Reporter: Jessica Mota e Natalia Viana · Photographer: Jessica Mota e Natalia Viana
"It's not just the physical stuff. The day they force you out of your house, they take a number of your things."
You know what? The first thing is that this side of Vargem Grande still looks a lot like my farm to me, like my countryside. I’m from a farm. It still looks a lot like it, there are still banana trees, a lot of things… there’s a lot of nature still, isn’t there. I keep stumbling across it even today. One day, I was coming here by car, and I passed an armadillo. “Jorge, let’s get him!” Let the animal go on his way.
My name is José Jorge Santos de Oliveira. Everyone knows me as Jorge Santos. I’m from the countryside in Espirito Santo. I arrived from there on March 26 1990. I came to work as a caretaker and worked in a paint shop in Avenida das Americas. In 1996, more or less, my sister already had her house here in Vila Recreio. It had more space then, there was still plenty of space. And whoever had a big garden spoke to us like this: “Ah, I want to improve my house. Give me R$1,500 and for me to buy some bricks. Keep this part, and build a little house for yourself.” That’s how I did it. I got a section so big, that I gave it to two other people. I moved. Afterwards, I gave a house to someone already ready…
So from 1996, more or less, until the end of 2011, I can say I lived in Vila Recreio. but it was in September 1995 that I started to put the first bricks together. I didn’t even know then how to put one lot of bricks on top of the other. I learned doing my own house. I started with a bedroom which was 3×4, a bathroom and one other kitchen. That was what it was. Then I built another room, then another room… my house had a room for everyone. A room for my son, a room for my daughter, a room for me. And so we went to argue… in the first meeting that we went to at City Hall, we spoke to a guy, it was very interesting. We went to speak to him because we had very little experience. What were we going to talk about?
The PEUR (Regional Urban Structuring Project) was happening, were the communities were not included, not at all. So we said: “Hey, this is a struggle, we have the right to be here. To become part of the region’s official record, that goes to the director, that is part of the municipality’s masterplan. Isn’t that the way?” We arrived, 15 people. We sat down at an enormous table and he came in with a lot of intelligent people who had come to find out about us. And we stayed silent, from this side to that. We’ll never forget it, because one side was afraid of the other. In the end, we felt that they were so disorganised and so badly prepared that yes, they knew something. And they said “fuck, what are we here for?” So we said to them: “We’re here because we want to be people, we want to exist and we want to be included on the masterplan. We live in Rio de Janeiro, we exist. We occupy a territorial space. That’s what this discussion is about.”
So in 2006… I think it was 2006, it was Cesar Maia still [former mayor]. So Cesar Maia came, and there was a mechanic and a workshop. And he, under the pretext that you couldn’t have commercial buildings in communities, knocked down people’s whole homes. While the mechanics and the workshop were just a balcony where people put things, he knocked down the whole building, and didn’t give them anything. OK, so that was that. Then in 2009, the end of 2008, the deputy mayor of Rio, of Barra, started to come and tell people bullshit. He sent loads of social workers, women in uniform that were social workers. And they asked questions: “How many children have you got? Do you receive Bolsa Familia? Where do your children go to school? Ah, did you know you have the right to receive this, to receive that…” They got all the details of everyone in the community and took them to the deputy mayor. So when the deputy mayor’s office started to get on top of us, they already knew more about our lives than we did. One day, they sent this guy here and I wasn’t in. They sent him three times. At 3 in the afternoon he found me at home so I went to speak to him. He was already angry. I didn’t even know him. Three men in the car, but only one who was speaking. So he said: “Three times I’ve been here, and the deputy mayor’s office is holding a meeting at 4pm because we are going to rip out this community.”
And on December 27, all the apparatus of City Hall arrived and broke up everything. It was raining and people were crying, children in the middle of the street… grabbing the children by force, the women didn’t want to go back. Female municipal guards came out en masse. They would go there, grab the little children, treat them well, kiss them and even go out with them. Two or three guards grabbed the women by the arm, took their things out of the house and the bulldozer knocked down the houses. That was how they acted, exactly like a force. And so they started to lay the road. The works were like that, done section by section. They were doing that section, and they were building the tunnel at the same time.
There were a lot of bulldozers. A lot of Odebrecht machinery, motionless. And there would be 20, 30 security guards watching it all, 24 hours a day. They spent a year and three months building that hole there. And where would these men go to drink a soft drink, eat a snack, do anything? It was to a hut at the end of the community, or another one in the middle of it. And this one in the middle was right there, under the community, but it had a bit of everything. And so they started to drink, that’s what they started to do… And one day they wouldn’t speak to anyone, another day they would speak to someone. So they started to talk, definitely. And people started to think: “Right, so it’s you.”
And it started to pick up volume, more people, more people. And these people started to impose themselves. They started to say: “You can’t go against so-and-so because I’m with you.” They started to incite various different groups. It wasn’t a case of saying the same thing to you and to another person, no. Because they really did want to divide people. When they divide a community, they weaken it. So this was one of the ways they destroyed the unity there. They started to ask someone to watch over the community. One person watched you, another person kept watch to see what was happening. And these groups started to fight amongst themselves.
My house and 11 others were left standing. There were 12. And people joked that they were the apostles. But all the others that stayed… not even I stayed in my house for the last six months. Do you know who lived there? The people who had had their houses knocked down and had received so little, 2,000, 3,000, that they had nowhere to go. They would turn round to me: “Jorge, can I stay in your house?” I took out the essential things, so they could live there. But the bed, sofa, fridge, all those things, even the people from Globo came to film it in the middle of all the rubble. Because they knocked it down and then ran off.
The confrontation prepares you for the worst. I felt… if you asked me, do you feel a lot of anger towards City Hall, I would respond that I feel more anger towards the justice system. It’s the justice system that interprets the law, and they do so according to who has the money.
Vila Recreio II
Now living in