Not New Recife: The Old Collusion, The Old Elitist Left

On Monday (May 4), the City Council of Recife, Brazil, approved the urban plan authorizing construction consortium New Recife to develop a project of the same name in the area of the José Estelita Dock — which includes the construction of 13 skyscrapers that may reach 38 stories. In a concerted move to pass the plan, the opposition left the chamber and a small but sufficient number of councilpeople voted for the project unanimously, effectively transferring the land to the control of construction companies.

As soon as they knew what had transpired, activists of the #OcupeEstelita movement, which set up camp on the area about one year ago, halting construction work and protesting the project, marched into the City Council, followed the proceedings, and occupied the outside of the building. They even sent four people to negotiate the law with the legislators, but it was all for show: while militants shouted their catchphrases and booed councilpeople, the mayor had already signed the plan.

The José Estelita Dock is a 0.8 mile land area, an entire neighborhood in the center of Recife. The land is coveted both by construction companies and by the political class, which ostensibly utilizes urban land as political bargaining chip and a way to acquire campaign financing. Even though these facts theoretically bothered Recife’s militant middle class left, the collusion of the state and corporations seems to have taken a backseat, while they stare in shock at the number of tall buildings the developers plan to erect.

The #OcupeEstelita movement grew out of the discussion forum Direitos Urbanos (literally, “Urban Rights”), a group known for engaging in manifestations and actions for the preservation of the city’s architecture. Judging by what they say, it’s more important to have a nice city skyline to be gazed at by the middle class, without polluting skyscrapers, than the right to the city of the poor, who have steadily been pushed away from the urban centers, and subjected to all sorts of transportation and infrastructure problems for that reason. They have even created a carnival-like bloc called “Blocking Your View”, where people dress up as tall buildings and stand in front of passers-by to show them what the result of the development would be. Fun.

Direitos Urbanos also tries very hard to have as many structures as they can recognized as historical landmarks, forcing them to be preserved and preventing any housing or commercial development. Houses or stores only seem to be important for those who are systemically expropriated by the state’s eminent domain laws or who are homeless. As of this moment, they are trying to have the José Estelita Dock recognized as a landmark and celebrate each step of the process as if it were a clear improvement of the city.

As with any Gaussian distribution, however, the movement has a more consistent wing, and they have managed to included in the #OcupeEstelita demands for the New Recife the construction of popular houses in the land. A small quota of houses for the poor amidst a sea of theaters, parks and nice green spaces for the middle class, of course.

Sooner or later, nevertheless, the construction companies will be able to get their way. As usual, the state serves as a tool of business against the people.

Only civil disobedience, squatting of state and otherwise unused land, and the protection of occupations can soften the effects of the state monopoly on land. Only the dissolution of the political class means of action can take away the incentives to buy the government. The squirmish between Direitos Urbanos and construction companies is class warfare. A single class warfare, because they belong to the same one. The only difference is who makes up the state. And while politicians retain power, there will always be construction companies willing to pay them up and cash in later on.

As many seem to ignore, the problem isn’t this state, it is the state. And, with all due respect, Direitos Urbanos, your view is the least of our concerns.

Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos.

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