Interview with Ronaldo Delfino, leader of the movement of the Pantanal community occupation
In the outskirts of Sao Paolo, near the river Tiete, is the area of Pantanal. From the end of the ‘80’s, it has been occupied by homeless people, workers, unemployed, who are trying to turn it into a real neighbourhood.
Ronaldo is a member of the CLS group (Colectivo Liberdade Socialista), which is currently in a process of fusion with SR (Socialismo Revolutionario- the CWI section in Brazil). He is one of the leaders of this community, in it’s struggle to turn the area in a livable place.
The Pantanal area is actually very close to the Tiete river. This area was declared “an area under environmental protection”. The government used this law to try to evict the houses of the community several times.
The housing problem
The housing problem is huge in the urban areas of Brazil. Combined with poverty and unemployment, it creates an explosive mixture. Whoever walks in the center of Sao Paolo will be struck by the number of homeless people. The periodical attempts of the police for a clampdown do not have a concrete result. The homeless are so many, and everyday the policies af the capitalists create even more. It is estimated that there are 10.000 homeless in the city of Sao Paolo, the biggest city of South America.
This creats two trends. From the one side, the rich layers in society are constructing “private neighbourhoods” with guards and walls to distance themselves from the social misery they create. From the other side, people tend to organise themselves and accury abandoned areas or buildings to solve their housing problem.
The PT leadership and Lula, while supporting in words these movements before they came to power, did not adress the problem. On the contrary, they continue with the same policies on that issue.
The last period the government came out with a plan for the eviction of the Pantanal area. After the mobilisation of the community the plan was changed, with the people seeing most of their demands accepted in the negotiations. Nevertheless, they remain alert, until the final plan is signed by the officials. In that sense, solidarity is needed by national and international movements, in order to achieve the best possible solution for the community.
A CWI delegation visited the Pantanal area, discussing with the leaders of the community and with local activists. We had a meeting with CLS members in Pantanal, attended a massive popular assembly of the movement, and made a tour around the area.
When was the community of Pantanal created?
The community was created in 1989.
How many people live in this area?
Aproximately 6.000 families, around 30.000 people.
How was it created?
In the beginning it was an unorganised occupation. It was built step by step by the inhabitants.
The first wave of inhabitants was not so organised, and the police expelled them from the area.
The second time they were more organised, and they had the help of some PT members and MP’s. They started to organise the community and define the different areas for people to live in.
At first, there were a lot of people who called themselves “leaders” of the occupation. It turned out that they wanted to claim part of the occupied land, and then sell it to newcomers.
How were the houses built? Did the state have any involvement?
No. The state didn’t help at all. It was the people that helped each other. There were no streets and the whole area was flooded. So it was the tenants who had to do even the basic “infastructure” works. For example, they had to take soil from one area and transfer it to another, in order to make it solid for house building.
In the building of the houses, neighbour helped neighbour, almost without professional construction experience.
Now what is the policy of the state, after the establishment of the community?
Even now we get no help from the state. The people made the streets. When the houses were built, people also worked voluntarily for the public “works”. The sanitation system was also made by the tenants. For pipes they used the left-overs of big contruction sites. All these sanitation pipes lead to the river, polluting it, and creating an unbearable and dangerous atmosphere for the people. The electricity system was also created without governmental help in the beginning.
In order to justify this policy of abandonment, they used the excuse that it is a environmental protected area.
What is the situation with the river? How does the government use this?
In 1993, there was a big flood in the area. This opened a discussion about the situation of the river.
In 1997, just before the Carnival there was important rainfall. The state, to prevent the flooding of the parade area, closed the dams of the river, flooding the area of Pantanal instead. For 18 days the area was completely flooded. Everyday there were helicopters above, and all the media was asking for the eviction of the area.
In 1998 the governor of the state imposed a decree that this area is a public interest area, and had a plan to evict 5.000 families. It was at that moment that we began to organise.
There were protests and mobilisations. In 1999 the government achieved to expelled almost 1.000 familes. They moved them in another area, in wooden houses.
They did that with the excuse that the area around the river should be a park, and the works for this were going to start soon. Until now the works for the park haven’t started yet. The money that was supposed to be given for the construction fo the park… dissapeared.
All this time that nothing was happenig, people were moving in. Today, in the evicted area of 1999, instead of one there are 3.000 families living.
What are the arguiments of the government for the river, and how do you respond to them?
The government talks about the de-pollution of the river. We agree to that. But for the government the only ones who pollute the area are the people. Located in this area is also the new campus of the university, a big road, a big food company, and 14 different paper mills. There is no proposal for these companies. They only have a proposal for the people who live there.
We answer that men and women are part of the environment. We want the river to be cleaned. And we want a plan for the urbanisation and the environmental sustainability of the area. But not a plan which excludes the people from the area.
How you organise the resistance to the governments plans?
We try to organise the community first. To inform and mobilise them. But also we try to built links with the general movement. We are doing this collaborating with comrades from P-SOL and the SR, asking for solidarity for our struggle.
How you responded to the attacks you are facing?
In 2007, I personally was targeted by gangs which even tried to kill me. Immediately we mobilised the social movements. We organised a demonstration in the prefecture building because it was clear that the menace came from the state. We had support from the metro workers trade union, and other movements, groups and unions. We believe that the struggle should be based in the community organisations, but also have national and international links.
Can you tell us more about the recent victory?
We are now officially part of the council which has the power to plan the situation of the Tiete river area. So we will have a chance to know and to influence everything that will happen concerning the area. We achieved in proving that the original plan was not viable, both for the government, but also for the people living there. So now, under our influence, there is a new proposal.
The original plan was for the eviction of 2.000 families, but we have achieved to decrease that number to 700. These 700 families will be moved in an area very close to where they live now, in houses that will be built by the state. The community agrees with this plan, and considers it as a victory.
Are you planning mobilisations now?
For some years, there was nothing happening. But after the initial plan of the government people understood that they had to fight. Our movement, which is called “Movement for the Urbanisation and Legalisation of the Pantanal area”, has in every street an elected representative. When something happens we can mobilise the people through this network..
Since December we had 5 mass assemblies. We organise commisions in different areas to study the law, to discuss political and organisational issues. On the next meeting of the comittee which is responsible for the finalisation of the plan, we will have a massive demonstration to pressure the government officials. We also prepare to take part in the womens’ day demo, to publicise our struggle.