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Horto Protests as Eviction Threats Intensify in Rio’s Botanical Gardens

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On Sunday, March 27, the community of Horto, located within the boundaries of Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Garden in Rio’s South Zone, once again took to the streets to protest against the eviction of its approximately 600 families.

Around 200 residents and supporters gathered at 8am at the main gate entrance to the Horto communities of Caxinguelê and Grotão. Adults, children, teenagers and elderly marched together along the Rua Pacheco Leão towards Rua Jardim Botânico street, making their way to the Botanical Garden’s main entrance. Residents carried banners with the words, “Horto Lives,” “Horto Will Remain,” and “There will be no removal of the residents of Horto!” The crowd blocked the garden’s main entrance and, after awhile, a smaller group entered the park for a peaceful protest inside.

Horto residents inside the Botanical Gardens

According to Moacyr de Oliveira Paiva Jr. of the Horto Residents Commission, this latest protest was the last chance to prevent the eviction of Vilmar da Silva Paulo, who has lived in the community for 40 years and raised his children and grandchildren there. The community received news of Vilmar’s eviction on January 18. It was scheduled to take place on Monday March 28, anytime from 6am on. Residents fear that once the eviction process begins, they will see no end to demolitions. However, Moacyr de Oliveira Paiva Jr. highlighted that they will fight every removal: “This will not be a peaceful eviction. We will do whatever we can.”

Around 200 families have filed lawsuits against the Botanical Garden’s attempt to remove them from their homes. The residents have a number of lawyers and politicians supporting their case in Brasília. However, several explain that due to the ongoing nature of this battle, all legal resources have now been used. Residents have received notice of eviction without any offers of compensation or alternative housing.

Horto residents protest on Sunday

According to Moacyr, the evictions are unconstitutional and have no valid legal basis. The Botanical Gardens’ legal actions against Horto residents were first submitted in 1985 while Brazil was still a military dictatorship and before the Brazilian Constitution was established.

Residents have been fighting eviction for decades. This latest threat was initiated after Brazil’s Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, announced the initial eviction of 130 families earlier this month.

The history of Horto dates back to a 15th century sugarcane plantation that occupied the land before it was taken back by King João VI in 1808, first for a gunpowder factory and then for the Garden. As the Botanical Garden’s’ workers were spread across Rio State, they were invited by the king to relocate and build homes within the park’s boundaries.

One resident, who was born in the community and has now lived there for 42 years said: “We have always been so passionate about the Botanical Garden, we don’t want to fight against them. My parents helped build it. My mother worked at the Botanical Garden her whole life.”

Protest outside the entrance to Jardim Botânico

The day following the demonstration, Monday March 28, residents of Horto received conflicting information about an anticipated eviction of Vilmar da Silva Paulo. They were told by one police officer that the removal was not going to happen and then informed by another that Shock Troops were on their way. As a safety precaution, a large group of community members surrounded the entrance of the community and closed the gates to traffic.

In a heated moment, the Horto Residents Commission president, Emilia de Souza, gathered community members and announced they should not leave the entrance until an official confirmation that the morning’s eviction had been canceled: “We are fighting for our housing rights. We shall resist!” Later they received phone confirmation from a representative in Brasília.

Community members have not been in communication with representatives from the Botanical Garden. According to residents, the Garden’s committee refuses to discuss why the community needs to be removed. Given that Horto is located on some of Rio’s most highly valued land and has powerful, wealthy neighbors, residents believe that real estate speculation is the motive for eviction.

Yesterday, Tuesday March 29, Horto once again received news that the eviction of resident Vilmar da Silva Paulo would take place. Residents gathered at the entrance gates of the community on Rua Pacheco Leão street at 6am in anticipation. After several hours they were informed that the eviction would not happen.

It was reported this week that the Environment Minister, Izabella Teixera, confirmed there would be no immediate eviction of families in the short term and that eviction would only happen after negotiations. The community however remains alert and is resolved to resist eviction entirely.