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(en) US, Defenstrator #32 - Autonomous Land Occupations in Brasil visit to 3 squatted territories in brasil - by dave onion

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 25 Apr 2005 21:53:38 +0200 (CEST)

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On February 18th 2005, a contingent of anarchists from Rio´s
anarchist federation (FARJ or Federação Anarquista do Rio de
Janeiro)made our way to Olga Benario Prestes, a squatted piece of
land on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to participate in their 2nd year
anniversary and victory celebration. It had been two years of
occupation and there was much reason to celebrate. The celebration
was taking pace just days after Brazilian military and pigs had brutally
evicted hundreds of families (12,000 people in total) from squatted land
in Goiania, in the north of Brasil, killing several and disappearing many.

To put the occupation in further context, Brasil, who`s boundaries
boast the world´s 8th largest economy also is home to some 12
million homeless and landless people who share little of the
country’s wealth. From these landless (called Sem Terras) and
homeless (Sem Techos) springs an enormous squatter movement ,
mostly internationally known by news of the Movimento dos
Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Tera or MST. Who after 20 years claim
some 2 million in its occupations. Tracts of abandoned or unused
land is taken sometimes by thousands of landless families who
immediately go about building new more stable communities, often
in the face of severe repression.

I had tracked down activists of the FARJ, Rio´s anarchist federation
a few days before at their Cultural Centre. Located in a sleepy
neighborhood of Rio at the foot of favelas on the hills from where
regular machine gun fire exchanges between police() and extra legal
capitalists calmly added punctuation to traffic noises. The FARJ
activists had been keeping up solidarity work with and some living in
various squats and occupations in and around Rio, all of which where
autonomous from the MST and thus in many ways left out of the
solidarity work some of the other occupations enjoy. Olga Benário
Prestes is one of these.

Olga Benário Prestes

After a long ride to Campo Grande on the periphery of Rio and a
short walk, we found ourselves at the gates of the occupation, a sign
proudly announcing themselves “Ocupacao Olga Benário
Prestes”. Through the gates, a main road led through the
occupation, past houses in various stages of completion and
sturdiness, past sleeping dogs, playing kids and adults leaning out of
windows and doors with looks of cautious interest. André, a lawyer
working with the occupations led us on a tour of the territory,
explained some of their history.

OBP had been initially taken by about 115 families in February of
2003. According to André, the land had been used previously for
burying cadavers, drug trafficking and orgies. The families
immediately started building shelters and improving the structures
into more stable homes as more resources became available. Work
and materials were supplied in part by some friendly unions such as
Sinpro-Rio (a professors union in Rio). But self governed life was not
without obstacles. André cited 8 violent evictions within 2 years,
during which pigs burnt down or otherwise destroyed homes and
subjected the squatters to beatings and jail. Each time the families
returned, refortified and rebuilt. Hearing this I immediately felt a
ridiculousness thinking about the ease at which rebels in the US are
prone to bend to usually much lighter repression. With Goiania´s
massacre fresh on everyone’s mind (and as happened before
elsewhere as no doubt every occupant at OBP knows well), murder
by the state is of course a real life threat.

We walked down a road, crunching cinderblock debris underfoot. A
deal had been made for trucks to dump construction debris at OBP to
use as landfill, covering up a sewer system that the squatters had
built on their own. And the electricity, “de gato” or stolen. A
local walking with us smiled mischievously, proudly. I was
immensely impressed, and there it was again the slightly foolish
feeling. These people had built up an entire infrastructure impeded by
8 violent evictions, with kids, hardly any employment to speak of and
no support by the state; running exclusively on solidarity and mutual

We made our way back through the ocupa to the party site where I
chatted with some folks. One, a vegan, expressed his fear there
would be nothing to eat but meat. His fears were well founded.
Behind some tables, a small bovine community was slowly rotating
over coals and flames. Squatters from the community served up
generous, seemingly endless proportions of rice, beans, meat, beer
and mango juice from the trees in whose shade we sat
The program for the celebration started off with poetry stirring the
still meager crowd to chuckles, yawns and sighs as only poets know
to do. A moment of silence was held for those who’d died in
Goiania as well as for those dead, tortured and disappeared from the
landless and homeless and other struggles. Throughout the night
musicians, dancers, a theatre group were interspersed with speeches
and statements of solidarity from the various unions, individuals.
and groups that had shown up to share in the celebration. The
visitors were especially appreciated. Numerous locals embraced me
with heartfelt appreciation. And the feeling was mutual as I was
inspired on a number of levels.

An old white haired old man approached me. He`d come along as
part of the FARJ delegation. He introduced himself, an anarchist who
had fled Portugal for Brazil only to have to live under the dictatorship
here. He told me the story of Olga Benario Prestes, a communist
troublemaker was arrested on politcal charges by dictatorship
Getúlio Vargas´regime and was delivered more or less as a gift of
goodwill to Hitler who had her killed in Auschwitz in 1942. The
squatters took her name as their own “in order not to forget”.
He repeated the words “not to forget!” with insistence before
diversions of the party had us both elsewhere.

As the meat kept coming, the beer kept flowing and economically
poor rebels danced in those moments of solidarity, kids and adults
alike danced lambada to the band. And just as OBP was starting to
get into it, loosing the inhibition of being around us, it was us
anarchists who were getting sleepy. We waited for cake cutting
ceremony until the cake was most unceremoniously cut up and
devoured before heading out.

Vila Conquista and Nelson Faria Marinho

I´d been invited to visit some occupations closer to Rio the next
day. Other FARJists who also worked with the MEL (Movimento
Educacao Libertario), a Paulo Freire inspired education collective
were visiting to meet up with the community to discuss their first
popular education project in the community. Entering the Vila
Conquista, folks were relaxing and chatting in small groups. Some
friendly faces from the FARJ called me over were I was introduced to
Marcos, who immediately laid into me with a barrage of Portuguese.
Not caring when I insisted I only speak Portuñol, I made do with
occasional translation breaks which Marcos reluctantly tolerated.

“We are libertarian! We don´t want anything to do with the
state. We want self rule!”. Marcos was passionate to say the least.
He stressed the communities refusal of leaders and horizontal
intentions, the communities´resourcefullness in opposition to the
state, their strong DIY ethics. Our conversation kept leading to
education, though. The importance to teach people to read. With
large numbers adult squatters illiterate, literacy is an important
elemental need in all the occupations I visited. Unable to pass a basic
literacy exam part of the basic entrance exam for schools in Brazil,
people are kept out of schools, which for poor people with few
resources is a catch 22 and nearly alwys, a systematic entrenchment
of poverty. Vila Conquista and it´s neighbor occupation Nelson
Faria Marinho had a total of one (1) teacher: Jonas, 13 years old and
though quiet (beside Marcos at least) full of warmth and intelligent
creativity radiating from his smile. Jonas took us around the corner to
the school, a one room shack with a couple desks. At one, a girl
practiced writing, while at the other a teenage kid sketched pieces in
a notebook. “Graffiti!”, Marcos boasted enthusiastically,
pointing to the dance of contorted letters in the artists fingers. On a
chalkboard, some basic elements of anarchist theory left over from an
earlier day.

We left the classroom for the garden and compost pile still in
experimental stages and then on to a recycling project started by a
guy who´d started a similar project at the FARJ´s centre, making
furniture for sale from used plastic bottles and other trashpickings.
We were introduced to a shed loaded to the ceiling with empty tetra
packs and bottles. The tetra packs were used as roofing tiles and
insulation, Marcos explained. We were then introduced to an
apparently wise and certainly crazy old man who took me aside for a
whirlwind tour of his medicinal herbs.

I caught up with the rest of the MEL activists, as Marcos led us
through both occupations, separated apparently more by theory than
geography. Nelson Faria Marinho, which was also younger by several
years was noticeably less together than Vila Conquista, with more
trash and less built up structures. Later when I asked someone about
political prisoners in Brazil, I learned a group from NFM had carried
out an armed attack on a police station intending to spark off a
general uprising. The spontaneous insurrection didn’t occur and
all the militants were snatched up, in prison to this day.

Vila Conquista´s history, like those of many other Brazilian
occupations was punctuated by evictions, violent repression and
trashing of houses. And again countered by stubborn
resistance and persistence. The land, whose ownership was
ambiguous from the start was squatted some 7 years ago by
thirtysomething families. After five years and the aforementioned
troubles, legal proceedings on part of the squatters gained them title
to their land. Nelson had only been squatted for the last few years,
but support from Vila Conquista has kept them stable.

We made our way to where I first met Marcos, under a tarp rescuing
us from the relentless sun. A meeting was getting underway between
the community and the MEL to flesh out plans for organizing classes
in the communities. When the meeting wound down, the idea of
expanding Jonas´ literacy classes had grown into a number of other
projects including health education, self defense workshops and a
fund and foodraising benefit party for the squatters. We exchanged
embraces and contacts and were off.

It was good to see that even in squatter occupations in Brazil,
libertarian rebels finish their meetings with discussion on which bar
to go to. Wee chose the only one we could find on the way to the bus.
I caught up on bits filtered out via the language barrier. A woman
from the MEL, reaffirmed what seemed glaringly obvious, that Villa
Conquista though full of people with obvious drive and enthusiasm
are more often than not stuck with nothing to work with.Unable to
sometimes afford the very basics, such as nails or school supplies,
many projects just stop despite extensive resourcefullness on their
own part. One such project is a small social centre, a building which
could hold basic meetings and events. At Olga Benares Prestes the
situation was similar, with various education and building projects
coming to a stop because of lack of resources. Also the folks at both
occupations, specifically asked to tell others about their existence,
their struggles and in the case of Vila Conquista, certainly welcomed

By the time our table ha filled to capcity with empoty beer bottles,
conversations had shifted from solidarity to Michael Jackson`s trial
and the sun had let up. Recharged with some inspiration and stories,
we made our long bus ride back to the city of beaches, telenovela
stars, surfers and favelas, and ghosts of past struggles forgotten and

To support the efforts of Olga Benaio Prestes or Vila Conquista, get
in touch with onion via the defenestrator or write to the FARJ (farj
(at) riseup.net).

For info on the recent violence in Goiania, read Brad Will of NYC
indymedia`s 1 st person account here:

Photos of the funerals

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