When police attempted to eject homeless Rio squatters, the people living there clashed with them. Wearing riot gear, Rio police arrived at a newly created slum, known as a favela, located in the northern part of the city. They fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd and clear the property.
The homeless Rio squatters retaliated by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. They set police vehicles and busses on fire. Plumes of smoke from the squatter’s camp rose above the city. Even when officers finally gained control over the favela, the riot continued. People fleeing the area began looting nearby supermarkets, businesses, and banks.
Twenty, including several police officers were injured. Twenty-six squatters who clashed with police or had a connection with the looting that followed were detained. Police later entered two nearby favelas, Rato Molhado and Jacarezinho, in search of suspects taking refuge there.
The Rio homeless squatters living on the property called their slum Telerj Favela. Telerj once owned the property and is one of Brazil’s largest telecommunication companies. The riot has brought the plight of the city’s poor to international attention. In two months, city will begin hosting the World Cup. The Summer Olympics will be played there in 2016. Affordable housing has not kept pace with new construction. Across the city, old buildings are being torn down and new ones built. Rents and real estate prices have increased forcing the urban poor into the street.
Rio and its suburbs have 1.5 million favela squatters scattered among 1,000 different communities. Many of the slums formed when landless peasants and the urban underclass began constructing makeshift dwellings on unused land. Others homeless people have occupied abandoned buildings. Population growth has only exacerbated the problem.
Community police forces patrolling other favelas have been attacked. Robberies, rapes, and murders among the homeless Rio squatters have risen. In 2013, there were 4,761 murders in the city, an increase of 17 percent. Last Saturday, the government sent 2,500 soldiers and marines into Complexo da Maré, one of the larger favelas in the city with the mission of clearing it. The military intends to maintain a presence there until the World Cup concludes.
Guilherme Simões, a housing activist who works with people living in favelas, said Telerj Favela was occupied by squatters because the property lay vacant for years. The increasing number of homeless people moved there out of necessity. Other fevelas were full to the point of overflowing. People out of desperation needed a place to live so they flocked there when others entered the property.
Nicole Evangelista, a squatter, had just arrived at the newly formed favela. Being unemployed, she lived in another slum called Mandela. She was among thousands of people using social media and word of mouth to coordinate her latest move to Telerj Favela. When the police arrived, she was still asleep. An officer later warned her to leave or he would fill her head with bullets. The problem was that she had no place to go.
Before they are torn down, abandoned buildings become home to hundreds if not thousands of people. The lucky ones find odd jobs. Most beg and pick through trash for their next meal. When the homeless Rio squatters living in Telerj Favela were ordered to leave, the residents had no other choice than to clash with police.
By Brian T. Yates