The fire and the collapse of the building at Paiçandu Square, in the centre of São Paulo, the biggest Brazilian city, which was occupied by homeless people, tragically marked this May Day. The 24-storey Wilton Paes de Almeida Building was engulfed in flames on late Tuesday and collapsed, destroying the home of 150 families who lived there. Ricardo, one of the homeless people,  was filmed being consumed by the smoke and flames, it shocked the country. The exact number of deaths is unknown but 49 people have ‘disappeared’ people according to the firefighters’ spokesperson.

By PSTU Brazil.

 

The national and city governments and the press, as always, have used the case to criminalise social movements and homeless people, reversing roles and making the victims their own executioners. “What we have to do is convince people not to live like this,” said the current mayor Márcio França (PSB political party). The former São Paulo mayor and current presidential candidate João Doria went even further and said that the building has been “invaded by a criminal faction.”

It is worth remembering that Doria’s administration (2016-2018) was investigated for bribery for their public lighting contracts. Not to mention the 400 square metres area of land he irregularly obtained in Campos de Jordão city and was legally ordered to return it. If there is a place occupied by criminal factions these are the palaces of power, either the City Hall or the Bandeirantes Palace, State government, in São Paulo, the National Congress or the Planalto Palace, the office of the Brazilian president, in Brasília.

President Temer opportunistically attempted to take advantage of the situation and went to the site of the fire, but he was driven out by neighbours and had to flee. The building in question belonged to the Union (the Brazilian state), but the federal government did nothing to solve the drama of those families.

Now, as if that were not enough, the City Hall threatens to stop all city centre homeless occupations using safety as a pretext.

Accountability

The causes of the fire are still unknown. But as the homeless movement Luta Popular stresses, “we do not know the origin of the fire … but we know that it is a crime of government to subject people to poor housing conditions, it is a crime that more empty properties than homeless people exist, it is a crime that there are no housing policies that really consider housing a human right, it is a crime that housing is treated as a commodity to make profit.

Whether it is an ‘accident’ or a criminal offense like so many other fires that mysteriously hit areas of real estate speculation in São Paulo, what happened on this Tuesday was a crime but to blame the residents. The city, state and federal governments, that rule for the rich and benefit from real estate speculation, maintain and perpetuate the housing deficit, are the real ones responsible for the scenes of terror that we witnessed on the day of the fire.

This logic simply denies the right to housing to thousands of families and removes many thousands to the outskirts of the big cities. According to the city hall itself, the housing deficit in São Paulo is almost 1.2 million households, they are people who do not have a house or who live in a precarious situation. According to the Housing Secretary, the current budget for housing building would take 120 years to solve the problem. At the same time, there are empty buildings throughout the city.

The national housing deficit is of 6.3 million homes, according to the João Pinheiro Foundation. On the other hand, there are 7.9 million empty properties. The national-housing plan Minha Casa, Minha Vida, [My House, My Life] the flagship of the PT (Workers’ Party) governments, does not answer the need for the building of such numbers of houses, while the necessity does not stop growing. It only serves to transfer more money to the big contractors.

The drama of homeless families is one of the most barbaric expressions of the world economic crisis and the social war against the poor. On the one hand, there is a mass of people living on the streets, or in precarious ways. They live with the constant fear of being evicted, squeezed between unemployment and the high rents, or they live in occupations that are under constant threat of repossession or suffer the increasing illegal evictions. On the other hand, there are half a dozen people who profit from all this.

The solution to the housing crisis in the country involves the expropriation without compensation of properties that are used for real estate speculation. It is necessary, too, a public plan of house building to guarantee the right to housing for all. There are abundant funds for example just stop paying the public debt that diverts half of the Union budget to bankers.

But for this, it is necessary to say enough is enough, to put out Temer, this corrupt National Congress and the real criminal factions that, together with the bankers and contractors, subject the poor people to a daily massacre and death. This country needs a rebellion.

Governments and contractors that perpetuate real estate speculation must be accountable.

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Translation: Marcos Margarido.