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Popular Council Delivers Declaration Demanding Changes to Rio Mayor’s Strategic Plan

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The Popular Council, composed of residents of diverse favelas across Rio de Janeiro together with the Catholic Church’s Pastoral das Favelas and the Land and Housing Nucleus (NUTH) of the Public Defender’s Office, held a public event on Friday, September 29 to deliver a declaration to Mayor Marcelo Crivella and his administration. The declaration laid out the group’s contributions to the City’s Strategic Plan, particularly relating to the goals around housing and favela upgrading (goals #73-77). The date marked the last day allocated for public consultation on the plan, and the delivery of the document reinforced that the channels the City had made available were not satisfactory to receive contributions made by citizens.

Eliane Sousa de Oliveira, a member of the Council, argued: “The plan is very generic. It speaks of 21 favelas in Rio that will benefit from upgrading actions. But it does not say which favelas and what exactly will be done.” Beyond this, the NUTH questions the very use of the word, “benefit,” which suggests the City is providing a favor whereas it is actually just fulfilling its duty. The NUTH also questions why Rio das Pedras is not one of the communities considered in the upgrading goal. In place of this, there is a specific goal for the Rio das Pedras favela which is to wrap up a study on urban requalification.

Even before the conclusion of this study, the City has already signaled its intention to vertically build up Rio das Pedras (in high rises) and has sent teams of City agents to the area to register the residents. The document denounces that the study has not been made available and argues that there are more urgent demands than the construction of new residences, which prioritizes real-estate interests. Also, the document asserts that the City agents sent to the community have given contradictory and misleading information. “The good thing was that the community mobilized itself,” Sousa de Oliveira reflected. The motto of the movement that is emerging is “improvements, yes, evictions, no.”

“It is the same strategy of all of the previous City administrations: launch plans, carry out evictions, but never sit and talk to the residents. Those who really know what is good for the community are those who live in the area themselves. We know that Rio das Pedras has some problems, but they can be solved if the City prioritizes the needs of residents,” said Sousa de Oliveira. One of the residents in the Council agreed: “The leader changes, but the practice doesn’t: they continue to carry out evictions. If they are going to remove people, arguing that they are building in a protected area, then they have to remove the mansions in these places as well.”

Di Souza, a resident of the small community of Rádio Sonda which is inside a military area on Ilha do Governador, illustrated the practice of evictions when denouncing how the Air Force entered with an injunction demanding the removal of 15 families who live on public land on the community’s perimeter, even though the families have occupied the space for more than 50 years. “They gave them 30 to 45 days to leave. Some residents have even had to destroy their own homes. Three months ago, they removed a couple from the community, without any compensation, without anything.” On Wednesday afternoon, October 4, there was a demonstration at Maracajás Road 514 on Ilha do Governador to protest the ongoing evictions.

The development of the document was done with technical analysis from the NUTH and the participation of residents, who expressed their questions and anguish over the various meetings. “Our objective is to find a dialogue, with the mayor as well as [Subsecretary of Planning] Aspásia Camargo, in order to do something concrete for the residents,” said Sousa de Oliveira.

The document denounces the lack of popular participation while developing the plan, saying that the populations affected by the goals were not sought out by the City’s technical teams. It also denounces the lack of transparency regarding methods to be employed in urban interventions, which the declaration’s authors believe opens a path for evictions. Additionally, the document demonstrates that the plan does not respond to the issues that residents consider to be priorities, such as the provision of more urgent services, and that the plan does not take into consideration the political experience and knowledge accumulated by residents through years of development and local mobilization.

Finally, the declaration questions the criteria used to arrive at seemingly arbitrary numbers, like 20,000 contracted housing units and 100,000 households benefitting from urban and land regularization. It questions which criteria will be used to choose the communities and families served, and also calls for the participatory development of broader public policies, such as the Municipal Housing and Social Interest Plan (as required in article 200 of the Complementary Law 111/2011). The document ends with strong fundamental statements in this moment of obstructed popular participation: “The favela lives, resists, and re-exists each day! We want to be heard! No evictions!”