Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sao Paulo. Occupied.







The marked and empty buildings are striking. There are so many of them, but they have still continued to have an active live and connection people even though their formal uses have disappeared. Some buildings just aren’t finished. And while some are just ‘tagged’ others have been taken over by people seeking housing and shelter in good locations. If there are so many empty spaces (40,000 abandoned buildings) and so many people that need housing (15,000 homeless people), why not? And Sao Paulo is a city of extremes. For a couple of years, Sao Paulo had the largest squat in Latin America. I think it would be hard to find a larger one in the world. Stretched over 22 floors (without working elevators) close to 3,000 people occupied this building for almost two years. The Prestes Maia building was occupied by the Movimento Sem Teto (MSTC) ‘roofless’, extending out of Brazil’s strong Movimento dos Sem Terra (MST) ‘landless’ to bring attention to crazy and difficult housing dynamics in the city.
I linked up with an amazing photographer, Tatiana Cardeal, who had been documenting and exploring the building and the people. Tatiana describes the current situation on her blog:
“After almost 5 years of occupation, constants suspensions of evictions, national and international mobilizations, in May 2007, a meeting joined leaders from federal, state and municipal sphere, giving a new direction for the Prestes Maia families. After negotiations, a progressive and pacific withdrawal happened and the occupation was closed.
Many had moved to other buildings, small apartments at city's downtown with a provisory support of the federal government, and are still waiting the promise of the negotiation: reform and rent for fair values social habitations for them. Other group of families accepted the offer to move out of downtown, to live in the periphery of the city. Some other families just moved to other occupations from the Homeless Movement in the city, and continue fighting.”
We went to the building, but it was all sealed up. It was extraordinary to think people were living on every floor of it, without elevators. It is quite a sight and quite a structure.
But, right down the street, many of the same residents and the group have occupied another building, this time, the Santo Dumos Hotel. You wouldn’t be able to tell anything was going on. There was an entrance of the main street, but it was more a garage entrance. We knocked. The door creaked open. My guide was able to start name dropping and talking about her involvement in the Prestes Maia occupation. She knew the leader, a hard core woman, not afraid of anything. We were let in. A group of three of four burly brazilian women were guarding the gate. They had some canes and clubs for whatever arose.

We wandered into the courtyard, and looked up at all the laundry, and the lives of people extending into the outside of the old crumbling building. Art decorated the walls of the courtyard. We wandered into the first floor. About twenty families had constructed little rooms with make shifts walls, door, etc. I think it used to be the hotel lobby. Now, it was the ‘favelinha’ (little favela).
We found a family on they second floor that my friend knew from the Prestes Maia occupation. They were great, generous, fragile, and proud. They were getting some money from the government after the Prestes Maia occupation, but found the quality and location better than they could get anywhere else, even with all the uncertainty. They had a pretty sweet suite, two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom to themselves.
On the top floor, however, the conditions were not so good. We found a room that had been subdivided into two spaces. I think there about 8 people living there (6 children). We spent time talking with a woman who had made her home there. She had covered the windows with black plastic to keep out the cold, rain, and pigeons. The roof leaked, and her room was decorated with plastic tarps to catch the water as it came in.


Article about Prestes Maia: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/jan/23/brazil.uknews1
Article about Santos Dumont Hotel:
http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37911
Tatiana Cardeal's amazing photography:

http://tatianacardeal.blogspot.com/2008/07/tatiana-cardeal-prestes-maia-opening-in.html

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