “We are being violated in our right as citizens, as we are removed from our homes without notice. We do not object to the works of mega-events, but we object to the way the City is working in these communities” he argued.
Jorge Bittar, Municipal Secretary for Housing, presented during the hearing of the investments and projects that the City of Rio de Janeiro has already begun in the area. However, he acknowledged that some violations may have occurred due to lack of preparation at city hall. Bittar also said that the Secretariat is working to prevent any further violations and that the City is open to dialogue with the residents.
In the end, the National Rapporteur on the Right to the City, Platform DHESCA, presented the results of their report, as well as the recommendations for the fulfillment of housing rights.
Below is an interview with the rapporteur, Orlando Alves Junior, who tells about the situation of dispossession that has suffered the urban communities of Rio.
To download the Final Report of the Mission of the Special Rapporteur of the Right to the City Platform DHESCA click here.
Interview with rapporteur Orlando Alves Junior
What characterizes the right to decent housing and the right to the city?
The “right to housing” comes from the recognition that access to housing is a central element of social reproduction in the cities. And the statement implies the recognition that every human being has a right to live in decent housing for his survival in the city. The city requires a set of goods such as sanitation, sewage, mobility, education, health, culture, work. That is, all that is essential for the reproduction of well being in the city. In addition, the right to the city means that everyone has the right to participate in the decisions of its territory. It is not only direct access to goods and services, but also the right to define what kind of city the person wants to live in. Thus, there is a radical democratic dimension of the right to the city, including the right to organize and call for change in the city, which is organized according to the interests of some, and build a new city for ALL people living in it.
For what reason did the mission of the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights to the City meet in Rio de Janeiro? There are reports of violations of housing rights on account of works for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
The mission has a specific focus, it does not account for the violations that are happening in Brazil, nor in Rio de Janeiro. Its purpose was to investigate complaints of violations arising from the upcoming mega-events – the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. In a synthetic way, we can say that the communities we visited are experiencing these violations. First, there is a lack of information about the urban projects that are being developed by the government. But, more than that – what we saw was the complete absence of these communities in the discussions about the projects. I mean, the first violation in respect to the right of citizens is the lack of information about the project that will be implemented in the urban area where they live, but also a residents right to participate in the decision making process. The process of preparing the city for major events is accompanied by a restructuring of certain urban areas of Rio de Janeiro, especially the axis-Barra da Tijuca area west axis Barra da Tijuca area, south and center of the corridor that connects to the west. And in this process of preparation for these mega-events the city is characterized by what we might call urban dispossession. What could this be? It is a process of urban intervention through areas occupied by low-income populations. The possession of property of the popular classes are acquired by other social and economic classes which are degrading the prices, and revitalizing and redeveloping areas – turning them into new assets, also enabling high capital gains in the form of a valuable surplus of land.
In general, areas that will suffer interventions in all three areas are consolidated, or have been occupied for a long time. They are spaces occupied by low-income people precisely because the value has been degraded, despised by real estate interests, which allowed access of the poor. The fact that these areas are occupied by low-income populations reinforces its devaluation. That is, these spaces were occupied because they were undervalued, and receiving low-income people made this land even less attractive to real estate interests, thus creating a cycle of exclusion. Thus, the government removes the right of the people occupying these spaces to remain there, the government then compensates the family – when that happens – with prices far below those valued by real estate. This result is the displacement of populations to other areas, repeating the same cycle.
This process is a direct violation to the right to housing because it is preventing the population from staying in areas already structured in which these families have built emotional bonds, community, and their jobs. Thus, they deprive these people of access to the benefits of urbanization, and the rewards of an urban redevelopment project which will be held there. The benefits will be appropriated by other agents. This process can be characterized as perverse, it violates fundamental human rights.
And what are those rights? What rights violations were found during visits to these communities?
The first violation is coercion, duress, moral violence. Various removal processes were accompanied by pressure and coercion of the government so that people accept what was offered. I mean, the city classifies this as a resident without rights, who lives in an area illegally, and therefore must be content with the agreement that is imposed by the government, or risk being banned and getting nothing in return. This situation is a violation of the law that everyone must be treated as a citizen of the city. In addition, we are receiving reports of removals during the night, removals without payment of compensation before the destruction of the house, and the removal of people immediately without warning. In fact, the practice we have seen in many places it seems is almost a punishment to those residents who seek to defend and fight for their rights. It’s what we call practice against citizenship, that is, if the tenant did not accept the agreement, did not accept coercion, and even resorted to the courts, the government feels entitled to penalize this person because she is struggling for their rights. And what are these penalties? When the injunctions of the residents were demolished by the city attorney, the same Prosecutor immediately ordered, with a deadline of midnight, the destruction of their home.
Which communities have been hit the hardest? In Campinho, for example, residents say that the damages were paid only after the destruction of their houses.
The case is emblematic in Campinhos, displaying the dismantling of public power in the works of mega-events, for example, the Attorney, City Hall, and the Municipal Housing Authority have positioned themselves in different ways. In Campinhos, the Secretariat has demonstrated sensitivity to raise the level of compensation, which was actually paid to the families, and also signaled the possibility of resettlement in an area near the original purchase and assisted these families in procuring these properties. Thus, they were offered three alternatives that, far from ideal, but was an advancement in the process that was started by the borough. The first proposal was to resettle in the periphery, far from the original area. What happened is that the negotiation process was opened, and during it, the prosecution ordered the removal of families. Again, as were residents who came to court, the order was the immediate removal of their homes. Fortunately, DHESCA managed to reverse the situation and removals did not happen. Families were able to resume dialogue with the Department of Housing, and there was an agreement that the houses were not to be destroyed until the negotiations completed.
However, a week later, the prosecutor once again ordered the overthrow of the houses. And, of course, in this context of pressure the residents have no means of negotiation. Every day there is the possibility of losing their homes. This process in Campinho demonstrated the contradictions of the government, and also acknowledged the initiative of the Secretary of Housing. It was completely run over by the prosecution, which completely disregarded the rights of residents.
And the community of Vila Autódromo, in the west of Rio de Janeiro? Do the violations that the community has suffered date back to the Pan American Games?
Vila Autódromo is an old case, which comes from the days of Pan American Games. But even then the residents resisted and few families were removed. Now there’s the return of pressure for the removal of these same residents, without any information of the project determined for that area. The government’s own justification for the withdrawal of the community has been changing over time, for example, one minute they say it is the road – Transoeste; another they say it is the environmental risk. This fact demonstrates that the interests of the City Government for the withdrawal of these families is unclear. The situation of Vila Autódromo had no outcome. It is expected that the Special Rapporteur DHESCA is a tool to turn the situation around in the area.
The mission of the Platform DHESCA achieved some progress, any positive results?
I want to highlight the creation of Conflict Mediation, which was established under the Municipal Housing, linked to the Municipal Social Housing Program. This may represent the hope that some cases are reversed, some violations are reversed and, perhaps, we can ensure that many violations are eliminated. The Commission demonstrates the willingness of the Secretariat to open dialogue, and there is already mediation in the communities of Estradinha and Providência. The challenge is to make the other city agencies respect the negotiation process.
The Office at Platform DHESCA presented the conclusions of the report to audience at the Public Ministry of Rio de Janeiro. What was done?
The contents of the report make clear that the issue of housing is still a central problem to be solved in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In all reported cases, it is clear that there are procedures that can be characterized as a clear breach of the Human Right to the City, particularly the right to housing, as well as other social and individual human rights.
The forced eviction being carried out by the government in these communities can be characterized in the following aspects:
1) The complete absence of information provided to communities affected,
2) The complete absence of community involvement in the discussion of redevelopment projects promoted by the Municipality;
3) Illegitimacy of community organizations,
4) The of the Judicial system as an instrument of justice against the citizen,
5) Disrespect to a residents citizenship.
See what the Centre has already published on the subject:
Interview with UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik(e-metropolis No. 5)
Hearing and Meeting
Picture Credits: Orlando Junior, Renato Gusmao and Nelma Concentino