Vila Alice, a small favela nestled in the hills above middle class Larangeiras is now at risk of eviction after a 12-year-long fight over land rights with a nearby highrise development, The Guardian reports.
"Fourteen shantytowns, the majority in upper-class boroughs such as Gávea and Jardim Botânico, were recently earmarked for removal by Rio's public prosecutor, while there has been a recent jump in the number of legal battles" over favelas, the newspaper reports. The official reasons for the evictions vary from ownership disputes to attempts to protect the environment and concerns over the safety of those living in the hilltop favelas. But for those fighting removal, the motivation is simple. "It isn't about land or trees or anything like that. They don't want the poor close to them," said Sebastião Machado, 47, a community activist and odd-job man involved in the battle for Vila Alice."
Indeed, if we're talking environmental concerns, the wealthy mansions of Larangeiras are just as destructive of the environment as the small but cozy homes of the poor. And if the risk of landslide is the issue, only the homes directly impacted by this should be relocated.
Several politicians in favor of eviction want the favelados moved further out of town. But favela dwellers and their allies dismiss this as pushing the problem away.
"People are confusing the issue of violence and the issue of favelas. The middle class are scared of the violence but it's not removal that will solve this. In the past ... removal has only helped change the address of this problem," Ricardo Gouvêa, an architect and human rights campaigner from the Bento Rubião Foundation told the Guardian. He cited the example of the Catacumba favela, whose expelled residents went on to form the Complexo da Maré, a sprawling slum near Rio's airport often referred to as the "Gaza Strip" because of its high death rate. "In the 1960s more than 100,000 families were brutally removed and this didn't solve the problem," he said.
The battle over Vila Alice culminates Nov. 8th and is extremely important. José Nerson de Oliveira, vice-president of the Federation of Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, told the Guardian that as many as 70 communities could be at risk.
Vila Alice occupies a chunk of land owned by the nearby highrise. Does anyone believe that this is anything but a real estate grab? And won't Brazil's recently enacted City Statute protect the residents?
How many times do we have to say it: eviction is not the answer, no matter how much political and legal swat rich people can muster. It's time for a dialogue between communities, designed to ensure that they can live together, and share the space in the city.