Brazil: outrage follows “Massacre of Pinheirinho”

Brazil’s government is facing an outcry from rights groups and social movements following a violent Jan. 22 eviction of a favela (informal settlement) that the media have dubbed the “Massacre do Pinheirinho.” Some 2,000 troops from the Military Police of São Paulo (PMSP) and the Metropolitan Civil Guard (GCM) of the city of São José dos Campos, in the São Paulo state, invaded the settlement known as Pinheirinho following an order for repossession of the land issued by the state court. Backed up by armored cars and helicopters, the troops evicted an estimated 6,000 from the community on the outskirts of São Paulo city. The troops descended on the site without warning, using tear gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons to disperse frightened residents. But apparently well-drilled to resist eviction, some residents quickly donned improvised weapons and homemade body armor and attempted to block the police advance. The images widely circulated on Brazilian social media, leading to widespread protests in support of the evicted residents.

Pinheirinho had been a favela for eight years, established on disused property of the bankrupt estate of the Lebanese-born speculator Naji Nahas and his company, Selecta. Nahas, who has been charged in various financial crimes, became the owner of the land in the early 80’s—although there is little public information about how the acquisition was made, or about the unsolved murder of the former owners in 1969. The state government of Sao Paulo demanded the return of the property in mid-January, leading to litigation with the favelaresidents. The federal government offered to buy and regularize the land on behalf of the residents, but the municipality of São José dos Campos and the state of São Paulo refused to accept the agreement. The eviction order was nonetheless suspended when the state and federal governments agreed to a 15-day reprieve for negotiations. However, the reprieve was unilaterally breached as state and municipal governments ordered troops to evict.

The Military Police say there were few injuries and no fatalities in the eviction. But local popular media, including the Agência de Notícias das Favelas (ANF), have reported up to seven dead, and video footage posted to YouTube appears to show that at least some evicted residents received serious injuries.

Amnesty International said the eviction violated “a raft of international standards” and urged officials to urgently address the needs of the families left homeless. “As the country booms, tens of thousands of poor families are being removed to make way for infrastructure and private development projects, without receiving adequate protection and alternative housing,” said Atila Roque, director of Amnesty in Brazil.

A national movement for justice in the case has been launched under the slogan “We are all from Pinheirinho,” demanding the land should be given back to the evicted residents. President Dilma Rousseff has criticized the police violence in the operation, and says her government is looking for a solution in the case. (NACLA NewsPrensa Latina, Jan. 27; Global VoicesBBC News, Jan. 25)

See our last posts on Brazil and the favela wars.