Freedom News

Brazilian favela fights state and capital

Favela do Banhado, Brazil, is organising against the gentrification of their sacred, ancestral territory. Freedom reproduce part of their Firefund:

At the beginning of the century, in 1919, Banhado was officially “born”. Of course, its history didn’t start there but dates back to the colonial era, when it became a refugee for slaves. There is a myth (but according to the people of Banhado, this history is true) that a tunnel linked the church located in the centre/downtown of São José dos Campos to Banhado (a giant “green hole” located in the middle of the SJC, but below the ground level of the city). This tunnel served as an escape route for slave refugees.

Before the colonial era, it was also a refugee for indigenous people because of its geographically advantageous location. Banhado has rich fauna and flora, with highly fertile and rich soil, used for more than 100 years by its people so they can get money and food out of Nature, but with a respectful and sustainable use of resources. Most of this was because of the tradition of the community, with high indigenous and slave cultural heritage and influence, but this ancestrality also came with a curse of marginality. Most of the people of Banhado have the same blood, face and skin colour as those who were oppressed by the colonizers back when Brazil wasn’t even named Brazil.

This ancestral territory and its people are now fighting the State, the police and the speculators of São José dos Campos, just like it fought the Portuguese colonisers.

Every year, the police kill someone in the Favela do Banhado. The GCM (Guarda Civil Municipal) and the PM (Polícia Militar) are now using drones, “intelligent” vehicles, high-technology cameras and weaponry to attack people in flip-flops. In this war of the capitalists of São José dos Campos against Banhado, the people get killed, and the militant supporters of their struggle get persecuted. This is David against Goliath, so we need your help. 

Banhado has this name because it looks like it’s covered by water when it has fog (or “Banhado” em água, in Brazilian Portuguese). During the indigenous presence, the Rio Parahyba used to overflow, flooding the place with water. It can be considered a “mangue” area. 

There is a criminal presence, just like any other favela in Brazil. But this is the main scapegoat for the Prefecture to attack the people of Banhado. It is also important to remember that the “criminal” people who get killed every year have a family, kids, fathers and mothers. The brutality of the police against the people of Banhado is unmeasured. When elite forces (BAEP, ROTA, ROTAM) enter the Favela, their people know that someone will get killed.

São José dos Campos also has a Municipal law that gives the police and the City Hall permission to destroy any abandoned house or houses linked with drug trafficking without any judicial bureaucracy. Of course, there is no legal observance in this process, giving authority to the Mayor to destroy any house he wants in a matter of days or even hours.

Since implementing this “law”, many homes in Banhado have been destroyed. Every Christmas, dating back to 2018, the police and the mayor benefit and take advantage of this law, from the judicial recess to overpass or even suppress the normal legality of the judicial system, passing forward the military aggression against Banhado without legal obstacles.

The main reason for this war is the “Via Banhado” project – a giant highway crossing the city, linking the west to the east side and the north to the south part of São José dos Campos. This structure, composed of an untouched and protected Atlantic forest area preserved and used by the people of Banhado for more than a century, will surely be highly aggressive for the environment. To mask this objective, the Prefecture declared that it wants the area to become an “ecological park” or fake stuff like that, but we all know that they want money, and eco parks don’t give money. 

But the main contradiction of all of this is the fact that the Prefecture declared Banhado as a protected conservation area a couple of years ago, and they use this legal excuse to expel the people who treated the Nature of Banhado as his own child for the last century since today. Our oppressors paint themselves as “green” or even “red” to achieve their goals, but we also know that their intentions are only the green and red colour of the bloodied money that will spill from this war.

This year, at Christmas, the Mayor moved an obscure judicial lawsuit in collusion with the São Paulo judiciary system, ordering the expulsion of the people of Banhado. Then, the people went to the streets to protest. The Mayor responded with a press conference, citing that if the people went to the streets to protest, he would expel all of them on Christmas, bringing forward the action scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2024.

Of course, the people went to the street, and the next day, this happened:

They beat men, women and children – simple like that. With the national and international repercussions of this unmeasured aggression of the police and the Prefecture, the people then took to the streets with a bigger protest three days before Christmas.

This event unified the militants of São José dos Campos into a single cause, bringing even more support from non-militants. The whole city and the Mayor became disgusted with the police action.

All of this happened in December of 2023 and will be known as the series of events that unlocked our path to liberation, recognition and victory. But as mentioned above, this is only a small part of our struggle that didn’t start this year and will not end so soon.

Support Favela do Banhado on Firefund.

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