Roberto Gomes dos Santos

"It was really a perfect tactic, what City Hall did to remove us."

Coming from
Avenida Francisco Bicalho, 49, centro Avenida Francisco Bicalho, 49, centro

Now living in
Rua Orestes, 13, centro Rua Orestes, 13, centro

My name is Roberto Gomes dos Santos, I’m 49, I was a civil servant but now I’m retired.

We’ve got a group of people who check out buildings which have been abandoned and don’t have any kind of social function before an occupation takes place. Once the building has been identified, we get the families together – people who are living on rent, grouped together, or who don’t have anywhere to live – and we tell them about the place and occupy it.

The property had been there for 20 years without being used for anything. There’s a law that such buildings should be given as a priority for affordable housing, but that doesn’t happen. The law exists, but they go above it.

We were evicted in 2003 and the building is still there. City Hall took it over, represented by CDURP  (Company for the urban development of the port region) and started asking us to leave. One of Donald Trump’s towers, the Trump Towers, was going to be built on Francisco Bicalho but it has never been built. But they were supposed to be built specifically in the Quilombo das Guerreiras too. We even had a map ready, which came out on the internet, but the plan was never fulfilled.

So this pressure started to come from the municipality represented by CDURP – the municipality, City Hall, and City Hall, CDURP. This pressure started in the three, four years that we were in the building and we started to fight going to CDURP meetings, going to protests.

The threat of repossession was always present. It ran throughout the whole of the nine years of the Quilombo das Guerreiras, but it was there waiting in the background, until it came to the fore again. With this process of rejuvenation of the port area and the mega events, obviously City Hall took advantage of the opportunity, they used it to make an agreement with the Company for works in Rio de Janeiro – that basically introduced this whole process.

So this was the proposal: as you already have a social project, I’ll pay a social rent for you – that is worth absolutely nothing, because it’s 400 reals, and for that you’ll get nothing in this area. We didn’t accept it, because that wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted to stay in the building, reform it and make dignified apartments for people to live in.

We fought throughout this whole period – four, five, six years – but when 2010 arrived, the struggle was already very difficult. So what happened? The works started in Porto Maravilha and they cut our water supply off. They cut the water off, cut the electricity – we spent three months without electricity – 40 degree heat and they cut our electricity off. So it was this whole process. To finish it all off, what did City Hall do? By the time we were an organised occupation and we had an organisation, internal hierarchy and all those things, they got a community who were living around the Novo Rio bus station. They also needed somewhere to live, we always understood that. At the back of the occupation, there were several balconies that also belonged to the Docas company from Rio. They evicted them from there and on the same day, put them there at the back of our occupation. We took such a fright. City Hall itself did this. As they weren’t winning us over with dialogue, they thought: they’re organised. Let’s put a group of unorganised people in with them. What’s going to happen? They’ll go into shock.

Throughout this process, there were horrible situations – the issue of drug dealing. How can you live with that? You set this structure up; our we were an occupation which had self-management, our own finance team, a team which managed the main door. All residents had to watch the main door to see who was coming and going the whole time. Cleaning, the forming of policies… we looked after all that. There was a glorious library, we got hold of some books. Policy forming with the children, innumerous conversations about gender, sexuality, AIDS, STDs… we worked on all these issues. But there was no way. We kept at it because unfortunately the drug dealing was always present.

People started to leave as they threatened our lives, saying we had to leave Rio de Janeiro in a hurry. That’s how we were evicted. After this rumour came, this whole confusion, I was the first to leave, then Angela was the second, then Cida was the third… it started emptying out. Those that stayed were those who had nowhere to go. Women took their children and “bye, I’m going to my dad’s house/I’m going to stay with my aunt/I’m off to Campo Grande/I can’t stay here.” After the majority had gone, City Hall, represented by CDURP, evicted everyone, literally. They evicted the Quilombo das Guerreiras and the people who had been put in there at the back. It really seemed like the perfect tactic. So everyone went their own way, each one to their own corner. The occupation broke up. They still pay this monthly help of 400 reals, which is useless, because the average rent here is very expensive, even more so since this supposed reform of the port zone. This marvellous port, which has nothing marvellous about it.

Because your oil runs out, so you say, “so-and-so, can you lend me some of your oil?” That was what it was like all the time there. This makes me very sad, because it’s over, isn’t it. We don’t have this collectivity anymore which had such a profound effect on me, the self-managing way of living. It does bring a certain sadness, but we have to move on. It’s a struggle which is not over yet, we still have a lot to fight for. We’ve got the Quilambola project now, and we’ve already done the first project with the Caixa Economica Federal [federal bank]. It is a project which is part of “Minha Casa, Minha Vida and entities”, but it’s different to Minha Casa, Minha Vida. Why? Because there are two entities which take part in it, from the foundations until the final delivery of the building.

Songs? More than I can count. But they are actually more political songs. Raul Seixas: “I prefer to be a walking metamorphosis.” This song really stood out for me during my nine years in the Quilombo das Guerreiras.


Reporter: Natalia Viana

Photographer: Natalia Viana

My journey


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