Horto is a favela community in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro that has existed for over 200 years. The community, which was founded by former Botanical Gardens workers who were given permission to build homes on the land, including slaves in the Botanical Gardens’ early years, has been under threat of eviction since the 1960s. This most recent effort by the federal government to remove Horto began after President Michel Temer took office following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Under the pervious administration, Horto and the government had agreed to a land regularization plan that would have allowed residents to remain and normalized their legal rights to their homes. This eviction, following a court decision in August, has thus come as a huge shock, particularly given no compensation is being given. Lawyers are using Brazilian housing rights laws to defend the community, but demolitions have begun. One family was forcibly removed by Military Police on November 7.
The community is organizing and resisting eviction with regular protests, meetings and social media presence. They are calling on all those who support their struggle, in Rio and around the world, for support. As part of their resistance they have recently launched a petition outlining their history, case and treatment and affirming their right to remain. Please read their open letter, translated below, and sign the petition to show essential support for this historic community in the face of increasing pressures and rights violations:
Open letter from the community of Horto in Rio de Janeiro
The first inhabitants of Horto Florestal in the Jardim Botânico neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro were African slaves brought to cultivate sugarcane and coffee beginning in 1578. Free workers joined them for the construction of the gunpowder factory and the Botanical Gardens, founded by Dom João VI in 1808. The descendants of these slaves and workers make up the nucleus of our community, which today includes some 600 families.
Far from the city center at the time, without transportation or services, the Administration of the Botanical Gardens offered them plots of land close to their work and permission for them to build houses on that land, where they and their descendants would live in peace with their families for decades. They were present for and participated in the history of Rio de Janeiro, and of Brazil: President Getúlio Vargas visited Horto on Tree Festival day; President Juscelino Kubitschek inaugurated, along with his mother Julia, a school named in her honor for the neighborhood’s children to attend. Many residents worked to establish the Tijuca Forest, and were the driving force to preserve the Botanical Gardens as the true jewel of our city that it remains until today.
In practically any free country in the world, having lived in a place for so many years, even without so many other historical, social, moral and ethical considerations, would be sufficient to assure that residents have full ownership of their homes. But as Rio grew, Horto became part of the South Zone, the most sought after part of the city and the surrounding Jardim Botânico neighborhood became a significant factor in increasing the area’s value. During the military dictatorship attempts began to remove residents from the area, which had come to be desired by the rich and the biggest communications network in the country, Globo, which installed there in 1965 and is today the biggest owner of property in the area.
But fortunately for the Brazilian people, in recent years the political environment and legal institutions have changed. Based on principles in the 1988 Constitution, two years ago, the Federal Heritage Secretariat (SPU) began serious work, accompanied by the Urbanism Department at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), envisioning land regularization of the community that would reconcile all the factors–ecological, social, and cultural-historical. Since then, those opposing this with powerful economic interests have reacted fiercely; their defiance has now reached its peak.
For the media empire, which is willing to distort the news and twist the truth, its easy to convince our fellow citizens that an “invasion of the Botanical Gardens” is in progress, that it is being made into a “favela,” and turn general public opinion against us, well intentioned defenders of the environment. The constant target of injurious attacks, of open offenses and dirty lies, we don’t have the financial resources that would enable our defense, and the few honest voices in the media and in Congress that stand up in defense of the truth and of our rights are immediately muffled and vilified.
Recently, it was alleged that the registry of the Botanical Gardens by the Institute of National Artistic and Historic Heritage (IPHAN) in 1938, and of the architectural set of Horto in 1973, “would include” its neighborhood, then already occupied by the community. An unprecedented fact: the area was registered as heritage not to preserve it in the state it was found, with the historical and artistic interest that would have to justify that measure, but to modify it in the distant future, in accordance with projects that didn’t exist at the time. Incredibly, based on this ridiculous argument the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU) was determined to interrupt the SPU’s procedures: a TCU judge, at absolute odds with the dignity that should be associated with his position, publicly compared us to “tramps invading Nossa Senhora de Paz Square [in Ipanema]” with great fuss in the media.
There is no invasion of the Botanical Gardens. We would be the first to defend against this. Under this pretext and a fictitious need to expand, they intend to effect an “ethnic and social cleansing” of the neighborhood to meet the unhidden but unconfessable interests: to destroy an entire community and erase it from history so as to “improve” the neighborhood. To authorities at all levels, to the three branches of Brazilian democracy, we denounce this cowardly, insidious, and vile attack on history, the truth, justice, and on the social and human rights of hundreds of Brazilian citizens.
To our fellow citizens of Rio de Janeiro, of the rest of Brazil, and of the whole world, we ask: don’t let yourselves be carried away by the force of money! Don’t be fooled, don’t be turned en masse by the maneuvers of the enemies of the people to serve their interests! If you can, come here and see the truth with your own eyes: that beyond the pages of the newspaper and your television screen there is no invasion of the Botanical Gardens. Get to know our neighborhood up close, the children that play and the elderly born here. It’s a beautiful place and you are very welcome.
The history of a people is their trademark! With this we would like to present this petition that shows the Brazilian people what is happening to the residents of Horto Florestal. The community is made up of around 620 families, a large majority descendants of past employees of the Botanical Gardens who gave their lives for this Brazilian heritage, and others are current employees. Simple and humble people who live in the area next to the Botanical Gardens, known as Horto Florestal. We would like to share our history and how we are being treated by a prejudiced elite, media, and speculative forces that want to preserve nothing and only make money. I ask that you read and support us in this fight that has left many of our elderly dead or hospitalized.
Sign the petition here.
You can also write the Botanical Gardens with your concern at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gardens depend on international visitors. Your voice is important.
Read our other recent coverage of Horto here:
November 9, 2016 Violent Forced Eviction and Protest in Horto as First Family Removed
October 21, 2016 Bicentennial Horto Favela Doubles Down Resistance to Eviction as One Family Receives Notice
September 20, 2016 Horto Protests 90-Day Eviction Notice and Assault from Media Giant Globo
August 17, 2016 Horto Receives 90-Day Eviction Notice, Just as Housing Groups Hoped for Post-Olympic Calm
July 1, 2016 Horto: History with Roots