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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Brazil's homeless and landless unite
By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Prestes Maia in Sao Paulo
Prestes Maia in Sao Paulo has been 'occupied' by homeless since 2002
Brazil's landless and homeless movements have been on the march in April, bringing renewed attention to their demands in a month of protests.

In the countryside, protest action is led by the controversial and better known organisation of landless workers, MST, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra.

Critics say not all its members are rural workers, and condemn its tactics of illegally occupying land, but it remains one of the best organised social movements in Latin America.

In a typical headline grabbing move, its activists invaded the headquarters of the government's land reform agency to make a point about what they see as the slow pace of reform.

Crammed inside

In cities like Sao Paulo, a variety of groups are involved - including the organisation of "roofless" or homeless, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto.

In the last fortnight this group, among others, has been organising renewed illegal occupations or invasions of empty buildings in Sao Paulo.

In one such building - 460 families who live there are crammed into small rooms on 22 floors.

Prestes Maia has been occupied since 2002, but once again this week the residents have been living with the threat of eviction.

That immediate threat appears to have been lifted - due it seems, to an intervention by the Lula government, and alternative accommodation is being sought for the residents.

Billons of dollars of government funding towards housing and sanitation in Brazil is now due, money that comes from the government's main development plan, offering promise for the future.

For the residents of Prestes Maia, it cannot come soon enough.

Keeping afloat

As you make your way up the stairs, the walls are potted with holes, water escapes from leaking pipes and rusty window frames and exposed electrical cables are a further sign of decay.

I consider here my home, it's not what you would dream of - there is not even proper walls...Prestes Maia is a big struggle, one to get through every day
Maria
Prestes Maia resident

But as you reach floor after floor you find scores of families trying to eke out an existence, determined to maintain some dignity. Several floors below, a free library is the only bright spot where the children can escape.

Maria told us: "I consider here my home, it's not what you would dream of - there is not even proper walls... Prestes Maia is a big struggle, one to get through every day."

At a rally at Itapecerica da Serra, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, where homeless groups have invaded land and set up a huge sprawling tent city, homeless groups and the MST shared a platform.

They deny they are running a joint campaign, but can see benefits in taking action at the same time.

"We are fighting for the same objectives, because each one has specific objectives, but in essence we are fighting the same enemies... and demanding from the federal and state governments answers to the problems of the majority of the Brazilian people," says Gilmar Mauro of the MST.

In the MST there is also growing impatience with the government, which in turn would argue that much has been done for the landless in Brazil. It points to land that has been distributed to almost 400,000 families.

But there are signs that the MST is going to make plain its irritation with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, an old friend of the landless movement.

Its leaders say Lula's government has been too timid, too slow to take on the big landowners.

Over the next few months the protest could get personal.


SEE ALSO
Brazil land invasion 'terrorism'
30 Nov 05 |  Americas
Brazil landless visit president
18 May 05 |  Americas
In pictures: A landless life
16 May 05 |  Americas
Modest gain in Brazil land reform
20 Jan 05 |  Americas
Brazil's land wars hit new height
17 Apr 04 |  Americas

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