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Vila Autódromo Public Defenders Publish Letter in Response to Recent Events

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Following the events of this week in which the injunction preventing demolitions in Vila Autódromo was overturned by leaders of the Public Defenders’ Office, the public defenders from the Housing and Land Office (NUTH) who have represented the community for years released the following note:

In 2013, the Núcleo de Terras e Habitação (NUTH, or Housing and Land Office of Rio State Public Defenders) filed a public civil suit seeking a declaration to nullify the demolition permit of houses situated in Vila Autódromo, a community that has battled against successive removal attempts since 1993.

The petition requested an injunction that would prevent any further demolitions. After calling a bill of review, Federal Judge Teresa de Andrade Castro Neves upheld the claim, blocking any demolition until the municipal government clarifies, “who the residents of the community are and which families have signed a relocation agreement with the City, proving that those who did are true land holders in the area.” It should be noted that the Federal Judge affirmed in her decision that the demolition permit was “clearly illegal,” revealing that the municipality would have difficulty changing this situation, above all because there are no reasonable grounds for appeal.

Even though part of the community wished to leave Vila Autódromo, to take up residence in the Parque Carioca enterprise, the decision served the interests of all residents. Those that want to remain on the site were supported by the decision requiring the municipality to prove they negotiated with the real title holder of the house to be demolished, which certainly would not be an easy task. Those who want to leave were in possession of a financial contract signed with the Caixa Econômica Federal that could be executed. These residents, whose interests we are also concerned with, had been informed of this. On Monday, March 24, at the Residents’ Association, we provided assistance to those residents precisely to resolve the issue of the handover of the keys that were withheld by the City following the news of the injunction.

DSC_0091Furthermore, the presence of representatives from the sub-mayor‘s office were expected on this day to identify a solution to the problem with the families who wanted to leave. However, the municipal representatives did not attend. We left the Association with attendees scheduled for assistance from NUTH on the following day, March 25. We were, then, surprised when those attendees were taken to the headquarters of the Public Defenders’ Office for assistance from the leadership of the institutional command.

This was reported to us by some attendees, who informed us by phone that we would not be needed on Tuesday following the instruction from the sub-mayor’s office that the assistance provided by the Defenders from NUTH would not resolve their problems. Note that we were at no point informed by the administrators or the institutional leadership of the Public Defenders’ Office of the scheduling or carrying out of this meeting at the Office’s headquarters.

On this same Tuesday we sent a letter to the judiciary’s regulatory body reporting our concerns regarding the non-negotiable prerogative of functional autonomy and the treatment of the institution’s members, as well as the principles and norms that guides us, given that our clients were received by the institution’s leadership.

While keeping the injunction in place would in no way infringe on the right of those who want to leave the community, it fully supported the rights of those who wanted to remain. The incongruence only exists, therefore, in the City government’s discourse, now taken up by the Chief of the State Public Defenders’ Office and those in positions of his trust.

It seems obvious to us that those who want to move could do so without it having to be preceded by demolition and it would be foolish to believe that the municipality has no other means besides demolition to avoid the re-occupation of vacant properties. One only needs reminding of the possibilities for cementing up doors and windows or even surveillance by the Municipal Guard.

The demolition of houses is terrible for residents who wish to remain in Vila Autódromo, especially before the execution of an urbanization plan in the area. The debris becomes a haven for cockroaches and rats, and encourages the irregular disposal of trash, as well as making the community seem like a warzone, encouraging criminal activity.

The only interest not served by the judge’s unappealable decision was that of the municipality, that desired to demolish houses before discussing the reurbanization of the area with the community.

Given this situation, we were surprised by the petition drawn up by the NUTH’s coordinator requesting the reconsideration of the decision in order to enable the removals. The petition affirms that “demolitions are an essential condition for housing moves, be it through the expressed desire of the title holder, or through the necessity to avoid illegal third-party occupation and, as a consequence, future problems for the Municipality,” as though the Public Defenders’ Office has the duty to prevent the Municipality from facing “future problems.”

The petition adopts the same fallacious argument always used by the municipality, dressing us up as respresentatives of our legal adversary. It is notable that the petition makes no request for the handing over of keys, but only for the permission to demolish.

As is well-known, some of our communities are situated in areas of great political and economic interest in Rio de Janeiro today. NUTH’s work deserves proper institutional support, as confronting these interests without support means leaving the public defenders and their clients in a situation of great personal vulnerability. We’d like to end on a final reminder that this whole Kafkaesque situation was made public by the work and grace of our own institutional leadership, which still threatens to repeat such acts in other communities.

Adriana Magalhães Bevilaqua
Gabriela Varsano Cherem
Maria Lúcia de Pontes