Sandra Maria de Souza Teixeira
"There comes a time when you question it - what is the story of a people worth?"
Now living in
My name is Sandra Maria da Souza Teixeira. I’m 48 years old and I work as a producer. I have four children and one grandchild, and they were all born here. It was when I became a mother that I built this house. I was pregnant, though before I used to come here and stay but I stayed at his house, the house he ended up giving to his mother. Se we used to stay here, and only started building the house when I got pregnant. It was like a place to pass through, a safe harbour, but I ended up staying, when I realised it was a good place to bring children up. It is very peaceful here, Now, it’s even smaller, but it was always a small community. It never had drug gangs or militias here. There was never any kind of criminal element, all the neighbours knew each other, so there was a kind of social interaction which was really good. People, children played in the streets, I was never worried about my children being in danger or anything like that.
Here, there was always this aspect of being like the countryside, as it is a small community and everyone knows each other. Even the fact that the ground is open, there is no asphalt. There used to be a lot of trees too, although now the community is different because the City Hall cut down practically all the trees. But before it was very leafy. Even the lake itself, before you could fish there, and come back by boat. So all of this gave you the feeling that you were living in the countryside, even though you are within a Metropolis. Apart from these city things, here we’ve got these things that I like even better, such as being able to get to the beach by bike, walk to a waterfall, there is a forest nearby, everything.
The Olympics got capital which the others didn’t manage to get. Through the PPP, the public private partnership, the authorities got hold of money which they didn’t have before. This was used to justify a lot of things, as all the other mega events in the past never had the level of funding necessary for works on this scale, or to bring urbanisation programmes like the ones they brought here.
Imagine living in a place with workers from City Hall banging on your door daily, telling you that everyone is going to have to leave, no one is going to be left. It’s better to negotiate now, if you have the opportunity to negotiate, than to wait, and whoever hasn’t negotiated anything will be handed a decree and in the end, everyone will have to leave anyway. Or you have areas there that they want to remove, a whole family, and take their things to a storage warehouse, and this family is going to end up without anywhere to go.
Or the community begs to make a displacement agreement, but the Municipal Guards arrive and beat everyone up, cutting someone’s head open and breaking another one’s nose. There were gas bombs and pepper spray. It was more than psychological pressure, it was physical pressure. They were the forms of violence we suffered here that went on over these past two years. Our energy, our water supply, they got interrupted, almost every day. A tractor going past from here to there, and when it goes past, it leaves cracks in the walls. And you see the houses on every side of you being demolished, and there is a cloud of dust. Then you see one going, then another, everyone starts leaving. Imagine living in the middle of all that, with no street lighting, full of wreckage. This here, this land full of wreckage, they should have cleaned it up within five days This was a judicial decision, but they don’t comply with it. They don’t respect the law, they do things the way they want to. So you end up living in a place full of rubble, lacking water, lacking energy, in a dark street, with the Municipal Guards… until last week, they were here 24 hours a day, pressuring us. You would wake up all the time with a part of the community cordoned off, you can’t get past, and you don’t know what they’re going to do that day. It’s one kind of violence or another. And you see people negotiating, it’s a great pressure, very difficult.
I decided that I wasn’t going to leave. Actually, that wasn’t something I thought right from the beginning, it was a decision which grew stronger in me bit by bit. When I saw these things happening, these injustices, these ilegalities, this cowardice, I resolved to stay. I thought: this isn’t possible, someone has to stop this process, someone needs to show the authorities that there are limits, to show them how far they can go. Someone needs to change the story of this city. Because the story of Rio de Janeiro is built on building and expulsion of those who built it. Since the beginning, that’s the way it has been. Ex-slaves built homes in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, and afterwards they were kicked out of there. They built on the Sao Antonio hill and were kicked out, and built on the edge of Providencia, and although they still haven’t been kicked out, they [Providencia residents] are still fighting for the right to stay there. The South Zone was built by workers kicked out of Centro, and now they are building the BRT [bus rapid transit] to kick the workers out of the West Zone, because the South Zone doesn’t have anymore space to grow, so it’s time for the West Zone to expand. They boot out the poor. The poor in Rio don’t have a right to live near to privileged areas. Places like this near to privileged areas, they destroy, because you can’t live near the beach, you can’t live near waterfalls, you can’t live near the forest. You can only live in those parts of the city before they have been developed. After you have developed the area and it is worth something, you kick the poor out. Practically all of the tourist areas in the city were built on the back of evictions, expulsion of those who built the place.
So comes the time you question it – what is the story of a people worth? What makes Rio de Janeiro “the marvellous city” is not the construction of monuments, because you’ve got those all over the world. Tourists come here in search of the beautiful geography of Rio, a meeting of mountains, waterfalls and the ocean, all of those things that this city has. And that is exactly what is destroyed and not valued, every single day. That’s the reason, thoroughout this process, every time they commit one injustice, one form of violence, it reafirms in me the desire to stay.
Reporter: Natalia Viana
Photographer: AF Rodrigues (foto e vídeo)