Who are The Poor Going to Ask for Restitution?

Last Friday (04/11), a piece of land property in Rio’s suburbia was reinstated to telecom giant Oi. The area was known as “favela da Telerj” and had been occupied by 5,000 people, mostly from Mandela, Manguinhos, and Jacarezinho favelas, who built improvised homes there. There were serious confrontations with the Military Police in the enforcement of the court order of disoccupation and even an O Globo newspaper reporter, who was following the acts of the police, was arrested.

This is the same Rio de Janeiro where thousands of families had their homes expropriated to open up space for the FIFA World Cup 2014 developments. Not only were they forced to leave their homes, they generally received very little compensation and were relocated to very distant regions. According to the Popular World Cup and Olympics Committee, in a complaint from last year, there are even more expropriations than actually necessary, which sweep off poor communities to make way for upper scale housing developments, for the benefit of real estate enterprises.

In the meantime, in the Amazon, expropriations of indigenous land were approved by Aneel (National Agency for Electric Energy) to make way for the Belo Monte Dam. A complaint presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights prompted a request, in 2011, that the Brazilian state should “guarantee the quick completion of the pending processes of regularization of the indigenous people’s ancestral lands in the Xingu River basin and adopt effective measures for the protections of such lands, given the illegitimate appropriation and occupation by non-indigenous peoples and their economic exploitation and dilapidation of natural resources.” The government, however, just kept business going as usual: In 2012, the last land expropriation was formalized, authorizing the removal of riverside dwellers, natives and small farmers, amicably or judicially.

One could think, naively, that the Brazilian government is a great guardian of private property in observing the “efficiency” with which it enforced the property reintegration to Oi. However, it is the same government, in control of the same police, which expropriated poor and indigenous people without giving them any chance of effective protection of their possessions. Under the pretext of upholding the “common good,” the people’s right to property and to a home is worthless.

In an interview, Rio’s mayor stated that he will not have “squatters like those be privileged,” as opposed to people who are waiting in line for government programs such as Minha Casa, Minha Vida (“My House, My Life”). This is a very small example of the determination of the Brazilian government to control access to urban land in the country.

As Pedro da Luz Moreira, regional president of the Architects Institute of Brazil states, “Minha Casa, Minha Vida is being pushed in the periphery, very far from the city centers where jobs are available. The survival of the families depends on that. I have no details on the occupation of the Telerj building, but it is close to the urban spot and, therefore, to job opportunities.”

Hence, it is an instance of what individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker called “land monopoly.” Writing near the end of the 19th century, he focused on the rural aspect of the issue, describing it as “enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation.”

This analysis calls for a 21st century update, since one of the main tools the government has for the exclusion of poorer people is the control of urban land. First, it denies low costs to poor people through urban regulation policies (in Rio, this included a ban on tenements, giving rise to modern favelas, and the prohibition of the homesteading of public land). Then, second, those people become dependent on the government and enter a long line to be able to get any land they can outside urban areas, under close bureaucratic surveillance.

Albert Jay Nock used to say that the state was created for the criminal purpose of creating a dependent class without access to property, for the benefit of the elites with access to land. The Brazilian state, in its uncompromising defense of big corporations’ “private property” combined to its ever dedicated effort to deprive poor of their property and control their access to land, is proof of that criminal intent. After all, from whom are the all the World Cup and Belo Monte property-less going to claim restitution?

Translated from Portuguese to English by Erick Vasconcelos.

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