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Popular Council’s Anti-Eviction Protest Delivers Collective Manifesto on Housing

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On Friday, May 18, members of the Popular Council held their second demonstration of the year outside the mayor’s headquarters at Palácio da Cidade in Botafogo. Approximately 40 demonstrators—residents and allies of communities facing eviction threats such as Rio das Pedras, Barrinha, Indiana, and Horto—met at Praça Corumba to protest the continued lack of action to protect housing rights on the part of Mayor Crivella and the recently appointed Secretary of Urbanism, Infrastructure, and Housing, Verena Andreatta. As Jaqueline Andrade Costa from Barrinha summarized neatly, “nothing has happened” in the two months since the last protest in Botafogo. Such inaction has thus exposed the “false promises” that were made to the Popular Council, such as the promise that the City would create a team to work with each community facing eviction threats.

In the face of the ongoing passivity from municipal authorities, protest participants like Rocinha‘s Antonio Xiolan showed their determination to resist and fight for change. At the beginning of the demonstration Xiolan described the government’s urban restructuring policies as “nothing more than displacing the poor from the city” which “we will not allow.” Such opposition was reinforced by former Horto Residents Association president Emília Maria de Souza who called for continuity within “our activism for our rights.” Souza also stressed the importance of persistence in “raising people’s awareness” in light of this year’s upcoming elections so that votes can be directed to those that respect people’s constitutional rights to housing.

Lurdinha Lopes, a leader in the National Movement for the Fight for Housing (MNLM), encouraged protesters not to direct all their anger towards Mayor Crivella himself: “Crivella is not the monster, Crivella is the messenger of the monster.” Lopes highlighted how each administration has been similar to the one before, as “the only thing that changes is the [mayor’s] name.” She argued oppressive policy stems from the national level, such that the widespread “degradation” of  politics must be challenged by collective efforts of the people in the form of representative groups like the Popular Council.

Nonetheless, focused on the city level and the inaction from Crivella and Andreatta, the Popular Council presented its newly created Residents of Rio Collective Manifesto. The manifesto, read out by Eliane Sousa de Oliveira from the Popular Council and the Catholic Church’s Pastoral de Favelas, outlines current eviction threats facing each community represented by the Popular Council and provides supporting qualitative data. Additionally, the manifesto sets out ten demands centered around transparency for future urban projects, the budget allocation for the Municipal Social Interest Housing Fund, and community participation in discussions on land ownership and urban investments.

Speakers at the protest also addressed Decree No. 44557, which was announced by Crivella on May 16 and calls for the creation of a working group to “address matters related to the resettlement of families living in irregular occupations in public or private units.” The working group will be comprised of several municipal bodies, including the Municipal Secretariat of Urbanism, Infrastructure, and Housing and the Municipal Secretariat of Social Assistance and Human Rights. Members of the Popular Council were critical of the decree due to the overrepresentation of municipal government agencies. City Councillor Renato Cinco stated “the composition of the decree must change,” as the decree does not mention any involvement of civil society, social movements, or the Public Defender’s office in the working group. Such an omission restricts coordination with representative groups of communities like the Popular Council and thus the working group seems likely to ignore the true interests of families within threatened communities. The final demand of the collective manifesto reinforced this point, calling for the “proportional participation of social movements and civil society organizations.”

Once again the Popular Council’s protest was successful in bringing about dialogue. Five members of the council including Eliane Sousa de Oliveira and Lurdinha Lopes were allowed entry into the building in order to present the manifesto to the mayor’s office. Although neither Crivella nor Andreatta were present on the day, representatives of the Popular Council were promised a meeting with the mayor, theoretically to be arranged the following week. However, the promise was received with cautious optimism by the Popular Council and Oliveira pledged that “if the promise is not fulfilled, we will return.” Horto’s Emília de Souza specified that if the Council had received no further communication after fifteen days, the group would meet again to decide future actions. Lopes stressed the importance of unity, adding that if the meeting is to happen “we must all be [there]” as a way to keep sustained pressure on Mayor Crivella to establish effective dialogue and create solutions.