Brazil Evicts Hundreds Of Families Amid The COVID Pandemic On Behalf Of Petrobras
Authorities evicted hundreds of internally displaced people amid the COVID19 pandemic which has killed more than 500,000 people in Brazil so far.
A pre-dawn raid evicted Rio de Janeiro’s poorest from vacant land belonging to the state-run oil giant Petrobras. Many of the IDPs were living in the “May 1st Refugee Camp” and had fled from criminal controlled regions in Rio de Janeiro’s West Zone. The victims had lost their income and had been evicted from their homes once before amid the uncontrolled COVID crisis. The Human Rights Commission counted over 3,000 people mostly mothers, children, and elderly. At least 993 mothers and heads of the family, 1,854 children, and 427 elderly people were evicted into the street. Nobody in government has proposed an alternate permanent and COVID-safe solution. The police released tear gas and fired water from an armored truck to disperse the victims. An elderly woman was killed by the police action, and at least two children and a pregnant woman were seriously injured. Erick Vermelho, the community leader of the encampment, was arrested.
The court-ordered move has shocked the international community and human rights, observers. The government had previously told residents that they would be safe from eviction until at least the end of the year. Police used tractors and bulldozers to destroy the camp. They also started a fire that destroyed the little belongings clothes, food, and personal identification documents the victims had. People were not allowed to retrieve their surviving possessions under threat of violence or arrest.
The encampment was a lifeline for people displaced by the pandemic and Brazil's inhumane capitalist policies. They had grown increasingly desperate as the government’s emergency aid packages were slashed in April and inflation climbed. They had set up a mutual aid encampment that included recycling, sanitation, and guaranteed three full meals for each resident. The camp also operated on a zero alcohol or drug policy.
Petrobras, which had left the land vacant for 30 years without any development plans, sued to evict the families amid the pandemic. On May 7 another attempt at eviction was foiled by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Chamber Judge Alexandre Scisinio who overruled the repossession order. He granted the IDPs the right to remain on the land until Rio de Janeiro’s main human rights body, the Public Defense Office, came to a decision regarding COVID risks to the residents of the occupation.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, the country’s highest court, ruled on June 3 that illegal occupations established before May 20, 2020, were protected from eviction. Despite the court ruling protecting the IDP camp, Petrobras maliciously filed a second repossession order “alleging new facts'' to the Supreme Court of Justice, Brazil’s non-constitutional court. Luiz Cláudio Teixeira Martins, the encampments defense lawyer, said the Supreme Court of Justice judge on duty on the evening of June 30 said she “had no knowledge of an appeal,” and ruled in favor of Petrobras to overturn Scisinio’s decision. Hours later, the police viciously attacked residents and destroyed the camps.
According to data from the housing rights campaign, Despejo Zero, around 64,500 Brazilian families are internally displaced and living in unauthorized settlements. These impoverished families are at risk of eviction during the pandemic and with the supreme court decision suspending some evictions not being obeyed, now live in renewed fear. The court had also ruled that alternative housing and support would need to be offered to those who are evicted. An action that is also not being respected by the government.
In a statement, Petrobras claims it is assisting people interested in registering to shelters. They also claim to be funding "food, mats, blankets and kits with alcohol gel and masks for the families sent to the shelters.” The Itaguai local government has provided shelter for the families at two local schools, but only temporarily. However, according to experts on the ground, the shelters are inadequate, with “unsanitary” conditions and no access to water.
Under the constitution, Brazil guarantees the basic right to housing and assures that the minimum wage is enough to meet the basic needs of housing and food. However, the government is refusing to enforce the constitution or protect the rights of the citizens. Petrobras is state-run and is not doing anything in particular with the land. Families are now scattered throughout the streets in the middle of the pandemic.