Roofless in Sao Paulo



In February of 2004, 1600 homeless families occupied an empty lot in the southern Sao Paolo suburb of Sao Jose dos Campos, creating the community of Pinheirinho. The action was a continuation of land grabs organized by M.U.S.T (Movimento urbano dos sem teto, the urban wing of M.U.S.T (“Movimento urbano dos sem teto” a landless peasant movement advocating the squatting of unused or abandoned tracts of land). On the 22nd of January 2012, federal police violently evicted the community from the million square feet they had squatted and returned the land to the Selecta corporation and its principal investor Naji Nahas, a famous Brazilian speculator *.

The families who’d squatted the land in Sao Jose dos Campos, and their supporters argued Nahas’ ownership of the land was illegal. They argued that Selecta, one of many Nahas’s many bankrupt companies and legal owner of the Sao Jose dos Campos property, had not paid years of accumulated back-taxes on the land.

Since 2004, representatives of the 1600 families were embroiled in a series of court battles demanding the legalization of the land grab. They argued that the property’s abandonment by Selecta, and the company’s bankruptcy opened the doors for its squatting. However the Brazilian justice system has continually sided with the land’s legal owners, and in 2011 finally put an end to the appeals process. Subsequently the mayor of Sao Jose dos Campos warned the residents of Pinheirinho that an eviction order was imminent. 15 days prior to this statement the residents staged a protest announcing their intentions to defend their homes at whatever costs, even if that meant entering in a direct conflict with security forces sent to evict the community.

In the eight years Pinheirinho existed many of its residents built their homes with bricks and cement creating a more permanent environment.
There was a local economy, there were churches, hairdresser salons and video rental stores. Pinheirinho had become a neighborhood, like any other.

On the morning of February 17, a heavy rain fell and the atmosphere was tense in Pinheirinho. A group from the police’s Tactical Force (elite group of police based in Sao Paulo) parked four cars near the community’s entrance and harassed anyone suspected of being a Pinheirinho resident. One witness said he was sent by the police to deliver the message/warning to the community that in 20 minutes the police would begin targeting residents with live rounds. The message was received with rage, a passing bus was set on fire. Some suspect that agent-provacatuers were sent by the police. Finally lawyers for the M.U.S.T movement arrived with good news, a federal judge had ordered the postponement of the eviction, citing the impact displacing 1600 families would have on the region. Nearly 2,000 anti-riot police were sent back to their barracks and an uneasy calm returned to Pinheirinho.

On February 22, even with the federal judge’s injunction suspending the eviction, military police from Sao Paolo re-ordered the eviction of Pinheirinho. At 6am the residents were taken by surprise as approximately 1800 military police entered in the community. The neighborhood was surrounded and no-one was allowed to enter. Some of the community resisted the eviction and clashes continued throughout the day. Residents defended their homes from behind barricades with molotov cocktails and slingshots. The police responded with live fire and one man was left in a critical state after being shot, a bullet was left lodged near his spine. In the end the police took control of the community and bulldozers and cranes were brought in to destroy the neighborhood’s buildings.

Pinheirinho residents today have been scattered throughout the city and beyond. Some residents have been sent back to the region where they were born and others are in a local church, and in sports facilities and schools that have been converted in shelters. Still others have been left homeless and wholly dependent on the M.U.S.T.

Human rights groups, lawmakers and public defenders are still in the region collecting data from the the community and looking in to filing lawsuits against the federal government, the municipality and against the judge of the 6th Civil Court of Sao Jose dos Campos, Marcia Loureiro who signed the injunction.

As Brazil makes its mark as an emerging power in the international community, events like the eviction of Pinheirinho are occurring with ever more frequency. Especially with the country’s upcoming hosting of the World Cup and the Summer Olympics many real estate developers are taking advantage of the preparations to buy up large tracts of land and privatize their use. Unfortunately the trend is not one to be treated with much optimism, it seems little has been done or will be done by the Brazilian state to protect the most vulnerable of its population.

* Nahas’ carreer has been defined by various run-in’s with the Brazilian justice system. In the 90′s Naji Nahas was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In 2004 Nahas was surprisingly acquitted and soon after became involved with the banker Daniel Dantas. Subsequently Nahas was arrested again during the “Transaction Satyagraha” by the Federal Police and again released.