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Burning Down the Shantytowns | Where There’s Fire, Blowing Smoke

The fires are happening next door to urban renewal projects in areas where real estate prices are booming. And where there are no fires, there is police violence in support of repossesions.

SÃO PAULO, SAMBODIA | Today’s clipping in PT-BR > EN-US translation.

First, studies point to correlations between a mysterious wave of fires and areas of active real estate arbitrage — taken as a more plausible explanation than the city administration’s citation of unseasonably dry weather.

Source: ANDRÉ DELFINO DA SILVA and RAIMUNDO BONFIM, Folha de S.Paulo, 25 September, p. 2. Defino represents the MDF, the Favela Defense Movement.

Secondly, tracking campaign contributions by real estate and housing companies and lobbying groups to lawmakers charged with investigating the fires.

Source: Carta Maior, 27 September 2012.

Moinho is Latest in Wave of Suspicious Shantytown Fires

The September 17 fire in the Moinho shantytown, in the São Paulo city center, was the latest in a series of tragedies.

Fires are becoming commonplace in São Paulo’s shantytowns. It is sad to watch the flames consuming people’s homes, and even more so because these are simple wooden shanties, built with sweat and sacrifice by families who must now survive without support for suitable housing from authorities.

These fires have ominous effects. More than leaving the affected families without a roof to protect them from the sun and rain, they also cost families their place in day care centers and schools, and in many cases all of their personal possessions, accumulated over many years of work.

Counting the Moinho fire ,we have seen 34 such fires already this year. This has caused enormous anguish among the nearly 2 million residents of São Paulo’s 1,565 shantytowns.

The São Paulo city government argues that fires have increased so dramatically in a short time on account of the dry weather. But other cities in the greater metro area also have shantytowns. They have also encountered dry weather. Does this weather only affect the city of São Paulo proper?

It is too much of a coincidence that this wave of fires coincides with a bullish real estate market. These fires are taking place right next door to urban renewal projects in the city’s most coveted neighborhoods.

A study released by the Instituto of Economic Research (Fipe) points to nine recent fires in areas of active gentrification.

We believe without hesitation that this wave of fires serves the city’s policy of social hygiene. Along with the fires, we are witnessing a wave of repossesions, evictions, and the clearing of shantytowns and underpasses, mainly in areas subject to the real estate “boom.”

We are witnessing on a daily basis the use of police violence in the repossession of property from homeless families who occupy empty buildings — buildings that are not in compliance with their social function as provided for in the Constitution and the Statute of the Cities.

São Paulo has nearly 3.5 million persons surviving in precarious conditions in shantytowns, vertical slums and irregular developments.

But instead of creating a participatory process of urban planning that would guarantee the right to housing, the process of verticalization proceeds apace, with the connivence of the city government and without an iota of urban planning. In many cases, there is the suspicion that building permits were obtained via corruption.

«Obtained via corruption»: See

The city official in charge of building permits becomes a real estate tycoon while in office.

The priority afforded the urban renewal of shantytowns is just talk. Of the R$ 574 million allocated for this purpose in this year’s budget, only R$ 131 million had been allocated and only R$ 82 million spent — that is, only 14.2% of the total set aside.

The lack of political commitment to the neediest among us is visible in the lack of plans and investments in popular housing.

The lack of planning, viewed as both cause and effect, may better explain the wave of shantytown fires that the climatic conditions cited by the Kassab government.

And the second story:

Members of CPI All Financed by Real Estate Industry

Every single the member of the parliamentar inquiry convened by the São Paulo city legislature to investigate a series of fires in city shantytowns are financed by companies with ties to the homebuilding and real estate industries.

Altogether, commission members received R$ 782,000 during the elections of 2008, according to campaign finance disclosures file with the elections tribunal.

By Fábio Nassif, Carta Maior, suggested by Stanley Burburinho

São Paulo – All the members of the São Paulo city legislature’s commission of inquiry into shantytown fires are financed by companies related to the homebuilding and real estate industries.

Altogether, commission members received R$ 782,000 during the elections of 2008, according to campaign finance disclosures file with the elections tribunal.

According to partial disclosures of campaign contributions for the current election season, the six city lawmakers have received R$ 338,000 in donations.

Total contribution may be much higher given that some of these donations are attributed to individuals or to the finance committees of the political parties.

The CPI, established in April, has held only three sessions, and canceled another five.

On September 27, social movements and families came to the city legislature to observe the scheduled session.

CPI president Ricardo Teixeira (PV) used the demonstration to justify canceling the session, citing the lack of quorum.

Among the CPI members, Teixeira has received the most donations from the sector: R$ 452,000 in 2008.

At the same time as he presides over the CPI, Teixeira has received R$ 150,00 in campaign contributions from the real estate industry for his reelection campaign.

A Suspect CPI

In 2008, besides receiving campaign contributions from real estate, homebuilding and related companies, Ushitaro Kamia (PSD), Toninho Paiva (PR), Anibal de Freitas (PSDB), Edir Sales (PSD) and Ricardo Teixeira (PV) registered donations from the Brazilian Real Estate Association (AIB).

The lobbying group has been investigated for irregular donations totaling R$ 6.7 million to 50 candidates and 8 campaign committees.

For this reason, in October 2009, elections prosecutor Mauricio Antônio Ribeiro Lopes requested an audit of accounts by the elections tribunal.

Thirty of São Paulo’s 55 city legislators could possibly be removed from office, including Ricardo Teixeira and Ushitaro Kamia of the CPI on shantytown fires.

The threat of impeachment also cast a shadow on mayor Gilberto Kassab (PSD) and his deputy Alda Marco Antonio, in 2010, on charges of illegal campaign contributions. The court’s finding was successfully appealed, however.

Construction firms lead the nationwide ranking of campaign donations in 2012.

The six largest (Andrade Gutierrez, OAS, Queiroz Galvão, Carioca Christiani Nielsen, UTC and WTorre) together have spent more than R$ 69 million on both disclosed and undisclosed donations.

In a recent article, Guilherme Boulos of the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) claims that “Camargo Correa, EIT, OAS and Engeform (among the largest homebuilders in Brazil) donated some R$ 6 million to Kassab’s 2008 campaign and in echange, over the next four years, received contracts with the city worth R$ 639 million”.

The activist also observes that in 2011 “the city government allocated the absurd sum of R$ 1,000 for the purchase of land to build public housing.”

Arson Fires

A CPI was installed to investigate the increase in fires affecting shantytowns and substandard dwellings and the suspicion that these were deliberately set, given their proximity to neighborhoods where property values are on the rise.

This year alone, the fire department says, there have been 68 fires in the shantytowns.

Since 2005, there have been more than 1,000 such cases.

In 2011, there were 181 shantytown fires in São Paulo.

In 2010, 107; 2009, 122; 2008, 130; 2007, 120; 2006, 156; and in 2005, 155.

Fire department data on fires that take into account fires in individual shanties and fires throughout São Paulo state, the numbers are much, much higher.

A spreadsheet obtained from the state fire brigade in January 2012 shows that in 2009, there were 427 cases of this kind — 295 shanties and 132 in shantytowns.

In 2010, there were 457 cases (330 shanties and 198 shantytowns).

These numbers, however, do not agree with statistics provided by other institutions.

Data from the state fire brigade and the civil defense corps have been presented to the CPI, which also signaled its intention to hear from the subprefectures.

At the CPI’s next meeting, scheduled for October 17, residents will not learn the cause of the fires or hear solutions for their homelessness, but they will at least know how much each city councilmember on the commission received in donations from the real estate and homebuilding sectors.