Favela Residents Denied Entry at the Public Defender’s Office

On Friday, February 25th Favela residents, protesting the illegalities of proposed forced evictions, gathered in front of Rio de Janeiro’s State Public Defenders Office to let their voices be heard in solidarity.

Protesters and residents were joined by a collection of public interest organizations, and local community action groups, with the intent of voicing their concerns over the intensified gentrification efforts in Rio’s favelas, and marginalized neighborhoods.

Amongst the coalition of protesters was the Pastoral das Favelas, The Movement of Networks and Communities Against Violence and the Conselho Popular, all of which have been fervent in their criticisms of actions by local officials to remove favela residents from their homes. The coalition’s response was deemed necessary as a way to counteract recent efforts by Eduardo Paes and Sergio Cabral.

The purpose of this gathering was to form a commission and sign a petition with the Public Defender’s Office as a way to pressure Nilson Bruno Filho, and other high ranking officials at the Public Defender’s hierarchy, to stop the transfer of six attorneys representing Rio’s eviction victims from the Center for Land and Housing (Núcleo de Terras e Habitação – NUTH) to other divisions of the Public Defenders Office. These six attorneys have been very sympathetic to the cause of the Laboriaux community, and similarly threatened communities. It is fair to say that, due in large part to their help, many evictions have been canceled, or have been slowed down to a crawl in the Rio State courts.

Paes, Cabral, and other members of the power elite, have quietly attempted to remove these lawyers from NUTH, as a way to weaken the claims process. Paes, Cabral & Co. were unsuccessful in their first attempt to reassign the attorneys, but stubborn as they are, they continue. However, the fight has intensified with even more officials wanting to remove these lawyers from their positions. The attorneys’ success at fighting the forced evictions, and their sympathetic view towards the issue, has made them targets within Rio State’s governing political class.

To the disbelief of many, the Public Defender’s Office, locally known as the House of Citizenship, was closed to the public that same day, as armed Military Police blocked the PDO’s entrance, making it impossible for residents to sign the petition. More surprising was the denied entry of Federal Representative Édson Santos de Sousa (PT) and City Councilman Eliomar Coelho (PSOL), who attempted to enter the building, but were blocked by guards for over 30 minutes. It is illegal to block city residents from entering the Public Defender’s Office, and was seen by many as a sign that the State government was more serious than ever to carry out these proposed evictions.

Finally, Coelho and Santos de Sousa were allowed access to the PDO and returned some time later to inform the crowd that the process would be in pause until after this year’s Carnival celebrations. It was clear that the battle lines had been drawn.

Continue to follow updates by Mundo Real, and our coalition of local organizations, as we attempt to fight for the rights of Rio’s marginalized communities, and let the world know what the local news fails to report.

The link below is a copy of the letter that was assembled (and eventually delivered on the 25th of Feb.) by leaders and activists from the following 17 communities (favelas):

Vila Harmonia, Campinho, Vila Recreio I e II, Restinga, Vila Arroio Pavuna, Vila Autódromo, Vila das Torres, Solar da Montanha, Alto Camorim, Canal do Anil, Taboinhas, Comunidade do Metrô, Parque Colúmbia, Horto, Vila Elza, Laboriaux.