On Sunday, September 18, residents of the Horto favela in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro held a protest titled “Fica Horto, Fora Globo” (Stay Horto, Go Globo) protesting the pending eviction order against their community. Last month, on August 10, the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU) issued a decision giving the Botanical Gardens 90 days to evict residents of Horto. At this time, no further action has been taken by the the Botanical Gardens or the federal government, but residents expect the Gardens to take steps towards evicting the community after municipal elections on October 2, or, if a runoff is also held, after October 30.
Residents of Horto have a 200-year claim to the land: nestled in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer, the community was founded by workers of the Botanical Garden, established in 1808, who were given permission to settle on the land adjacent to the park with their families. In the 1960s Brazil’s President Juscelino Kubitschek built a municipal school for the neighborhood’s children. And residents have legal documents going back generations proving their ties there. If any favela in Rio has right to its land, it’s Horto. Which is why so much is at stake here, for the community’s residents and beyond.
Residents and supporters gathered at the entrance to Horto around 10am to prepare for the family-friendly protest, following extensive organization resulting in a sound car, drums, songs and chants, and signs for all participants.
At 11am, community leaders led over one hundred residents down Rua Pacheco Leão to the focal point of the protest: in front of Globo headquarters on the same street. Organizações Globo is Latin America’s largest media group with the second largest commercial TV network in annual revenue worldwide. Residents of Horto now attribute escalating pressures to remove them to Globo, as eviction threats began only once the company set up operations in the neighborhood, during the military regime, in the 1960s, and have grown with the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood, fueled by Globo’s growth. Globo is widely known to have supported Brazil’s military regime and, more recently, has been associated with efforts to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.
Assembled in front of Globo’s building, Emilia de Souza, former president of the Association of Residents and Friends of Horto (AMAHOR), spoke first and then introduced seven other residents who each gave a short speech detailing the community’s current situation. Three themes were reiterated throughout the speeches: Globo published lies about Horto, the environmental argument to remove Horto is misguided, and unity is essential to resistance.
Residents reacted to Globo’s media pronouncements calling Horto residents “invaders,” among other claims. “All property starts with possession, and ours goes back two centuries,” said Emilia. “Our right to dignified housing, to our neighborhood, and to our city is recognized by the government, provided for by the constitution and Brazilian and international law. But, intending to rob us of this right, and to promote social and ethnic cleansing, Globo doesn’t hesitate to invent facts and promote them as truth.” As examples, Emilia cited a 2013 statement by the director of the Botanical Gardens National School attributing a homemade bomb to Horto residents. Although the director quickly withdrew the statement, Globo published it. More recently, Globo published a story attributing to Horto residents an anonymous email threatening the Botanical Gardens president. Globo frequently refers to Horto residents as “invaders” even though the community has existed as long as the Botanical Gardens, over 200 years.
Second, speakers challenged the environmentally-based argument for removing Horto as ironic and unjust. Emerson de Souza, current president of AMAHOR, described how the Botanical Gardens removed hundreds of old, native trees to build a parking lot near the entrance of Horto for the Gardens’ employees. Others emphasized that Horto is a very green community that lives in harmony with the environment.
Finally, speakers emphasized unity: “Every resident is relevant, every resident is important,” said one speaker. Residents of Horto intend to resist removal, and community leaders frequently note that unity will be essential to successful resistance.
Residents have held similar protests against eviction in the past, most recently in April of this year. Since 2013, Horto has faced heightened threat of eviction, but has thus far resisted. Residents had hoped eviction threats would calm down after the Olympics, but the 90-day notice issued on August 10 has impelled residents to continue their resistance efforts.