Rights of Way to Brasilia Teimosa: The Politics of Squatter Settlement

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The site of Recifes Brasilia Teimosa favela emerged as a flash point of economic and political interests in the 1930s and the scene of subsequent strife into the 1980s. The name of this district is a contemptuous allusion to the new capital of Brazil, with its forward-thinking planning policies and urban design, in stark contrast to the favela. This concise account unearths events surfacing through periods of revolution, dictatorship, populism, Cuban Communism, the 1964 military coup detat and crackdown to the amplified reverberation of civil society voices and engagement decades later. Shifting ideologies and jolting transitions between regimes directly affected what occurred on this 110-acre parcel of urban land. Between 1934 and 1984 competing groups and individuals came to covet this space because of its strategic location and political consequence. Brasilia Teimosa is about the politics of ouster and the power of resistance. What took place there still resonates in squatter settlements throughout Brazil; deplorable living conditions prevalent in favelas are the result of deprivation of access to market resources. This work examines the interactions between the state and neighborhood associations regarding the allocation of public goods and services in the context of urban resources and their system of supply. In particular it focuses on the political struggles of shanty residents of Brasilia Teimosa that are pertinent to the provision of and access to urban land tenure. Control and use of public lands have functioned as instruments of the state to pursue political projects in coalition with private real estate partners, to undermine the strength of opposing factions, or to seal populist pacts with the urban poor who, as illegal occupants of public land, are locked into a dependency relationship with the state. As will be shown, the residents of Brasilia Teimosa discovered and exploited space for political maneuvers in order to secure permanence on a centrally located, publicly-owned site.