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Mobilising Support Course: the Linha Community and its fight against the eviction of more than 700 people in Recife

Throughout the 30 years in which she’s lived in the Linha Community, in the Ibura neighbourhood of Recife, Terezinha Francisca de Jesus has been one of the area’s great pillars of strength and resistance.  In the absence of the public authorities, she describes how she has opened up her home for meetings, to receive orders and correspondence for neighbours and even to collect material for tests, since there is no health centre in the region.

Today, after years of struggle and a great deal of dedication to improvements for the community, she is one of more than 700 residents at risk of being evicted and having their homes destroyed, due to a lawsuit filed by Transnordestina S.A.  In 1997, the company obtained the concession for the railroad network in the Northeast and is now claiming repossession of an area around the railway lines that cuts through the community.

The Linha Community case will be discussed in the Mobilising Support Course, run by CESE in partnership with the Association of Lawyers for Rural Workers (Associação de Advogados/as de Trabalhadores/as Rurais: AATR) (in Portuguese) with support from Misereror.  The course is part of the Change the Game Academy programme to help strengthen organizations to mobilise local fundraising and support, to be held virtually throughout August, centred on the theme of the right to the city.

In an attempt to weaken movements and responses to the eviction attempt, the company decided to file the lawsuit as five separate cases. There are several ideas about the size of the areas to be vacated around the railway line, ranging from 6 to 21 metres.  The smallest of these threatens 155 residences, while the largest affects 210.

According to a socio-economic study (in Portuguese) conducted by the community involved in the lawsuit, the monthly income of 75% of the families that live in the 21-metre area is less than one minimum wage.  Of these, more than 80% are black, while 66.5% are women.  This entire situation is taking place within a community that does not have basic sanitation and during a global health crisis.

So far, 20 residences have received demolition orders.  One of these is Terezinha’s home.  Because of this decision, the Linha Community Resists movement, of which she is a member, went out onto the streets to protest and to mobilise campaigns that have resulted in the postponement of the expulsion of the families and the destruction of their homes.  Today, the movement has support from other groups, such as the Homeless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto: MTST), the Unified Homeless Movement (Movimento Unificado dos Sem Teto: MUST) and organizations such as the Grassroots Human Rights Centre (Centro Popular de Direitos Humanos: CPDH).

“Many people here don’t have anywhere to go.  If they take my home away, I don’t know what will happen to me,” she said.  Because she is a significant community leader, somebody who makes a lot of noise in meetings and hearings, she believes she is a target of the lawsuit, which is why her home is slated to be among the first to be destroyed.

Alexsandro José da Silva has lived in the community for three years.  His house is located about 300 m from the area under threat, but, alongside Terezinha, he is one of the leaders heading the movement against the evictions.  He denounces the public authorities’ lack of commitment to the people from the Linha Community and their situation, and even cites attempts at intimidation.

“Several meetings have been scheduled and then postponed, including on the day before.  In one of these, we were informed that the secretary had been vaccinated and was ‘indisposed’. In one of the meetings we did manage to hold, the Military Police and the Municipal Guard were present,” he reported.

At all levels – municipal, state and federal – the public authorities are extremely inefficient and have not outlined any solutions to the residents’ situation.  Luan Melo Silva, an urban architect who provides technical support to the community, has participated in the lawsuits and is seeking alternatives to evicting the families, with the movement.

“No housing solutions have been presented to the people in the lawsuit.  They will simply evict them without providing any kind of compensation.  We want to set up a negotiating table with the municipal, state and federal governments.  As well as socio-economic research, we are putting together a report to outline scenarios and provide alternatives to the conflict, starting with the residents,” he confirmed.

 

The Mobilising Support Course 

The course is part of the Change the Game Academy, which involves 12 countries and is aimed at strengthening organizations in the areas of mobilising local fundraising and support through online and in-person courses.

Now, as well as colleagues in the struggle, Terezinha, Alex and Luan are class colleagues on the course. Terezinha describes how she decided to participate in the initiative because she wanted her community to get better organized. “I’d like to create an association, to get the legal issues right, to set up a mothers’ club.  These things will strengthen our struggle, because we’ll be better prepared,” she noted.

Alex notes how essential the experience and sharing with other groups is for the struggle. “We see that people are collaborating in theory and in practice.  We’d like to participate more often, but I prefer to pass the baton on.  I want to structure my community, but I want other people to have this too.”

For Luan, the course itself is coordinated as a strategy for resistance.  “It provides an instrument with a beginning and a middle and with continuity so that we can map out actors and alternatives, alongside this exchange, this possibility of talking to more people from other states.”

The Linha Community struggle and the other cases discussed on the course serve as inspiration to one another.  Throughout the initiative, each participating organization will construct a mobilising support plan to act in a case they determine.  The group contains twelve urban organizations from nine different states.