Wednesday, April 28, 2010

think like a squatter

As this New York Times article makes clear, many who were previously not squatters now are and will be for for the foreseeable future in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

And its not just residents like Ginette Lemazor and her family, who, the article notes, live "in a flimsy structure fashioned from plastic sheeting and salvaged wood. They have a bed — “Please, make yourself at home,” she said, pointing to it — and a chair." Schools are operating under tarps. Impromptu latrines are so full that people are invading half-wrecked houses to use their toilets. And one thought unites everyone: the government doesn't communicate (except to falsely promise supplies) and is doing nothing. Indeed, in a recent interview, President René Préval, rather than speaking about rebuilding, promised there would be more earthquakes.

There's hope, however, in the words and actions of this man:

"Jean-Claude Gouboth, 36, the leader of a small encampment on the grounds of an old villa, said he had ignored the president’s remarks “because the president ignores me.” Mr. Gouboth has already rebuilt his small convenience store with wood from inside his heavily damaged house. “You have to face the facts and recoup,” he said. “Nobody’s going to do anything for you."

Monday, April 26, 2010

This cup is empty

Sad to say, but former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan serves up nothing but platitudes in his recent Guardian column on the importance of the World Cup for Africa.

"The World Cup has the real potential to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes," Annan writes. "I sincerely hope that all of us will carry the spirit of the World Cup, that being part of a family of nations and peoples celebrating a common humanity, into our daily lives and works."

But nowhere does he mention the evictions and rip-offs that make a mockery of what he has written.

In three paragraphs, John Pilger catalogs some of the sordid details:
A new stadium near Nelspruit will host four World Cup matches over 10 days. Jimmy Mohlala, speaker of the local municipality, was gunned down in his home in January last year after whistle-blowing “irregularities” in the tenders. An entire school, which was in the way, has been removed into prefabricated, sweltering steel boxes on a desolate site with a road running through it. "When the World Cup is over," said the writer Ashwin Desai, "it will become obvious that these stadiums are going to be empty shells, that our money has been used for what is really a pyramid scheme."

A community of 20,000 people, the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement, is threatened with eviction from where they live near the main motorway between Cape Town and the city’s airport. They are deemed an “eyesore”. Street vendors will be arrested if they fail to comply with FIFA rules about trade and advertising and mention the words "World Cup", even "2010". FIFA will earn about two and quarter billion pounds from the TV rights, exceeding its income from the last two World Cups combined.

Incredibly, South Africa will get none of this. And this is country with up to 40 per cent unemployment, a male life expectancy of 49 and thousands of malnourished children. This truth about the "rainbow nation" is not what fans all over the world will see on their TV screens, although they may glimpse an unreported feature of modern South Africa, which is a vibrant, rolling resistance that has linked the World Cup to an economic apartheid that remains as divisive as ever. Indeed, another kind of World Cup for effective popular protest has long been won in the streets of South Africa’s townships.

Africans can be rightly excited about the Cup without a whitewash about the costs. I fear for the favelas of Brazil, which is set to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

UPDATE a few hours later:
Just came across this: the 27th of April is Freedom Day in South Africa. As in other years, the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo will instead be celebrating 'Unfreedom Day.' As part of their declaration, they write:
Is this a free country when grassroots organizations that have done everything that is required in terms of the Gatherings Act to organise a march find that their march is banned by Mike Sutcliffe just because he has power to do what ever he wants? Is this a free country when the police service who are suppose to protect us shoot to us? Is this a free country when the ANC can just decide to 'disband' our movement? Is this a free country when women are not safe on the streets after dark? Is this a free country when our children are chased from the schools because we don't have money? Is this a free country the people that live in the informal settlements are being dumped in the ’Transit Areas‘ which are situated 37 KM away from the City? Is this a free country when street traders are driven from the cities? Is this a free country when the taxis that are majority owned by black people will not be allowed to operate in the city center and only government buses will be allowed to transport commuters in the city? For example in the City of Durban the Public Taxis will end at Warwick.

In forty five days the world will be enjoying the so called,”African World Cup”. The question is will the poor enjoy or benefit? The answer is No. Who will benefit? The same people who will be celebrating the freedom day on the 27 April. The poor are being denied the right to sell near the stadiums and forced to sell their things far, far away from the stadiums. The taxis operators are also in trouble. Who will buy there? How will poor people be transported? Has the BRT replaced the black led transport industry? Can we really say that anyone in Blikkiesdorp is free?

2nd update:
"Street traders at the Grand Parade in Cape Town have been told to leave the area from May 1 until the end of the Soccer World Cup because of Fifa by-laws that relate to host cities." That's 300 traders being evicted from the best location at the center of town. The Mail & Guardian has the depressing details.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

favela demolition

"A total of eight shantytowns in the city of Rio de Janeiro will be torn down and some 4,000 families will be forced to abandon their homes," the Latin American Herald Tribune reports.

Rio's Mayor Eduardo Paes has announced that 2,000 homes will be built on the site of the former Frei Caneca Prison, which was torn down last month. But that, of course, is only half the number that will be needed to house the people being displaced in these evictions. The article says that the Rio state government will pay 400 reais ($230) a month to the families while the new dwellings are under construction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

forced evictions in Rio?

In the wake of mudslides that claimed more than 200 lives in the region, Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes has signed a decree permitting the forced removal of residents in 158 "high-risk" areas, The Guardian reports. The newspaper notes that Paes also signaled that two favelas – Morro dos Prazeres, where 25 people died, and the Laboriaux neighborhood of Rocinha, where two were killed – would be permanently removed.

"We are not animals. We are human beings and we need the support of the town hall," Elisa Rosa Brandão, president of the Morro dos Prazeres residents association, told the news website G1. "This community has history and the families do not just want to leave."

Across the harbor in Niteroi, one resident of favela Morro da Bumba, which had been built on a former trash heap and was a scene of great tragedy after the rains, pointed out that forced evictions are no answer if replacement homes are not available. "I'm against violence but if the government doesn't help, what I am supposed to do? Go and sleep outside the town hall with my kids?"

While mudslides on the many hills in Brazil's former capital are normal occurrences, the threat of forced evictions is a putsch against these communities that house one in five city residents. The government needs, instead, to work with these neighborhoods to create solutions -- both short term, to house those who have lost their homes, and long term, to create proper drainage and sewers and construction standards so the communities are not at risk ever again. Otherwise, these kinds of tragedies will simply continue.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

landslides in the favelas

More than 100 people, many of them from the favelas, have died in landslides as strong rains have hit Rio de Janeiro. Nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours Monday and Tuesday. And though the rains have slowed or stopped on April 7, the dry interval is apparently temporary and more rain is in the forecast.

Reuters and RTE have some details.

UPDATE a few hours later: The BBC has more.

More, one day later, from The Associated Press via The New York Times, detailing the landslide in favela Morro Bumba in Niteroi, across the Bay of Guanabara from downtown Rio.

A close-up of the devastation in Morro dos Prazeres near Santa Teresa in Rio:

WEEKEND UPDATE: The death toll in Rio and Niteroi is now more than 200. But as people dig out from the disaster, thoughts have turned to the politics of the problem and the city's response to it. Here's one important take, from Luis Odison, a resident of Morro dos Prazeres. He told the BBC: "What I want is politicians to stop worrying about World Cup or Olympics and think a bit more about the needs of the people who live here."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

beneath the World Cup

People who were booted from all over Cape Town to make way for the soccer World Cup have been forced to take shelter in Blikkiesdorp, a.k.a. Tin Can Town. The Guardian takes a look at the horrific underside of South Africa's deal to host the global football contest.

South Africa has spent 13 billion rand--or $1.8 billion U.S.--on infrastructure. But the government hasn't provided housing for the people it has evicted to make way for the soccer facilities.

Columnist Andile Mngxitama, the paper reports, is publishing a pamphlet titled Fuck the World Cup. "We never needed the World Cup. It is a jamboree by the politicians to focus attention away from the 16 years of democracy that have not delivered for the majority of black people in this country."