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News :: Globalization : Human Rights : International : Politics : Social Welfare
South America's largest squatted highrise building is under threat.
13 Feb 2006
09 Feb 2006 18:02 GMT

The "Prestes Maia", by far the largest squatted highrise building on the South American continent, is under threat of eviction. With its 468 families, accounting for more than 1600 previously homeless people, including children, elderly and disabled, the building will shortly be returned to its 'lawful' owner, Mr. Hamuche & Co., who in the last 15 years of 'ownership' accumulated a debt in municipal taxes of some 5 million reais (approx. 2.2 million dollars / 2.1 million euros), which is more than the building is worth. This enormous debt, together with long years of abandonment, should well justify (even according to law) a claim for the building to become public property by the local municipality, but nevertheless will be returned to its owner, putting hundreds of people back onto the streets.

The 468 families, united in the Downtown Roofless Movement (Movimento Sem Teto do Centro or MSTC) of São Paulo, have lived in the 22-storey highrise since 2002. The building had simply been closed down for years and left in deplorable condition, serving as shelter for rats and cockroaches, as is the case of many buildings in downtown São Paulo. The new residents cleaned out tonnes of rubbish and litter (200 trucks to be exact!), organized it, expelled drugs and other criminal bosses always there to take advantage, turning it into an exciting and lively human dwelling.
Click on image for a larger version

Last January 27th, the family's representatives met with the police authorities in charge of the forthcoming eviction. During the meeting, it was made clear that the action will take place somewhere between the 15th and 21st of February -- an exact date was not given for 'strategic' reasons – and that the troops will be 'prepared for the worst'. Yesterday, february 7th, the residents of Prestes Maia’s building block the street in front of the occupation. They stayed there for almost 2 hours. This act was an attempt to bring more attention to the situation of the residents and to the possible eviction, scheduled to take place next week.

The families were advised to leave the precinct before the eviction to avoid unpleasant encounters, and when they asked where they were supposed to go, the answer was: 'to the streets or elsewhere'.

This is the way the city government has acted during countless evictions since Mr. José Serra took office as major of the largest Brazilian city, in the beginning of 2005. His project to 'gentrify' the city centre, largely paid for by international funds, based on expelling the low-earning families and street dwellers, counts on the systematic employment of the municipal (Guarda Civil Metropolitana) and state (Polícia Militar) police forces.

This clearly shows the municipal and state authorities' attitude towards the 'poor' and their movements: first criminalise them and then fight and persecute them, without mercy, expelling them to the sub-urban 'favelas' or at the most to 'social housing projects', mostly even further out.

The 'Prestes Maia' squat -- with its library, its workshops, its educational, social and cultural activities -- in the last years turned into a major laboratory of experiments in organizing a real human renewal of downtown São Paulo. People of all ages and upbringings, of all Brazilian states and other nationalities, artists, students, work together to create a new understanding of how the city should and can work. Putting all these people back onto the streets, 'pulverizing' them, is a maior crime! Support 'Prest
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Re: South America's largest squatted highrise building is under threat.
14 Feb 2006