Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fire in Mukuru

A fire in a Nairobi squatter community claims 50 kiosks and homes, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports. The biggest tragedy: it took the city fire department two hours to arrive.

Squatter sanitation

Squatters in Mumbai have started investing in their own sanitation services. The Times of India reports on one community that is hiring 30 of its kids to collect trash. This novel program is a great step towards squatter self-government.

Cop is killed when squatters are evicted

The Times of India and The Statesman report on the Kolkata tragedy. The Statesman also adds that the squatters seemed unrepentant. It's hard to repent when "Bulldozers demolishing the abandoned structures of the squatters was the only sound that broke the silence in the Tollygunge-end of the rail colony this evening." There's no excuse for violence. But there's no excuse for police violence against the squatters--and for evicting people with no provision for where they will go in the future.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Abahlali Base Mjondolo

That's Zulu for shack dwellers. News24 reports on a true indigenous squatter uprising in South Africa, led by S'bu Zikode, a 30-year-old gas station attendant and father of four from Durban. "The ANC must use the power that we gave them to deliver," Zikode told News24.

This is exactly what squatters need: a pressure group. This guy's even been on TV in a debate with a government minister. Here's his group's slogan: "No Land, No Home, No Vote."


(Here, courtesy of the hope for south africa blog, is S'bu Zikode's blast from the Nov. 9th Star newspaper.)

Christmas tragedy

A fire kills five and displaces 300 in the Phillipines, this Manila Times brief reports.

Mombasa Squatters fighting for land

Squatters in Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city, are asking the government to intervene in a dispute with a powerful landlord. The homes of 20,000 people are at stake, the East African Standard reports.

Shantytown Dwellers in South Africa Protest Sluggish Pace of Change

Majority rule hasn't bettered life for South Africa's squatters, The New York Times reports (registration required.) Here's how the article describes one Durban squatter community: "since Foreman Road's 1,000 shacks sprang up nearly two decades ago, the only measurable improvements to the residents' lives amounted to a single water standpipe and four scrap-wood privies."

More from the article: "The frustrations of slum dwellers began to boil over in mid-2004, when residents in a shantytown near Harrismith, about 160 miles southeast of Johannesburg, rioted and blocked a major freeway to protest their living conditions. The police fatally shot a 17-year-old protester. Since then, demonstrations have spread to virtually every corner of the nation. In Durban, the city is erecting some 16,000 starter houses a year, but the shanty population, now about 750,000, continues to grow by more than 10 percent annually."

President Thabo Mbeki is promising more for the squatters. But when and how?

(thanks to BC for the link)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Squatters Relocated in Manila

20,000 squatters along an abandoned rail line are getting relocated by the government, according to this article from The Manila Times. Their new homes will be within a 5 kilometer radius of the old squatter community, the newspaper reports.

Police Kill 3 a Day

The Los Angeles Times offers an assessment of police violence against the favelas in Rio de Janeiro: "In Rio de Janeiro state alone, police killed nearly 1,200 people in 2003, according to figures compiled by the local nonprofit group Global Justice — an astonishing average of more than three people a day."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

AK-47s and AfroReggae

Reuters reporter Angus MacSwan visits the notorious Vigario Geral favela in Rio's Zona Norte. It's notorious for police violence (21 people were killed by the cops a dozen years ago in a brazen, thuggish murder rampage), for a low-level war with nearby favela called Parada de Lucas, which is run by a rival drug gang, and also as the home of AfroReggae, a musical/cultural group dedicated to ending the violence.

Next year, next year

For three years in a row, the Kenyan government has been promising that the so-called Kibera upgrading would begin next year. Why should 2005 be any different? So it's 'next year' again for the upgrading plan. And still, neither the government nor UN-Habitat (a partial sponsor of the plan) has revealed what it entails: which communities will be ugraded, with what kind of housing, who will get the new homes, what will the ownership structure be, what will the housing cost for the residents, etc. reprints a short item from the East African Standard.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Blame the developers

Here's an article I missed from Nigeria's Tide Newspaper. Good words, and let's hope, a portent of good deeds to come:

Minister blames increasing slums on property developers
• Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Olusegun Mimiko has blamed private property developers for the growing number of slums in the country.

Mimiko said at the opening of the 82nd council meeting of the association of Housing Corporations of Nigeria (AHCN) in Abuja Monday, that the rising number of slums was a national embarrassment.

“The increasing number of slums in our cities and the rising population of slum dwellers are issues of national concern,” he said.

He said that the slums have resulted in insufficient water supply, poor sanitation, lack of security and the presence of disease breeding conditions.

He called on the association to collaborate with government in its quest to provide affordable, cheap and decent houses to the citizens.

He said that the present administration was poised to upgrade the nation’s housing delivery capacity as well as reposition the sector for efficient and effective services.

He said that the recently approved national policy on housing and urban development among others were measures adopted by government to meet the Millennium Development Goals for the housing and urban development sector.

Mimiko urged the association to undertake research in new ways and new materials that would aid mass housing delivery, stressing that “millions of Nigerians cannot yet boast of their own houses.”

Earlier, the minister of the FCT, Nasir el-Rufai, urged the association to support the FCT in the on-going restoration of the city’s master plan.

“As painful as the removal of the illegal structures may be, it is advisable to do it now or else the future generations of Nigerians will never forgive us as it will be done at a greater cost,” he said.

The minister who was represented by the Director, Public Building, Mr Kabiru Maina, tasked the association to ensure good sanitary conditions in estates, provide infrastructure and good environmental management.

Adopt a Light

I missed this when it was published last week. A Kenyan company is bringing floodlights to the major avenues of Nairobi's squatter communities. The Daily Nation (registration required, I think) notes that the cost of the massive 30-meter-tall arrays of 400 watt lightbulbs, will be born by corporations who will be allowed to display billboards on the giant masts. A big deal, but a small deal at present, as the article notes that only four of these light clusters will be put up in Kibera, a neighborhood that boasts 500,000 to 1,000,000 residents.

Has work started? What does it look like? Where is the power coming from (and if Kenya Power & Light can run lines to the lights, why not to the residents?) Please, if anyone from Kibera reads this, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Temporary victory for Ahmedabad squatters

It's sadly typical: squatters under threat of eviction negotiate for a new tract of land. A few years after the deal is cut, the authorities forget all about it and start eviction proceedings to push the squatters from the new land that was legally allocated to them. Expressindia reports on the dispute, and how the squatters won a temporary court reprieve.

A class difference among squatters

Now I understand: the railway squatters who resisted eviction in Kolkata were a bit more well-off than their neighbors who accepted demolition and relocation. The Statesman finally reports the details: though the resistance has now been crushed, the 138 families who attempted to block the demolition of their homes had been on the railroad right-of-way the longest and were living in concrete homes, not sagging stick and mud concoctions. This small sector of the community is getting the worst of the deal--their homes are being destroyed and they are not being offered relocation. A tidbit at the end of the column suggests that there will soon be more demolitions in Kolkata. Scary.

Inefficient leadership

The Independent, a Dhaka daily, reports on a conference on urban poverty in Bangladesh, convened by the World Bank. "The country does not have an explicit policy on urbanisation and urban poverty, and this lack of any coherent, well-thought-out approach is a major challenge in approaching the challenges of poverty in Dhaka and other towns," said World Bank country director Christine I Wallich.

A better policy is a good thing--at least on paper. But it still has to be implemented. Dhaka is a city with 4,300 different squatter communities, the article reports. And perhaps there's some hope in this number. Perhaps squatters squatters can organize to challenge entrenched leaders and seize more control of their own communities. This would do more than a sheaf of policy pronouncements.

Blaze Leaves 1 200 Squatters Homeless

The aptly named Kosovo squatter community in Cape Town burns to the ground. has the story. Authorities say they will distribute 'housing starter kits' to the survivors--which appears to mean that they will be allowed back onto the site to rebuild.

No Refuge

More on the perils of being a squatter in Zimbabwe. from the Los Angeles Times (registration required.) Robyn Dixon reports from the ruins of Killarney, which, until is was destroyed six months ago under Operation Murambatsvina, was a shantytown in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city. The squatters were muscled out of town, only to find that they could not support themselves or feed their families outside of the city. So they have returned to Killarney and other areas, erecting rudimentary shacks, or occupying half-built buildings. "When the police come, they'll definitely destroy these shacks," one returnee, Jutias Muleya, 37, told the paper. "We are not really safe here."

The most desperate are dying, and the article features the story of Mavis Mkandla and her daughter Flora. Mavis, HIV-positive and unable to get treatment, died last month. Her six month old daughter died five days later of malnutrition.

Monday, December 19, 2005

'Spit back by the sea'

This Associated Press Dispatch (via the Las Vegas Sun) shows the disspiriting downside of aid as a means to empowerment. Again the lead says it all: "It has been a year since the tsunami laid waste to the isolated Indonesian province of Aceh, but tens of thousands of people still live in a vast archipelago of shanty towns made of scrap wood spit back by the sea." The reporter calls the aid effort "an invasion of good intentions and almost no oversight." Which I guess is why tens of thousands are still living in scrap houses.

Legalisms got in the way: "Only a tiny percentage of people who lost their homes turned out to hold title to their land. Often, their families had lived on the land for generations as renters or squatters, or their ownership papers had been lost in the tsunami. Compounding this were issues ranging from a shortage of timber to poor planning. As a result, thousands of survivors were left in tents and shanty towns that began slowly falling apart as Sumatra's brutal heat gave way to the rainy season."

The reporter doesn't ask about one thing I've heard: that traditional fishing villages are being denied the right to rebuilt on coastal land, while developers of tourist hotels are being given the green light. Certainly fears about the destructive possibility of another tsunami are real. But fishing villages need to be next to the water. This unequal and, indeed, colonialist re-allocation of land may be one of the biggest impediments to rebuilding the communities that were smashed in the tsunami.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Refugees or Squatters?

One hundred and thirty eight Kolkata families insist that they were given land by the state government before 1950 and that they are all refugees, and therefore shouldn't be evicted, The Statesman reports.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cambodia rocks on, with Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever, a California band, joins a Cambodian singer to present a fusion concert on the banks of the Bassac River in the Phnom Penh squatter area known as Tonle Bassac (the Bassac, for the uninitiated, is one of the branches of the famed Mekong River, which flows through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.) This BBC NEWS report evokes the scene:

"The sound system looked like it had been cobbled together from a motley collection of domestic stereos.

The unmistakable stench of raw sewage competed for attention with the aroma from bags of rotting rubbish.

Potholes in front of the stage made dancing a broken ankle waiting to happen.

And yet the crowds came, and gawped, at the sight of Chhom Nimol [the lead singer] backed by five foreigners playing Cambodian rock and roll.

Traditional musicians joined them on stage to add wild, Irish fiddle-like improvisations on an instrument called the trou.

The longer they performed, the more the audience grew in number."

I want to hear the tunes. And I want to journey to Phnom Penh.

eviction sad but peaceful

The Statesman reports that squatters are relinquishing their homes along Kolkata's railway line in sadness but without violence. Aside from a few minor incidents when railway officials pushed the cops to demolish houses that were not affected by the court order, things were calm yesterday.


How's this for justice? If the people evicted under Zimbabwe's Operation Murambatsvina are to qualify for new homes that are slowly being built by the government, they have to:

1. pay a deposit of between $8 and $89 (I don't know why the range is that large)
2. prove that they have formal employment
3. show that they have a specified salary

This has meant that the most desperate people who were evicted under Murambatsvina can't get a new home. The Mail & Guardian Online reports that little by little shantytowns are reforming as desperately poor squatters realize they will be shut out of any government-sponsored improvement.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Day of Dread

The end of the line for the Kolkata's Goboindapur Railway Squatters. The Statesman notes that squatters are dismantling their own homes. Weirdly, they are not yet allowed to go to the new land allocated them by the government.

“We will stay right here,” one squatter told the newspaper, pointing to the ground beside the railway tracks littered with the remains of their now broken shack. “We will not feel the winter cold, you see, because we have skin as tough as rhinoceros’ hide while the government has skin as soft as cotton wool.”

In Abuja, planning outweighs people's right to a home

The administrator of the Nigerian Capital is presiding over destruction of thousands of homes in oder to return the planned city to its original purity, according to this Reuters dispatch in the Khaleej Times. "Disorder was creeping into the development of Abuja and it was becoming chaotic," Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, minister for the Federal Capital Territory, told the news agency. "You cannot develop land in Abuja, you cannot even plant a flower on land in the FCT without a development permit from the federal capital development authority. That's the law."

But residents don't buy el-Rufai's argument that the city plan demands demolition. "This place was our collective effort," said Ibrahim Haruna as he looked out on the rubble that used to be his community. "We didn't get any help from the government but we built our own community. What have we done to deserve this."

As is often the case, the communities that bit the dust were not shantytowns and the residents of the demolished neighborhoods were squatters only in a technical sense. They had purchased their parcels and built homes with brick and concrete. But they never had planning approval, so, in that way, they are unauthorized residents.

And in Lagos, police descended at 4 am to evict thousands of tenants from their apartments because the government plans to privatize the buildings.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Squatter doings in India

Squatters in Kolkata threaten to block the commuter rail line, while pavement dwellers in Pune resist a demolition drive. It appears that in both cases, politicians are pushing the squatters in different directions, and the result may be misery for everyone involved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Legalizing Squatters in Tanzania

IRIN Africa reports on the legacy of Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who will retire after today's elections. Among this socialist's programs: to legalize squatters so they can get loans from the country's well-off banks and capital markets.

It's a wonderful goal, expressed compellingly by Hernando de Soto in his book, The Mystery of Capital. But studies in de Soto's homeland, Peru, have shown that title deeds have negligible value when it comes to getting access to credit. Despite being legalized, the former squatters still find that private sector interests are loathe to invest in low income communities. They've simply gone from total exclusion to redlining.

Legalization is one strategy for empowering these communities--but it is a convenient myth to think that the title deed solves anything.

Even under the ANC

South Africa risks riots unless it does something about the gap between rich and poor, a Cape Town official has said, according to this analysis from Business Day.

The writer suggests that the continuing inequality is due to "the failure of the policies of the present African National Congress (ANC) administration, nationally and locally."

Among other things in the article:

--"The Hout Bay valley outside Cape Town is one of the few places in SA where — due to the continuing effects of past racial segregation — three communities actually live within sight of each other: a well-off white suburb, a poor “coloured” village and a hugely overcrowded black shantytown with 70% unemployment."

--"The schools are also still overwhelmingly segregated. Nevertheless, in the face of established financial power (read white privilege) the education department seems to have buckled and accepted the status quo. If anything, it is this inaction that will create social unrest."

--"There is a desperate need to house the poor, yet the ANC programme is to build matchstick houses in already-existing black townships. In other words, they are simply adding onto apartheid spatial planning — leaving workers with massive transport problems, still desperately far from employment opportunities, plus entrenching many of the chaotic social ills of enduring poverty."

All told, this is a sad judgment on a great liberation movement. But then, remember: Che Guevara was a terrific revolutionary, but a lousy government administrator, too. South Africa is still a young nation.

Another Business Day article reports on the funding shortfalls in Cape Town's plan to replace all its squatter communities and shantytowns with reasonable housing within the coming ten years. Sadly, even the optimistic numbers provided by Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo don't add up. The city currently builds more than 7,000 homes a year, and she wants additional money to up that to 20,000 homes. But with 16,000 families arriving in Cape Town every year, the city will be lucky to keep pace with the influx.

Oh, those communists

The Gobindapur Railway Colony in Kolkata is apparently two separate communities, The Statesman notes. Six hundred families who live hard by the Tollygunge railway station apparently believe that the CPI-M (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) will protect them from eviction and so they have not signed up to relocate to land recently allocated for them by the city. The newspaper believes things could get ugly.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Situation NURMal

That's National Urban Renewal Mission to you, please, India's plan to provide infrastructure to the poor. It's got lots of money behind it, but you know the politicians. Besides, in exchange for the dough, cities will have to dismantle rent regulations. Still, it's good that the politicians are at least talking about this.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Squatter Nation

Ellen Pearlman, of The Brooklyn Rail reviews Shadow Cities.

Follow the money in New Orleans

"Thousands are being evicted by private landlords keen to cash in on doubled monthly rentals after the loss of 200,000 homes to the storm." The Observer reports from New Orleans (thanks to Edesio for forwarding the link).

The article is full of horrific stories:

--Sonia Fabiola, 54, a house cleaner from Guatemala returned to her rental apartment but was then threatened, had her rent check refused, her electricity cut off, had garbage dumped outside her door, and saw her neighbors' possessions cleaned out and thrown away. She was evicted this past Wednesday.

--the Iberville Project on the edge of the French Quarter, in an area now bustling with out-of-state contractors spending their money in the restaurants and bars off Bourbon Street, suffered little damage from the hurricane. But, like the majority of the city's housing projects, its residents remain barred from returning. Indeed, activists in the city say that 3,750, or about half of the public housing units, are either ready for occupation now or can easily be made so. Yet only a few dozen have been reopened.

I have spent a lot of effort blogging about the Gobindapur Railway Colony in Kolkata, which is being evicted. But there, the Mayor at least came through with new land and promised to provide public services, too, like electricity and water. Where's that kind of leadership in New Orleans?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Angola tries its hand at demolition

600 homes destroyed in Angola, ABC News reports. Why do governments insist on this brutal approach to squatters, who are only citizens who are denied homes on the private market?

More name calling from Mugabe

"Damn hypocrite and a liar." That's Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's assessment of UN envoy Jan Egeland, who visited Harare and Bulawayo in the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina, which destroyed squatter communities and retail kiosks in cities all over Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, a 17-year-old single mother who was displaced by Mugabe's anti-squatter drive and is now living in an impromptu settlement challenged the president's assertion that everyone was living well: "People are living like mice," she said. Read Egeland's comments and Mugabe's response, in two articles from The Scotsman.

10 acres

That's the amount of land that has been granted to the 2,729 families of Kolkata's Gobindapur railway colony, The Statesman reports. That's just 160 square feet per family, but better than nothing. The squatters will be far from their jobs and schools. But the municipality has also promised to provide 'civic amenities,' including drinking water and latrines.

Six Days to Hit the Road

Kolkata's Gobindapur Railway squatters have less than a week to get out of their homes, The Statesman reports. "The initial anger of the people, who are soon to be displaced, seems to have been replaced by a strange silence. An acceptance of the inevitable," the newspaper reports. As one squatter told the paper, "We have no time to be concerned about legalities. There’s too much to do, simply to stay alive."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fallout Squatters

Chernobyl: a nice place to live.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has decided to legalize squatters who have seized homes near the power plant that went critical and exploded in 1986, Novosti Press Agency reports. Details are scant in this dispatch, but Yushchenko has apparently ordered that four churches be moved to the site. Locating churches there implies recognizing that the new community is permanent.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The World's Worst Housing Rights Violator

Pop Quiz: which country evicted 3.7 million people over the past decade? Which city in that country was the site of more than 2/3 of those evictions?

The answers: China and Shanghai.

It's a dubious distinction, highlighted by COHRE (the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions) and discussed in this article by the
Inter Press Service News Agency.

We're not moving

A group of South African squatters have taken over an abandoned school, The Cape Argus reports.

The stigma attached to squatters seems the same all over the world. When the school was vacant, kids were breaking in to smoke pot and drink and no one did anything. But now that squatters are there, it's suddenly an emergency.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rising Rio violence

Three boys plus a 24-year old man were killed by the cops in a Rio favela, Reuters reports. The boys, all members of Bateria Nosso Sonho, a percussion ensemble in favela Morro do Estado in Niteroi, had gone out to buy sodas, their families said. Witnesses said one of the youths was shot in the head after he was already wounded. Another dead youth, shot in the head, was found nearby, but it was not clear whether he was a victim of the same police action.

Amnesty International has called on the Brazilian government to rein in rogue cops who are executing innocents in the favelas. See this AI report for details.

Last week, drug dealers set fire to a city bus, killing five passengers and injuring 13. The following day, four men suspected of committing the crime were found executed, gangland style.

Problems of Property

First the hurricane, now a housing price surge in New Orleans, Reuters reports. "The state lifted a stay on evictions in early November, and relief officials said many evacuated tenants had not been contacted before being kicked out," the article states. Hmmmm: now that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a corporation's human rights were violated because it was not informed of an adverse possession claim, I wonder whether any court in the U.S. will trumpet the human rights of New Orleans renters who have been evicted without any notice. Or do human rights only belong to those with property?

'A war that never ends' in Rio's Favelas leaves 4,000 dead

The Houston Chronicle reports that more than 4,000 people have died over the past five years in the Brazilian beach city's war on drug gangs in the favelas. More than 900 have died so far this year at the hands of the police--some of them killed execution-style.

To be fair, the police note that, on average, one officer is killed each week in the famed beachfront city.

Still, favela residents, most of whom abhor the traficantes, hate the police more. They feel the cops are part of the problem (and in league with the traffickers), not part of the solution

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Blocking the 'Yellow Monsters'

A town council in Botswana has wisely acted to block a national government plan to demolish a local squatter encampment, reports. Mayor Christopher Ramolemana wants people in the community called Baghdad Town to be guaranteed adequate relocation before the bulldozers, or 'yellow monsters,' can start their awful work. As the Mayor sensibly says, "After we have given people plots, we can then monitor squatting and control it."

Squatters have lives, too

Consider just how wrenching an eviction can be: “They [the authorities] think of us as garbage," a Kolkata squatter tells The Statesman. "But what’s the difference between them and us? We are made of flesh and blood just like them. I just want them to come and live here for one day. They have always tried to evict us whenever the children’s examinations are on. My son is currently having his half-yearly exams. How will he study among all this confusion?”

A tale of two Manilas

Makati City, the downtown area of Manila, boasts the head offices of 400 of the leading corporations of the Philippines, the country's stock exchange, 472 banks, 1,832 financial institutions, 149 insurance companies and 86 foreign embassies and consulates. And that doesn't include the five star hotels, upmarket shopping malls and some of the country's most exclusive housing enclaves.

"On the surface Makati gives the impression of a first world city but tucked away from the bright lights is Makati's dark side where thousands of poor live in shacks, surviving day-to-day off the streets."

Here, from Agence France Presse, is a profile of Makati City's Mayor, Jejomar 'Jojo' Binay, who has improved the finances of the city, but stands accused of taking a page from the Three Penny Opera and using the poor hordes who are beholden to him to quash any opposition. Even street peddlers must hew to Binay's policies or risk losing their permits to operate, the article says.

Most tsunami victims still homeless

The lead says it all: "Nearly a year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, almost all of the aid recipients in villages hit by the waves are still living in temporary shelters or camps, according to a survey released on Tuesday." Here's coverage, from

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kolkata update

More jockeying in Kolkata, as squatters facing court-mandated eviction seek firm promises that they will get new land, The Statesman reports.

This seems a legitmate fear. After all, if the squatters had not mobilized to protect their rights, they would have been ejected from the land they have called home for a generation with no replacement site and no compensation. They are, literally, fighting for their lives.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The end of London's oldest squat

UK Police have ejected residents from London's oldest squat. The St. Agnes Place squatters, who held their homes for a generation, have been evicted, the BBC reports.

I don't know all the facts, but why couldn't the squatters t go to court to argue adverse possession, as they had openly and notoriously held their homes for 30 years? And why couldn't the council work out a deal to save some of the buildings, which are likely better than anything new that will be built. Anyone who knows more, please advise.

Here's a more realistic appraisal, from a former resident, via The Guardian.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Water inequality

This study from Kenya shows why squatters don't get adequate water. Only 5 percent of the people getting municipal water service are poor. The bulk of the poor must buy their water from private kiosks. And check this out: "Kiosks receive water from the public utility at a subsidised price of US$ 0.15 per cubic meter but charge their customers, on average, 18 times that price."

Hmmmm. Sounds like when water is made a profit center, you get high prices and controlled scarcity.

The Kenyan government could do more for the poor by piping their neighborhoods for water than all the rebuilding plans currently on the drawing boards.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kokata politicos try to have it both ways

Politicians in Kolkata vow squatters will be out by the end of the month, even as they have no idea where the people will go if their communities are torn down, The Statesman reports.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Brooms and firecrackers vs. the police

Kolkata's Gobindapur Rail Colony squatters are still negotiating for resettlement, but they are remaining vigilant against any sudden police action, The Statesman reports. The squatters are insisting that they be relocated within 3 kilometers of their present location, so that they can keep their jobs in the neighborhood. With a Nov. 30th deadline for ejectment inching closer, they are maintaining all night vigils while their leadership and local politicos attempt to sort out a solution.

Is a corporation entitled to human rights?

The European Court of Human Rights thinks so, according to this article from the Guardian.

On a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that a British real estate corporation was deprived of its human rights when a squatter family was granted title to a disputed parcel after a dozen years of using the land for grazing its herd. Despite the longstanding tradition of adverse possession, or squatters rights, the court, based in Strasbourg, ruled that because the company was not notified of the adverse possession claim against it and was not compensated for the loss of the land, its human rights had been violated. The court ruled that two British laws--the Limitation Act 1980 and the Land Registration Act 1925--created "an individual and excessive burden and upset the fair balance between the demands of the public interest on the one hand and the applicants’ right to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions on the other."

It's hard to see how any form of squatters rights, no matter how narrowly construed, could meet the majority's test, since it seems to have judged that private ownership is in the public interest while squatter ownership is not. The four judges do not say why the family using the parcel in question for grazing was not entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of its possession, while the fee owner was.

The dissenters suggest that there was absolutely no human rights issue in question, because the realty company could have taken action at any time to show its intent to keep the property. "The real "fault" in this case, if there has been any, lies with the applicant companies....[T]he applicant company was not a private individual or an ordinary company with, one could assume, limited knowledge on relevant real estate legislation. They were specialised professional real estate developers and such a company had or should have had full knowledge about relevant legislation and the duties involved....Possession (ownership) carries not only rights but also and always some duties."

The European Court's jurisdiction dates from 1950, when the Council of Europe met in Rome and signed an agreement that included this phrase: "Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principle of international law."

For more information, visit the web site of the European Court of Human Rights. The full court decision and dissent is available here.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Fire guts a Metro Manila squatter community

A weekend fire tore through a squatter community in Makati City, part of Metro Manila. There are few details, according to this Manila Times brief. Makati is a divided city, home to Manila's central business district and many flashy shopping streets (Makati alone boasts a half dozen 5-star hotels), but also to extremely poor squatter areas on the east side of town (see the city's official website and wikipedia.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What's a little Murambatsvina among friends?

Beijing tries its hand at Zimbabwe's game, and bulldozes Suojiacun, a landmark artist's colony.

The artists are not squatters. They bought their studios from a developer, but the homes turned out to be illegal. Beijing is not prosecuting the developer, only ejecting the residents.

Interestingly, the city's official website recommends that travelers visit Suojiacun. Oops.

[thanks to Michael Ashkin for alerting me to this story]

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kolkata confidence

Squatters in Kolkata are extra vigilant now that the court ordered time for them to sign eviction papers has passed. They have urged all residents of the Gobindapur Railway Colony to keep their lights on, so they have advance warning if the police make a sudden push to drive them out. The squatters hope the state government will find new land for them before Nov. 30th, the final date set by the court for their eviction, The Statesman reports.

World Toilet Day

One third of the world's population doesn't have access to proper toilets--although the situation is actually quite a bit more bleak, as the statistic counts pit latrines (a seat is placed over a deep hole) as adequate. That means that Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya, where more than 500,000 people live with only shared pit latrines, might not even be included. The Guardian has the scoop.

A sensible stand

This sounds fair: Squatters in Kolkata are being required to provide written documentation of their willingness to move--so they have adopted a sensible response: they will not provide their written promises until the government promises in writing to provide them with new homes. Read about it in The Statesman

In Italy, a leftist takes on immigrant squatters

Squatters can't even trust progressives to be sympathetic anymore. The leftist Mayor of Bologna, Italy has destroyed a riverside squatter village, according to this Reuters dispatch. The politico, Sergio Cofferati, is apparently playing to the city's rising anti-immigrant sentiment after a massive influx of new arrivals over the past two years--an 18 percent jump from 2003 to 2004, and another 20% jump through October 2005. Immigrants now account for 8 percent of Bologna's population. Cofferati called in the bulldozers to raze a squatter encampment set up by immigrants from Romania. He claims he wants to provide better housing for immigrants, though many of those whose homes he destroyed are being deported.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Politics and the promised land

The Kenyan government is promising land to rural squatters throughout the country, in an effort to win their support for a new constitution that would reduce democracy, The East African Standard reports. The proposed constitution, up for a vote on Monday, Nov. 21, would consolidate power in the office of the president. A constitutional review commission had suggested a more democratic structure, requiring the president to share some powers with parliament and the judiciary. The governing National Rainbow Coalition split over the proposal. President Mwai Kibaki and his allies want to keep centralized power. Opponents within the government suggest that the plan is a power grab and will return the nation to the dictatorial strongman tradition of former president Daniel arap Moi.

Rail Roko

Squatters in Kolkata did blocked commuter rail tracks for two hours yesterday, and, in response, the state urban development and municipal affairs minister promised that the government would try to find land where the squatters can relocate. But that's still far from a firm commitment of no eviction without relocation. Things are set to climax Nov. 30th, when a court order requires the squatters in the Gobindapur Rail Colony to clear out or be moved out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Squatters gear up for civil disobedience in India

Kolkata's Gobindapur Rail Colony squatters are ready to engage in civil disobedience in their fight to avoid being summarily evicted next week, according to his report from The Statesman.

Though I can certainly imagine what the words mean, if anyone out there is fluent in Hinglish (Hindi-influenced English), could you please help me pin down the exact meaning of the two things the squatters say they are going to do: rail roko and dharna.

Monday, November 14, 2005

More squatter evictions in Zimbabwe

In violation of a court order barring evictions without proper relocation housing, 300 squatters, who were roughing it in crude encampments in the poor Mbare neighborhood of Harare have been packed into trucks and relocated out of town, according to this report from Cape Town's Independent newspaper.

Also, International Herald Tribune reports that, though the squatters have been scattered, the scorched earth policy followed by Mugabe is still quite evident. The paper cites Killarney, a former squatter neighborhood of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city. What once was an impoverished but vital community of 800 families is now a forlorn patch of dirt. "Before the demolitions," writes reporter Michael Wines, "it was dirt-poor but thriving, subdivided into three villages with stores and services. All that has been razed and burned." This description is telling: "Today, Killarney is a moonscape of sunbaked dirt, scrub and burned-out rubble."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

New American Squatters?

A colony of 50 on the edge of the suburbs in Solano, California, as profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle. Unlike squatters in the developing world, who head to the cities to get a piece of the action, these rural revolutionaries present themselves as rugged individualists at a remove from the trappings of commercial society. It'll be interesting to see if their community survives, and even grows.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

United Front

Not a single one of the 20,000 families in the Gobindapur Rail Colony in Kolkata has signed up with the police to indicate their intent to vacate their homes, reports The Statesman. The court ruling mandating eviction requires all community residents to be gone by the end of this month. And where are they supposed to go? The police and the politicians and the judges don't care.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rhino squatters headed to court; Kolkata squatters headed to street

Residents of the well-known Geneva squat Rhino have approached the federal courts to annul the order mandating their eviction by Nov. 22. If I understand the French of this swissinfo article correctly, the squatters argue that the eviction deadline was created by executive fiat, whereas there should be a court ruling before such a final action is enforced. Therefore, they argue, the high court should stop the ejectment plan.

Halfway around the globe, Kolkata's (that's Calcutta for those not initiated to the non-colonial spelling) Gobindapur Rail Colony squatters took to the streets today to protest the court decision that is forcing their eviction. According to this article from The Statesman, the squatters vowed to carry brooms and chili powder as defensive weapons against potential police violence.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Demonstration to support Rhino

A thousand people demonstrated over the weekend in Geneva in support of the squatters at Rhino, the Swiss news service Edicom reports (in French). The squatters have collected 11,000 signatures on a petition against the eviction. The government claims that it is attempting to find replacement housing for the approximately 70 people who live in the building, which has been squatted in for 17 years.

65,000 Manila cops are squatters

That's 56% of the police force, reports The Manila Times. The newspaper reports that the cops will get a pay increase next year. But don't count on that to make them move. I knew cops in India, Brazil and Turkey who were squatters. It's a question of how much apartments in legal neighborhoods cost.

Can governments across the developing world please think: if cops are squatters, then squatting is not breaking the law. If public servants are squatters, then squatter communities are not blight, but are simply affordable neighborhoods. Sometimes they're the only affordable neighborhoods in cities that otherwise make no provision for the poor.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Statesman

Squatters in one Calcutta community don't intend to move, though their homes border a busy railway line, the Statesman reports. Gobindapur Rail Colony is a neighborhood of 20,000 families who have all been given until Nov. 10th to pull up stakes by the Supreme Court. But the squatters are adament about fighting the eviction. The residents have demanded replacement housing be provided close by, as their jobs, family networks, and schools are all in the area.


An interview with a martial arts teacher from Rocinha, from Gringoes, a web site about things Brazilian. A sensible excerpt:

What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?

They think the life here is all about playing and not working. Play is important but, we all need to live, so work is important. My American friends who come to visit me always ask about the women. Women are strong here. Never underestimate women.

They think where I live in a favela, is always dangerous, this is not true. I think there is more danger in the asfalto because tourists stay there. The thief will find you there, not come to my neighborhood. There is no crime in my neighborhood. The only crime is when the police come to invade.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Government Alone Can't Solve the Housing Shortage

Another example of why government programs alone are not the answer to the housing shortage: Halfway through an ambitious 1.3 billion rand ($194 million) program to build affordable housing in Alexandra, South Africa, the program seems an abject failure, report The Star. Only 639 of 22 250 planned housing units have actually been built.

It's time for governments everywhere to stop scratching their heads. The solution to the global housing crisis is to figure out how to work with squatters. It's more cost-effective, more realistic, and can be achieved at a greater scale, than pushing squatters out and building new social housing.

Squatter Microbes

This BBC dispatch about the impending eviction of the squatters who have lived on St. Agnes Place in London for better than 30 years features a revealing quote from a local politico:

Lambeth councillor Keith Flitchett said the squatters had been living "as parasites on council tenants for years, and the sooner they are out the better".

When the facts and morality aren't on your side, call 'em names. Isn't it the politicians who are the parasites? The squatters are just people attempting to live in self-sufficiency.


This short dispatch, in French, reveals a municipal offer to relocate Geneva's Rhino squatters elsewhere in the city.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Supply electricity to squatters, Mubarak orders

Now this is just way too sensible to believe: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wants the government to supply electricity to squatters. Amazing what a bit of political opposition will do: turn a dictator into a populist.

Rasta squat

The squatters of St. Agnes Place in London have been in their homes for better than 30 years. This alone ought to qualify them for permanent residence status. But the local council in Kensington wants them out.

Officials of the Lambeth council are making contradictory arguments in support of the eviction. The Guardian claims that 22 of the squatter-occupied buildings will be replaced by social housing. But it also notes the argument that redevelopment is necessary to regenerate a rundown area plagued by crime and asserts that on the open market the homes, surrounded by parkland and close to the mass transit, could each fetch around £500,000.

Many of the squatters are Rastafarians, but there are also Brazilians, Moroccans, Poles, Germans, Spaniards, Indians, and, of all things, Brits.

Why can't they just stay in their homes. Thirty years ought to qualify as a possession right, if not a property right.


More on the eviction order at Rhino, a Geneva squat that has been in existence for 17 years, from swissinfo.

It's the classic political strategy. The public prosecutor says the "illegal tenants" must be evicted by Nov. 22nd to allow the landlord to build large, low-cost flats. Yeah right: the building's privately owned and, as this swissinfo article on the housing crisis in Geneva notes, landlords contend that they cannot make money because of a governmental regulation that two-thirds of all new homes built in the canton (the swiss version of a state) be cheap and affordable.

Yet that's exactly the route this private owner says he's going to take.

Think about it: the squatters saved the building after it was abandoned. For 17 years, they prevented it from decaying. And now they're willing to pay rent. "We have always been prepared to pay rent since the beginning," one of them told swissinfo. "The goal has been to have a communal lease, but the offers that have been made to us have been crazy."

The landlord bought the building in 1998. He knew there were squatters there. He knew they had been there for a decade. Their occupation was open and notorious. Why is the government now doing his bidding?

China Drops Residency Restrictions -- but does it really matter?

Rich cities, poor countryside, open migration, no squatters. China seems to think it can have it both ways, according to this article from The New York Times, about the plan to end the hukou system that tied residents to their rural areas. But it seems like a game of bait and switch, for the government may revoke residency restrictions in 11 of the country's 23 provinces, but it expects that cities will assume greater control over the inflows. Migrants will still have to register and be accepted by municipalities. Thus, historian Qin Hui, of Qinghua University in Beijing, tells the paper: "The cities will become places where the relatively well off live. Beijing is not going to look like New Delhi, or even like Bangkok."

The move comes in response to growing social disparities and unrest in the rural areas. In addition, China boasts a floating population of 140 million migrant laborers, who are still counted as rural residents even though many of them have resided in cities for a decade or more, working on some of the country's mega-development projects. How will the rule change affect them?

Why the sudden attacks on Europe's squatters?

Why are several European cities, which have great histories of tolerance, suddenly going after squatters? The two squats mentioned in a previous post--Rhino in Geneva and Christiania in Copenhagen--are everything people say they want squats to be: orderly, long lasting, well-run, communitarian, good neighbors. Christiania, in particular, is a huge and stable community. Over the decades, it has become part of the city's fabric, even serving as a tourist attraction, pulling in an estimate million visitors a year.

So why are the authorities moving to wipe these communities out?

Here are some thoughts. Please feel free to argue with/extend/add to this is comments. Let's have a robust political dialogue.

1. A loss of spirit: The original squatters, who were political, communitarian, and highly motivated have largely lost that fervor. More and more, the squats became simply places to live, and squatters themselves more individualistic.

2. Losing a public profile: The squatters also have ceased to have a high profile public presence and have mostly lost the support of the rest of the city. We are in an acquisitive, consumerist time, and people see the squatters as getting something for nothing, rather than as standing for a noble cause of a better life for all.

3. Fear of violating public order: Politicians like keeping people fearful of terrorist attacks and threats to public order, because with fear they will turn naturally to the security of concepts such as the strict adherence to property rights. Anyone standing counter to that is, in this thinking, a kind of terrorist.

4. Property values: Cities have become much more expensive (we should also be thinking about why this is, and why we accept it) and increasingly people are buying into the landlord-led argument that apartment buildings that are held out of the market (squats, rent control, public housing, etc.) are actually making rents higher for the rest of us. This is nonsense, of course (my landlord is illegally overcharging half the people in the building, but he has yet to offer to lower my rent), but it seems to be seductive nonsense for many people.

A century and a half ago, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said property is robbery. Half a century ago, Andre Gorz modified him, noting that in the highest forms of capitalism, robbery is poetry. Today, property rights seem to be considered the route to salvation. Why? Come on guys: pile on. Just what is going on in the developed world that has made these communities suddenly so undesirable?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Rocinha photo essay

Evocative Photos of Rocinha by Brooklyn's own Gabriel Ponce de Leon (a great guy and good friend, I should note) were on display in Rio's subway and have been posted in the online mag no minimo. What's nice is that these are not bang bang, shoot shoot shots. They show the simple things of everyday life. There's also an interview with him (in Portuguese) here at viva favela.

The Super Powers of a Superpower

This article from the Financial Times detailing the European Union's list of 150 changes in Turkish governance that would be required for Turkey to join the EU reminded me of my time trucking around Istanbul's gecekondu (squatter) neighborhoods. It was after September 11, 2001 and during the ramp-up of rhetoric before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and this is what I wrote at the time:

Istanbul, July 28, 2002—I’ve been here in the city of the sultans for almost three months, and America the superpower follows me wherever I go. You are American, people say. What do you think about September 11th?

I tell them all that I live in New York, that I stood on my roof and watched the Twin Towers fall. But that’s not what most people want to hear. They want theories, not facts. And regarding September 11th, the left, right and center all agree: It was an inside job.

To left-wingers, it was an act designed by the CIA to give America protective coloration for its imperialist doctrine of world domination. The U.S. is a superpower, my socialist friend Zamanhan tells me. Who else but the American intelligence services could fly a plane into the Pentagon, a building which has a defense system designed to shoot down anything that gets within three hundred meters of it (they have this system in Ankara, he notes, so how could they not have it at the Pentagon.) Besides, he adds, the U.S. covertly funded Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban when they were warring against Soviet occupation. Once an operative, always an operative: these were CIA agents at work.

The right believes it was economic at root: an act designed by the military to help rebuild the American economy by bolstering the war machine in the wake of the dot com collapse. The U.S. is a superpower, Mustafa, a soft-spoken fundamentalist who works for the municipal government in the deeply religious suburb of Sultanbeyli, tells me. How is it possible that this little group based in the mountains of Afghanistan could have penetrated America’s high tech air defense system? How is it possible they could have come and gone from the U.S. so freely. How could America not have known this was happening? It must have been planned by the military so that the government can spend billions and billions of dollars on new missiles.

And Ali, who is mostly moderate in his views, insists that the attack was engineered from within to give the U.S. a reason to invade Afghanistan, which he claims is strategically important because it gives the America a base of operations from which to control Asia, the Middle East, and even the former Soviet republics. The U.S. is a superpower, he tells me. It wants to control all these regions. And anyway, how could it not know immediately that four planes were hijacked and where they were heading? How could it not have shot them down? This was clearly an inside job.

Of course, some people also mention Israel. If the superpower didn’t do it, then its friends the crafty Israelis must have. The MOSSAD security service, they say, has the power to have made this happen, and is in league with the CIA anyway. What’s more, a fundamentalist friend added, everyone knows the Jewish ideology is for world domination and to make everyone else serve them.

In a conspiracy-laden world, the facts don’t matter—-and here’s my personal favorite, advanced by a very smart and sober man. I have read, he told me, that the World Trade Center was built by the Japanese and a rival firm wanted to prove that the technology used to build such skyscrapers could not withstand extreme heat. So it arranged this all to prove that the construction technology was unsafe.

Everywhere I go, I am America’s roving answer man. Why is America friends with Israel and not the Palestinians? Why does America want war with Iraq? Why are American cops always beating up black men? Why does America go around causing so much trouble in the world? Why does George Bush hate Muslims?

I remind myself that Istanbul was the capital of the world’s superpower 500 years ago. If a Turk had suddenly appeared in a working class area of London in the 16th century, it’s likely he would have been treated far more rudely than me and asked far more shocking questions.

Recently, I was sitting in the shade of a brick pile drinking tea with a group of ten or fifteen people—-family and friends who were recovering from a wedding that had taken place earlier in the week. We were silent for a while, and then a muscular man with a stylish goatee spoke up: What do you think about Turkey joining the European Union? I rejoiced: Finally, a political question that did not involve the U.S. and its super powers.

Tell me what you think, I said, because I think this is for the Turks and the Europeans to decide.

I think it’s a good thing, he said, but there’s one problem: I have heard that if we do join, America will seize Cyprus.

Why the hell would America want Cyprus? I asked.

He smiled and shook his head knowingly: America is a superpower, he said, and it will not let us do this without getting something in return.

Trading places

I've got a suggestion for the Zimbabwean judges who complain that they can't stop taking bribes to fix cases because they are starving and their lives are too hard: why don't you give your homes over to one of the many thousands of families who were made homeless a few months back by Operation Murambatsvina and try living on the street. Most magistrates are paid less than seven million Zimbabwe dollars ($270 US) a month, the Zimbabwe Observer reports. Hmmm. Most of my squatter friends in nearby Kenya lived on less than $40 a month. I'm sure the situation for hundreds of thousands of squatters in Zimbabwe is comparable. Each one of them would gladly trade places.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

End of Tolerance?

What happened to end a generation of tolerance of the squats in Copenhagen and Geneve, asks writerPhilippe de Rougemont (article in French). In Geneva, the residents of Rhino, a well-regarded squat, are scheduled to leave their homes on Nov. 22nd. Christiania, the hippie squat that became a tourist attraction in Copenhagen, drawing a million visitors a year, is apparently slated to give way to luxury condos now that a law mandating the privatization of public property has gone into effect. With scant political clout and a dwindling sense of cooperative organizing, the squats lost public support and seem to have little ability to protect themselves from the wrath of tough prosecutors and local governments.

Monday, October 31, 2005

$9.2 million is enough to kill for

Orlando José Rodrigues, known as Soul, who was appointed to be Bem-Te-Vi's successor as chief of trafficking in Rocinha, lasted two days on the job before he was bumped off by two of his erstwhile colleagues, according to the latest news reports.

Here's why gang members are killing each other to get to the top: sales of cocaine in Rocinha bring in R$400,000 a week, the daily newspaper O Dia reports. At the current exchange rate, that's an annual turnover of $9.2 million.

Here are the details of Soul's assassination, in Portuguese:

Sucessor de Bem-Te-Vi é assassinado na Rocinha

Agência Estado

Líderes comunitários da Rocinha informaram hoje à Polícia que o traficante Orlando José Rodrigues, o Soul, apontado como sucessor, na chefia do tráfico de drogas na favela, de Erismar Rodrigues Moreira, o Bem-Te-Vi, morto por policiais na madrugada de sábado, foi assassinado com outros quatro comparsas.

A ação, que integrantes da comunidade, em tom irônico, estão chamando de "golpe de Estado", teria sido comandada pelos bandidos conhecidos como Nem e Joca, que eram do bando de Soul e agora seriam os chefes do tráfico local.

A situação na Rocinha é de tranqüilidade, mas o ambiente ainda é de tensão. A Polícia ainda não subiu o morro para tentar localizar os corpos. Policiais do 23º BPM reforçam o patrulhamento dos acessos.

It takes getting used to

Here's something that people in Rocinha, and many of the other favelas of Brazil, have to get used to: kids with guns. These kids (photos provided by an anonymous favela resident) have handguns, but I saw many with assault weapons in my time in the favela.

So far as I know, there are only a handful of favelas in Rio de Janeiro that are not strongholds of the drug trade. Some escape because they are small and out of the way in the jungle. And one large favela, Rio das Pedras, has its own vigilante posse that is as well armed as the dealers and metes out justice with as much brutality. The word is, if you get caught dealing drugs (or doing other anti-social activities) in Rio das Pedras, the posse will kill you. Quite a deterrent.

To be fair, the drug gangs lodged themselves in the favelas because the government refused to provide services. With no cops to interfere with their activities, the dealers became entrenched. They are also communitarian and invest in good things for the residents, including recreational space for kids, child care facilities, and parties. They also help resolve community disputes. One dealer, the former chief of trafficking in favela Dona Marta, above the legal neighborhood of Botafogo, claimed that he was only seeking to raise enough money to create an alternate government in the favela to run things more democratically and securely for the residents. Of course, he continued dealing, was later arrested, and died in jail, I believe.

Also to be fair: the residents of the favelas find the dealers infinitely preferable to the cops. The cops are corrupt. They harass the residents. They believe they have the right to burst into people's houses and trample their freedoms in ways they never would in the legal world. The second day I was in Rocinha, my friend Paul and I were accosted by the cops as we left the favela. We spent 15 or 20 minutes with guns pressed into our stomachs until Paul convinced the cops we were not traffickers or buyers. Rocinha residents go through this kind of harassment with much more regularity.

It also appears that as much as the cops fight the dealers, the drug gangs have connections to the highest echelons of society. A police officer I know, who I will call Jorge, told me that when raided the favelas, he often found caches of brand new weapons that seem to have come straight from the military. He suggested that the real chieftains of drug trafficking in Brazil were well-regarded military and political leaders of the country.

Finally, remember this: that as compelling as these images and stories are, the vast majority of favela residents are good people who are trying to provide for their families. It has been estimated that just one percent of the people who live in the favelas are involved in the drug trade.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Death of a Drug Dealer

Bem-Te-Vi (real name Erismar Rodrigues Moreira), the chief of trafficking in Rocinha, was killed by the police on Saturday. He was shot four times at the end of an hour-long shootout in the Rocinha neighborhood called Valão. Four other favela residents, including three innocent bystanders who just happened to be in the area and had no connection to the drug kingpin, were wounded in the melee.

The person who sent me the news had an interesting reaction to the shooting. "This guy was a very bad guy," he wrote, but added that he is angry at the police for storming the favela and wounding innocents: "I do not like trafickers, but as usual, people who are not bad get injured or killed. I love Rocinha and hate the police."

The photos here, taken by a different Rocinha resident, show the tension in Rocinha. Note the kid in the second photo, walking down the beco (or pathway), seemingly oblivious to the heavily armed masked policeman staked out just around the corner.

Bem-Te-Vi foi morto com 4 tiros

Agência Estado

Chefe do tráfico na Rocinha, o bandido mais procurado
do Rio, Erismar Rodrigues Moreira, o Bem-Te-Vi, de 29
anos, foi morto na madrugada de hoje, dentro da
favela, na zona sul, em uma troca de tiros com a
polícia. Conhecido pela vaidade, que o levou a ter
armas, cordões e pulseiras banhadas a ouro, e pelos
contatos com jogadores de futebol, ele foi baleado
durante a operação Cavalo de Tróia. Três moradores
também foram atingidos, e uma quarta pessoa, que,
segundo a polícia, é integrante da quadrilha do
traficante, morreu.

Bem-Te-Vi resistiu à prisão e foi morto às 3h, após
uma hora de confronto, acossado nas proximidades do
valão do Largo do Boiadeiro, na parte baixa da favela,
informou a polícia. Ele estava acompanhado por seis
traficantes armados de fuzil. Os criminosos usaram
granadas contra 10 policiais da 25ª DP (Engenho de
Dentro), que estavam na linha de frente da operação.

Na reação, quatro tiros foram dados no bandido - um na
cabeça, dois no abdômen e outro entre o tornozelo e o
pé - que tinha ainda vários ferimentos na parte
direita do abdômen. De acordo com o Instituto
Médico-Legal (IML), a pistola Glock 9mm dourada, que
estava na cintura do bandido, foi alvejada, e o
gatilho acabou entrando no abdômen. Além da arma, ele
trazia um bracelete de ouro.

Durante o tiroteio, o túnel Zuzu Angel, que liga a
zona sul à Barra, na zona oeste, permaneceu fechado e
às escuras, assustando motoristas. Moradores da
comunidade também viveram momentos de muita tensão. O
coordenador da operação, delegado Luiz Antonio
Ferreira, da 25ª DP, contou que nunca viu tantos
disparos na vida. Acionado para retirar o traficante e
os policias da favela, o carro blindado da
Coordenadoria de Operações e Recursos Especiais (Core)
levou 40 minutos para sair do local, devido à intensa
troca de tiros.


Here is an Estadao article, in Portuguese, about his burial. The article notes that residents expect more violence in the favela.

warning: if you don't want to look at a disturbing image, of Bem-Te-Vi's body being unceremoniously hauled out of the favela by the cops, don't read on.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Many Indian politicians are squatters

Amazing but true: some of India's toniest politicians and stars are squatters, according to this article from gulfnews. The list of illegal occupants include Bihar Governor Buta Singh, Communist Party (Marxist) leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jaswant Singh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, artist Jatin Das, Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj, Bharatnatyam exponent Leela Samson and Kuchipudi dancers Raja and Radha Reddy. They all seem to be occupying government-owned houses that are far beyond what they are entitled to under law. Left and right are implicated in the scandal--and although it is the sad norm in India, it is a scandal. By what right do politicians push out the poor, while preserving their own illegal percs.

70 favelas at risk in Rio

Vila Alice, a small favela nestled in the hills above middle class Larangeiras is now at risk of eviction after a 12-year-long fight over land rights with a nearby highrise development, The Guardian reports.

"Fourteen shantytowns, the majority in upper-class boroughs such as Gávea and Jardim Botânico, were recently earmarked for removal by Rio's public prosecutor, while there has been a recent jump in the number of legal battles" over favelas, the newspaper reports. The official reasons for the evictions vary from ownership disputes to attempts to protect the environment and concerns over the safety of those living in the hilltop favelas. But for those fighting removal, the motivation is simple. "It isn't about land or trees or anything like that. They don't want the poor close to them," said Sebastião Machado, 47, a community activist and odd-job man involved in the battle for Vila Alice."

Indeed, if we're talking environmental concerns, the wealthy mansions of Larangeiras are just as destructive of the environment as the small but cozy homes of the poor. And if the risk of landslide is the issue, only the homes directly impacted by this should be relocated.

Several politicians in favor of eviction want the favelados moved further out of town. But favela dwellers and their allies dismiss this as pushing the problem away.

"People are confusing the issue of violence and the issue of favelas. The middle class are scared of the violence but it's not removal that will solve this. In the past ... removal has only helped change the address of this problem," Ricardo Gouvêa, an architect and human rights campaigner from the Bento Rubião Foundation told the Guardian. He cited the example of the Catacumba favela, whose expelled residents went on to form the Complexo da Maré, a sprawling slum near Rio's airport often referred to as the "Gaza Strip" because of its high death rate. "In the 1960s more than 100,000 families were brutally removed and this didn't solve the problem," he said.

The battle over Vila Alice culminates Nov. 8th and is extremely important. José Nerson de Oliveira, vice-president of the Federation of Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, told the Guardian that as many as 70 communities could be at risk.

Vila Alice occupies a chunk of land owned by the nearby highrise. Does anyone believe that this is anything but a real estate grab? And won't Brazil's recently enacted City Statute protect the residents?

How many times do we have to say it: eviction is not the answer, no matter how much political and legal swat rich people can muster. It's time for a dialogue between communities, designed to ensure that they can live together, and share the space in the city.

Another thought on evictions

Here's something for the United Nations to think about: how to penalize nations that allow squatter communities to be evicted. There will be no let-up in drives against squatters if municipalities and countries don't face dire consequences. The well-meaning world body does all sorts of after-the-fact reports detailing the human suffering and misery that comes with eviction and demolition. For once let's try getting out in front of this issue and preventing evictions rather than simply cataloguing them.

Friday, October 28, 2005

To go along with jj's photo, here's one of mine, of the tufts of rebar that energize the built forms of Rocinha. It's not widely known, but there's a vast commercial marketplace in most squatter communities. The sign at left, cut off in the photo, is advertising a kitchenette apartment for rent. And, of course, there's always coca cola in the favela.

City of water tanks

This photo, taken by jj, a correspondent who was born and raised in Rocinha, shows a forest of caixas d'agua--water tanks--on the rooftops of Rocinha. Jj is 19, and is studying English and teaching ju jitsu in the favela. He likes Rocinha, and says that he once tried to live in the ritzy Barra da Tijuca, but found that people there were not friendly once they found out he was from Rocinha.

Of Rocinha's reputation as a dangerous place, he says: "I think we have 300,000 people and maybe only 200 are they very bad ones....We in Rocinha make very little money. We do not buy the drugs." The drug dealers, he says, cater to middle class/rich people. If these outsiders stopped buying, the traffickers would be out of work.

He also notes something that I have written about: that the drug dealers invest in the community. The police are much more disruptive, and do not distinguish between law abiding residents and dealers. "We favelados do not like the police. They come in shooting everybody and innocents get killed. The traficantes, we understand, are doing bad things, but not to us."

Thanks, jj. Please keep us posted on daily life in Rocinha.

Business Development for Cairo's squatters

A project training women in Cairo's squatter areas so they can get jobs claims impressive results, the Mail & Guardian Online reports.

Did Squatters spike the cars?

After the demolition of five squatter shanties not far from Talisay City in the Philippines, nails were strewn across a local highway, disabling 15 cars, The Freeman reports. The newspaper doesn't know if it's the work of disgruntled squatters.

Tomb Raiders

A small squatter encampment is threatening a World Heritage Site in Peru, Reuters reports. A few dozen squatter families have erected wood and straw huts on the edge of the Nazca lines, a little-known but vast area 400 km south of Lima. where enigmatic shapes and lines, stylised figures of birds and animals were etched in the desert 2000 years ago.

"Look around: ... it's full of excrement, rubbish, (old) signs of looting," said Maximiliano Tenorio, one of the new squatters.

Though the new settlement is far from the best of the Nazca drawings, archeologists fear that squatter homes will spread unless people are evicted.

If the government wants to protect the Nazca lines (which have periodically been chopped up by legal development and destroyed by tomb raiders), it will have to negotiate with the squatters to provide land and infrastructure elsewhere. As in Turkey and Brazil, when governments negotiate in good faith, the squatters themselves police their boundaries and prevent further encroachments on ecologically or culturally sensitive parcels.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Where are the hooligans when you need them

Squatters in Jo-burg will likely be evicted in a plan to clean up downtown in time for the 2010 Football World Cup, Reuters reports, via the Pakistani paper DAWN.

"City officials hope that by the time the world's gaze rests on Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup, squats will have been replaced by upmarket loft apartments, smart delis and trendy boutiques."

Call it the globalization of desire. Even under ANC rule.

Hire squatters to build new housing

Here's a plan so sensible it's amazing no one's thought of it before: One South African municipality plans to hire squatters who are being evicted to build their new homes in a new township, News24 reports.

Beyond the Upscale

While squatters in the developed world used to be people with means who were making a political and alternative statement, The Guardian reports that this is changing. Now, squatters in the UK and elsewhere are from other countries, economic refugees, priced out of the housing market in the increasingly pricey cities of the west.

High Court Orders Squatter Eviction in Delhi

A Delhi Court has ruled that the city must remove squatters from public lands, expressIndia reports. Of course, the judges didn't express any worry about where the squatters will go. It's the old cliche: out of sight, out of mind. Pitiful.

The judges seem to blame the squatters for the mess. If it's true, as they wrote, that "this kind of encroachment develops into a nexus between various wings of authority as these illegal encroachers are allowed to stay in permanent poverty only as they serve as vote-banks,’’ then the solution is to prosecute politicians for corruption, not to blame the squatters, who are simply doing what they have to do to get shelter.

Baghdad Squatters: No homeland in their own land

Here's what democracy has meant for many Iraqis: evictions and rising rents. This Washington Post article describes the problem: "After the [U.S.] invasion, landlords across Iraq seized the opportunity to increase rents and force out people who could not pay. Within weeks, thousands of suddenly homeless families had started looking for abandoned buildings."

The government has vowed to give these squatters the boot, but has delayed implementation of the rule until after elections in December. "Once the government becomes strong, these squatters will be forced out," Mohammed Hareeri, spokesman for the Housing and Reconstruction Ministry, told the Post.

As Sajida Abboud, an elementary school teacher who has been squatting in a former government building for the past 2 1/2 years, said: "We are really lost. We need a homeland. We are without a homeland."

Without a homeland in their own land. What could be more eloquent.

[thanks to Annia for the article link]

Monday, October 24, 2005

No gun ban in Brazil

Despite 36,000 shooting deaths last year, Brazil's voters have strongly rejected a proposed ban on guns Reuters reports. All areas of the country voted against the ban. Here's the vote breakdown by region (note: in the upside-down world of referendums, a yes vote was a vote against guns, and a no vote was a vote to keep them.)

Commentators have explained the vote by suggesting that Brazilians didn't trust the authorities to be able to disarm entreched mafias and drug gangs, and believed that a gun ban would leave them more exposed to violence. Indeed, one of the shortcomings of the proposal was that it would not have covered guns purchased before the ban went into effect, which in a way would have legitimized the vast cache of arms held by clandestine drug gangs.

The ban would have halted sales of guns and ammunition to the public. But since drug gangs often get their weapons through illegal conduits, including ties to the military, the ban probably wouldn't have affected their ability to get assault rifles and other heavy arms.

Brazil second in the world behind Venezuela in per capita gun deaths, with 22 for every 100,000 people.

So the spiraling violence will continue: indeed, on Saturday night, a young girl in Rio de Janeiro's favela Morro do Dende was wounded by a stray bullet as police clashed with drug traffickers.

Looking Backward for a Way Forward in New Orleans

Almost unknown in the U.S., the ancient Roman legal concept of usufruct might help save New Orleans, The Los Angeles Times reports.

"You are not going to rebuild New Orleans unless you are able to get government access to private property," Mtumishi St. Julien, a longtime community advocate and housing advisor to Mayor C. Ray Nagin, told the paper. "If government does not solve that problem, everything else is just talk. It is foolish to believe otherwise."

As this backgrounder discusses, usufruct involves the ability to use, invest in and profit from property belonging to another. The holder of a usufruct right must return the property to the owner in at least as good condition as it was initially. And the usufruct right can be used to get a mortgage. A potential drawback: the usufruct right can also be bought and sold.

Still, this is a novel way of thinking about rebuilding the city, and would give the New Orleans government some important control over the future of the city. The key question: how to involve the current owners and, most importantly, the mass of city people who had no ownership right whatsoever. Tenants have a stake in the city, too, and must be involved in all decisions involving neighborhoods.

Memo to community organizations active in New Orleans: now's the time to speak up and organize for real.

note: without the University of Pittsburgh's Jurist clippings service, I probably wouldn't have found this story.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Squatter Activism in Switzerland

Squatters in Rhino, a squatter-led building in Geneva, are vowing to defy a judge's eviction order, the swissinfo news service reports. The squatters argue that eviction would be inhumane because it would put 60 adults and ten kids into the street during the winter.

I visited Rhino when I was in Switzerland back in April and it was an incredibly organized and communal and exciting building. the squatters have occupied it for almost two decades, and if they are pushed out, it would surely be transformed into luxury housing.

Seems like a no-brainer: there's no good reason to evict the squatttes.

Anti-property.... a good idea

Check out this BBC article on a great new strategy to create housing and avoid abandonment being premiered in Britain: Britain's Deputy Prime Minister's office has floated a plan that would enable local authorities to move families into buildings that have stood vacant for a year and to hold them for more than seven years before returning them to their owners. See also this story from: The Mirror.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Burn out the squatters!!

That's what former residents of District 6 in Cape Town are threatening to do now that the South African government has relocated 30 families to a plot in the area, the Cape Times reports. District 6 has a grand and notable history. It was one of the few multi-ethnic and multi-racial areas in the country (see history here) and faced years of sporadic forced removals. But things accelerated after the passage of the Group Areas Act, which made it illegal for people of different races to live in the same neighborhood. In 1966, the apartheid government declared District 6 a 'whites only' area. Between 1966 and 1980 60,000 people were forcibly removed from the district and their houses and shops bulldozed to the ground. Today, many of the original residents and their descendants, have petitioned to get their homes back, and they are worried that the squatters will now gain a competing claim to the land. Seems like there's got to be room for both in a renewed District Six. After all, isn't that what the spirit of the neighborhood was all about.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Paris Bidonville

From BBC NEWS, a photo essay on a tent city established by African immigrants who were evicted from various squatted buildings in Paris. With winter approaching, the families have now accepted temporary housing in a short-stay facility where each family only has 120 square feet.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A New Book on Caracas

It's rare to find architects who are willing to listen to and learn from squatter communities. Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, two of the driving forces behind the Caracas Think Tank in Caracas, Venezuela, have spent the past six months working with squatters in the Venezuelan capital. Now they have joined with German journalist Kristin Feireiss to bring out informal city: caracas case (Prestel Art Books.)

For planners this is an important text. As Brillembourg and Klumpner write: "If one looks at the barrios at a distance--in person or in an aerial photograph--one sees sprawling, rhizome-like shapes; one searches in vain for an ordering principle." But, they assert, we can learn from the informal city. "Informal does not mean 'lacking form'. It implies, for us, something that arises from within itself and its makers, whose form has not yet been recognized, or is unfinished, but which is subject to rules and procedures potentially as specific and necessary as those that have governed official, formal city-making."

It's expensive ($60) and largely academic in tone, but informal city is enlivened with lots of photos and it makes the right argument: that squatters have made a valuable contribution to urbanism in the 21st century.

Indian architect works with squatters

Pratima Joshi runs Shelter, an NGO in Pune, India, which encourages squatters to organize. The result: they think for themselves. "Some slums wanted sanitation, others wanted water. If they were by the river bed or in difficult terrain, they opted for housing," says Joshi, an architect by training. BBC NEWS has more details.

London Squatter Gets Security

Harry Hallowes, who for 19 years has been living on London's Hampstead Heath, now has security of tenure. In a deal between a property development company and the Camden Council, Hallowes will be allowed to remain on the heath in hsi cozy 12ft by 8ft shack, plus a 90ft by 90ft back garden.
The Independent reports that the deal will also save a portion of the development site as a nature reserve.

The Japanese Get It

Yukitoshi Nagashima, a Japanese architecture student, decided to do his thesis on the architecture of the homeless. He discovered a whole world of nuance in their crude encampmants. He has now published a book: "Danboru House" (Cardboard box houses), put out last month by Poplar Publishing. And his years among the homeless resulted in a personal life change too: he's become a newspaper reporter. Asahi Shimbun reports.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Squatter Demolitions in Sudan

The government of Khartoum embarks on regular "replanning operations" to drive squatters and refugees from the war-torn southern region out of the capital. Last December, police destroyed a squatter encampment close to the city and relocated 12,000 people to a desolate desert 55 km out of town. In August, after some families moved back, police again destroyed their homes. "This is the sixth time that my house has been destroyed since the late nineties," a woman who declined to be named told IRIN News. "I lost everything apart from some clothes." Estimates are that in the past two years, 300,000 people have been forced out of Khartoum through these violent evictions.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Law Professor Endorses Squatters Rights

Bernadette Atuahene, Assistant Professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, thinks squatters have rights. She outlines her thoughts in this brief article in the South Africa newspaper Business Day.