Last Tuesday afternoon, Antonieta Simões welcomed us into her home. We talked and laughed as Antonieta’s daughter played on the floor nearby with her toy car and miniature chairs. Pastor Norival Sartório and Luciana de França Costa were also present and in on the cultural exchange. There was talk of samba and Carnaval, important lessons in Portuguese slang, and a little bit of Algerian dancing thanks to Meriem, one of our volunteers who came along. Antonieta and her daughter brought us homemade mango ice cream which we enjoyed as the sun started its descent and Rio de Janeiro cooled down for the evening.
What was at once an enjoyable and refreshing community visit, full of life, love, and solidarity, along Largo do Campinho in Madureira, a neighborhood in Rio’s north zone, was also one with overtones of sadness, fear, and worry. Last May, officials from the Municipal Housing Office visited the community to let residents know they would have to be removed to make way for a tunnel to link the airport to Barra da Tijuca. Residents were told not to worry because they would have the option of receiving compensation or an apartment in Cosmos.
They registered families (60 in total) and marked houses for removal, and residents heard nothing else about the removal for months. Out of nowhere, in September of last year, construction workers knocked on Luciana’s neighbor’s door informing her that she had to leave her house immediately. They made her load her possessions into a truck to be driven to Cosmos, where she would have been taken had she not asked the truck driver to leave her at a relative’s house nearby. Her house was destroyed that same day.
A sense of panic struck the community. The option of receiving compensation disappeared, and residents were told they would have to accept apartments (which they will have to pay for) in Cosmos, 14 stops away on the train, two hours away by bus with traffic, and 20 miles away by car. Residents began to organize with the Public Defenders. Since January, some 30 families have been forced, bullied, and tricked into leaving, and demolitions only stopped when the Public Defenders’ Office discovered that City Hall had secretly filed for possession of the land through the Court System. The judge ordered the demolitions temporarily suspended after she received a letter explaining the situation.
In spite of Brazilian and international laws protecting squatters, residents along
Largo do Campinho have faced similar situations to others we have seen since last year. Government staffers have threatened and verbally harassed residents, have tried to divide the community by speaking with each family individually, and have left partially demolished houses open with rubble and debris endangering nearby houses and residents. Residents receive conflicting and untimely information (sometimes, as in the case of Largo do Campinho, residents only learn of certain aspects of their fate through the newspaper) and end up suffering psychological problems associated with stress and fear. Many residents have lost their jobs because of having to miss work to defend their homes and families.
During our visit, Luciana led us to an open area in the shade of a local business, sheltered away from the street and hugged by houses on all sides. This is a space where families and young people host cook outs on the weekends. There, residents gathered to tell us their stories. Many have lived along Largo do Campinho for 40 years. The majority are second generation residents, inheriting land and homes from their parents. Some 20% of the community migrated from the Northeast of Brazil, but the majority came from nearby neighborhoods in Rio. Some residents have family businesses that go back over 40 years as well, and while jobs vary, almost half sell food along the streets. Women either do the same, or they clean homes, or work as manicurists, mostly. Most structures have many families living together, each with their own private space joined by a communal bathroom.
This is part 1 of a two-part article about a community of 60 families on Largo do Campinho, about half of whom have already been evicted to make way for the Transcarioca BRS (Bus Rapid Service) project.
On Thursday morning, the 17th of March, Mayor Eduardo Paes is expected to visit Campinho and introduce the project to remaining residents, many of whom are unwilling to leave. The Transcarioca project is part of transportation infra-structure for the Olympic Games, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The details of the project have so far been kept under wraps.
For Part 2, click here.