Though a moratorium on evictions has been extended in Brazil, families still face forced removals. Activists are fighting for the right to land amid increasing precarity.
The Brazilian Federal Supreme Court extended the moratorium on evictions on the day of its expiry to 30 June. This is the third extension since June 2021. In July 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the country to stop evictions during the pandemic after more than 2 000 people were removed from their homes.
Although the moratorium has been extended for only a short period, national coordinator at the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) Kelli Mafort says it is a victory that has been welcomed by landless movements and rural and urban organisations. The ruling has spared about 500 000 people from evictions. There is now pressure to achieve the right to housing in the city, and the right to land, roof and work in the countryside, but Mafort says they are already working on this.
“Our fight is for there to be a new law to prevent evictions … when the pandemic ends because of the economic impact of the pandemic,” she says, adding that they are waiting for a response from the president of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies Arthur Lira to engage on the matter.
“Removing these families from access to land and shelter will drastically affect access to one of the most fundamental rights, which is the right to food, since it is in these areas where they live and work that peasant families who are camped and settled produce food for their subsistence,” says Mafort.
The eviction ban applies to urban and rural regions occupied before March 2020 when a lockdown order was first introduced in the Latin American country. The Landless Movement has about 65 000 families in camps throughout the nation, some living in camps and fighting for land for up to a decade.
Brazil has seen an increase in unemployment, hunger, cost of living and violence during the pandemic, which has highlighted right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro’s lacklustre response to the country’s overlapping health, economic and housing crises. The vulnerable are most at the mercy of Brazil’s neoliberal policies.
No housing policies
A year ago this month, the government slashed funding by 98% for the construction of new homes for low-income Brazilians under the Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My Home, My Life) programme. With no government recourse to housing, families – mostly headed by women – face forced removals that often involve police.
“The occupation, both urban and rural, only exists because the Brazilian state does not have a housing policy, nor does it expropriate or collect land for the purpose of agrarian reform. We should have this as a state policy. People’s rights are above private property,” Mafort says.
But even with the moratorium, there is still “the need to work on … the resettlement of urban families and agrarian reform … for rural families. The current government is not in favour of these social policies, neither urban nor rural.”
When evictions take place at MST camps, families do not disperse. Rather they retreat to a protected area a neighbouring settlement provides and remain there while negotiating with authorities. They stay in these peasant communities until the land is recognised as an agrarian reform area.