Residents of forested Horta Favela in Rio given 90 days to leave

Published August 19, 2016


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 19 (efe_epa).- The residents of Horta Favela in Rio de Janeiro live on leafy green land which in the past had been regarded as pretty but not particularly desirable by wealthy Brazilians.

That view has changed since land developers have coveted the remaining green spaces in the expanding metropolis, and since the Olympics came to town. Last week the 621 families who live in Horta Favela were handed 90-day eviction notices, an epa journalist on the scene reports.

Horta sits in Rio's South Zone, with homes located among budding trees where birds sing and monkeys jump around, and with a clear view of the towering Christ the Redeemer statue.

The community was founded 200 years ago when King Joao VI invited local laborers building the Botanical Garden to live on the land nearby, according to Brazil's Rion Watch community reporting website.

The eviction notice, served by a federal court on Aug. 10, called for the Botanical Garden to remove the favela, and the Garden has made no mention of compensation to its residents, even though Minister Bruno Dantas of the Audit Court has said a compensation agreement should be reached before anyone is evicted.

The notice isn't the first time people here have faced pressure to leave, after condominium and cemetery projects in the 1960s would have meant Horta residents had to get out, but they resisted and won.

Natural beauty aside, Horta sits on valuable land estimated by the Globo media corporation to be worth $3.2 billion, and is surrounded by expensive developments including the Jardim Botanico neighborhood of gated condominiums.

"I pray to God that things will work out and for our community leaders who fight on behalf of the community," says lifelong Horta resident Luis Carlos de Souza, who lives here with his wife and three children.

De Souza still has his grandfather Cypriano Alves de Souza's identity card and fraying residency right document issued by the Ministry of Land.

Though de Souza acknowledges the excitement generated by the Olympics, he also looks at the larger context of Brazilian society.

"People have to have joy and fun, but they need to meet basic needs first. There are hospitals here that need medicines and people here have so many needs. (The authorities) have so much money to spend on the Olympics but they don't have money to meet these social necessities."

Brazilian activists hoped that the Olympics would help bring more prosperity to Rio and stop the forced evictions of people, a sad reality particularly in the early 20th century and in the 1960's under the military regime.

"After the 60s things were quiet until 2009 when the Olympics were announced in Rio," Theresa Williamson, executive director of the Catalytic Communities NGO, says.

"All of a sudden we saw interested (parties) realizing (the Olympics) creates an opportunity to grab land and when a mega event is announced the government can ignore the usual practices."

"There have been 80,000 people evicted from their homes since the Olympics announcement - more than the two former periods put together and this makes the biggest forced eviction of people in our history."

If the evictions in Horta Favela go ahead, the residents would join others recently pushed aside in the name of development such as those in Vila Autodromo, whose 20 families were pushed out and their homes demolished so that the Olympic Park could be constructed.

"After the Olympics only God knows what will happen. We are fighting but we are in the hands of the government," said de Souza.