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inoccupation

Prestes Maia

The Prestes Maia, is by far the largest squatted highrise building on the South American continent. Originally 468 families, united in the Downtown Roofless Movement (Movimento Sem Teto do Centro or MSTC) of São Paulo, and lived in the 22-storey highrise since 2002. Today there are approximately 250 families and the numbers vary as people move in and out. The building had simply been closed down for years and left in deplorable condition, serving as shelter for rats and cockroaches, as is the case of many buildings in downtown São Paulo. The new residents cleaned out tonnes of rubbish and litter (200 trucks to be exact), organized it, expelled drugs and other criminal bosses always there to take advantage, turning it into an exciting and lively human dwelling. It contains a free library, workshops, and hosts autonomy educational, social and cultural activities. in the last few years it has become a major laboratory of experiments in organizing a real human renewal of downtown São Paulo. People of all ages and upbringings, of all Brazilian states and other nationalities, artists, students, work together to create a new understanding of how the city should and can work.

Currently the community is under threat of eviction. With the families, accounting for more than 1600 previously homeless people, including children, elderly and disabled, the building will shortly be returned to its lawful owner, who in the last 15 years accumulated a debt in municipal taxes of some 5.5 million reais (approx. 2.2 million dollars / 1.4 million euros), which is close to the amount the building is worth (near 7 million reais).

On January 27th 2006, representatives met with the police authorities in charge of the forthcoming eviction. During the meeting, it was made clear that the action will take place somewhere between the 15th and 21st of February (an exact date was not given for 'strategic' reasons). The families were advised to leave the precinct before the eviction to avoid unpleasant encounters, and when they asked where they were supposed to go, the answer was: 'to the streets or elsewhere'.

On February 7th, the residents of Prestes Maia’s building staged a street blockade for almost 2 hours to draw attention to their plight.

On February 13/14th, about 200 people had congregated at Prestes Maia anxious for the news and information. They were told that repossession of ownership had been postponed for indeterminate stated period. The residents celebrated and thanked the support of the groups, individuals, lawyers etc, who had helped the campaign.

The fight continues despite the positive victory as there may be further moves to evict in two months' time.

Afterwards, many evictions have occurred in other squatted buildings in São Paulo. In 2007, the government seemed to be convicted to promote the eviction of Prestes Maia Building. Till April 2007, two months before the official eviction, the Prestes Maia dwellers conquered the right of a planned inoccupation, with a financial aid for rental and also a credit plan which could finance a new home.

With that conquer, Prestes Maia Building became a symbol of fight, fate and victory for many Brazilians, showing the power of these humble people, who stood up for their rights and resisted against financial power until they were able to write with their own hands a new Brazilian History.

Films

Prestes Maia - freedom in concrete. Documentary by Levin Peter, Jonas Ginter, Marla Fee Wilke. 52 min, in coproduction with ZDF/arte. A production of gebrueder beetz filmproduktion (www.gebrueder-beetz.de). Germany 2008.

The Magic Carriage Hero (O Herói da Carruagem Mágica) – Independent ‘Cordel’-documentary that tells the story of the creators of Prestes Maia Community Library. By Philippe Bertrand. 15 min. Brazil 2007.

Afterwards, many evictions have occurred in other squatted buildings in São Paulo. In 2007, the government seemed to be convicted to promote the eviction of Prestes Maia Building. Till April 2007, two months before the official eviction, the Prestes Maia dwellers conquered the right of a planned inoccupation, with a financial aid for rental and also a credit plan which could finance a new home.

With that conquer, Prestes Maia Building became a symbol of fight, fate and victory for many Brazilians, showing the power of these humble people, who stood up for their rights and resisted against financial power until they were able to write with their own hands a new Brazilian History.

See also

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