Squatting in Brazil

By Pascale Palmer
October 7, 2010

In the heart of the Brazilian city of São Paulo, a group of 2000 people are starting to make four abandoned buildings their homes. The homeless families are calling on the government to give them somewhere to live. Among the thousands are men and women and children - whole families that have nowhere secure to lay their heads and cook their meals, nowhere to house their belongings and keep them dry or warm. Many others live in extremely precarious conditions, every month having to choose to eat or pay rent.

São Paulo is the second largest city in Latin America and the city and its surrounding state are the economic powerhouse of Brazil. With more than 11 million residents, it is home to the São Paulo Stock Exchange and awe-inspiring skyscapers. Despite the wealth and rapid development of the city, thousands of people in São Paulo live in temporary accommodation thrown up on roadsides and on disused land, at daily threat of being cleared and the families moved on. And yet hundreds of buildings stand empty in the city with many owners owing millions of dollars in unpaid taxes to the government.

The 2000 people who have occupied buildings in downtown São Paulo are protesting in response to a promise made them by the government in 2009 that 53 empty buildings would be put to good use, with some made available to the poorest to make permanent homes. But more than a year on and these buildings still have not been identified, nor a date confirmed for when they will be claimed by the government or who will be chosen to live in them.

Since settling in the four buildings on Monday, just after the Brazilian general elections, protesters have been using social media to keep the world up to date with what is happening on the inside. As mounted and riot police surrounded the buildings earlier this week, those inside Tweeted about women passing out from hunger as others negotiated entry of food and water to protesters. See the Tweets here: http://twitter.com/lutamoradia#

At present the federal government is offering massive subsidies for the construction of affordable housing by state and city authorities, but due to the increasing cost of land and land speculation in São Paulo, there has been next to no action on housing for the poorest.

CAFOD works on the housing struggle in São Paolo through our partner APOIO who supports these homeless families in their negotiations with the government. As Brazil forges ahead economically, our partners insist that it must not leave its poorest behind. In a rich city whose motto is "I am not led, I lead" it is time to see São Paulo stand up for the rights of all its people.


(c) Pascale Palmer is CAFOD's Advocacy Media Officer. www.cafod.org.uk

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