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Horto Residents and Allies Hold Strategic Meeting to Resist Evictions

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On Monday, September 25 a group of residents from Horto, Vila Hípica and Rio das Pedras, city council representatives, and civil society supporters met at the Pastoral das Favelas to discuss the eviction threats facing these neighborhoods. As stated on the Horto Residents’ Association (AMAHOR) invitation for the event, the meeting aimed “to discuss an immediate intervention against the evictions and to stop the evictions, until we have an adequate social alternative in accordance with the current legislation in the Federal Constitution, the Cities Statute, the Municipal Organic Law, and the City Plan for the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro.” The discussion focused on the importance of building a united front and strengthening legal action to prevent evictions.

Participants debated the merits of different strategies, from public protests and social media campaigns to legal action and seeking support from politicians. Some attendees suggested public resistance could be “less favorable,” drawing backlash from the people who want to remove them. One participant reflected that legal action had been one of the most useful tools so far in Horto’s 35-year-long struggle to remain on the edge of the Botanical Gardens. Describing one eviction attempt, he said “the police arrived prepared with war gear and used war tactics. They hid in the woods until four in the afternoon when [the eviction] was stopped by a judicial order.”

Some of the ongoing and potential actions discussed included a media campaign, a federal bill against community evictions, a municipal bill in defense of land regularization, increasing visibility for Horto’s land regularization project, and pressuring the Botanical Gardens Research Institute and Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH) to guarantee transparency as well as technical and popular participation in decision-making about Horto’s land. One participant emphasized “it is important to keep searching for political and parliamentary representation.”

The group strategized how to avoid lightning evictions like the one that took place on November 7, 2016 when Marcelo de Souza’s family was removed. They were violently evicted by Shock Troops using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. At this week’s meeting one Horto resident stated: “We are not able to sleep.” Due to the constant threat of eviction, residents are afraid of being forced out of their homes at any time of day.

The meeting also covered the issue of where Horto residents would go if they were removed. Participants pointed out that Minha Casa Minha Vida public housing has had a series of reported issues around safety, mobility, and building infrastructure. Even the legal rights of families evicted by the government and resettled in MCMV housing have been contested, with former residents of Vila Autódromo arguing in a legal case that they were misled and have not been given what was promised. In Horto’s case, neither public housing nor financial compensation have been offered in case of eviction.

One attendee’s question—“Why do you want me to leave?”—resonated with many in the group and sparked a lively discussion on why Horto has been targeted for removal. Suggesting that there were no valid technical reasons for the removal, participants discussed the influence of real estate speculation and the possibility that media conglomerate Globo is behind the push for their evictions. The O Globo newspaper itself reported that Horto’s land is worth around R$10.6 billion (currently US$3.3 billion).

A related portion of Monday’s conversation was about the misrepresentation of residents by major media outlets including Globo. Horto residents have been described as “bandits” and “invaders.” With the recent week of conflict in Rocinha and around the city in mind, residents linked media coverage of their struggle to broader media biases when it comes to favelas. One participant said he constantly reads headlines that state, “shootings from this favela frighten residents of Copacabana and Botafogo,” pointing out that these news reports “don’t even consider the favela residents themselves.”

One of Horto’s responses to negative external media coverage is to use its own website to emphasize the community’s long 200 years of history and ongoing resistance. The Botanical Gardens was founded in 1808, and over the centuries workers in the park and on nearby projects were granted permission to build their homes on the park’s edge, where Horto is today.

One participant who lived through Brazil’s dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 reiterated the need for unity, explaining that the dictatorship snuck up on Brazil then and he believes it is happening again now. “I don’t know when but the day will arrive when people won’t be able to avoid evictions and [Horto] will become a luxurious condominium with a great name, Ecological Condominium,” he joked. He still argued resistance was essential and not hopeless, but stressed that “we have little time to physically resist.”

As the meeting wrapped up, attendees agreed that more participation is needed at demonstrations, not only from the community of Horto itself but from other communities, activists, and politicians as well. AMAHOR leaders are looking for further possibilities for legal action and will continue organizing regular meetings among community members to keep everyone informed.

Visit Horto’s website to sign the community’s petition to stay, donate and find other ways to support.