By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 8th, an incendiary device, likely a Molotov cocktail, exploded near Rio’s Jardim Botânico (Botanical Gardens) in Zona Sul (South Zone). Authorities reported that the attack was perpetrated in reaction to the previous day’s Military Police repossession action in Horto, a small area bordering the Botanical Gardens.
The decades-long dispute over some fifty houses in Horto was re-ignited on Monday, November 7th, as Military Police, armed with riot gear and a warrant, repossessed one of the allegedly illegal houses in the area. Clashes erupted between police and Horto residents who attempted to block the eviction attempt resulting in street closings and the closure of the Botanical Gardens on Monday.
With a repossession warrant from Federal Judge William Correa de Araujo, authorities enter Horto at Rua Pacheco Leão early Monday morning. They were met by hundreds of Horto residents, including many women, children and elderly residents, who attempted to form a human barricade to prevent the repossession action.
Police resorted to tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd resulting in dozens of injuries. “I am a resident here for 36 years,” said a tearful Margarida Lagame to a government news agency. “This house was my father’s, who was an employee of the Botanical Gardens. No one here is invasive,” Lagame added, “This is cowardice.”
Rafael Mota Mendonça, a lawyer representing several Horto residents, asserted that Judge De Araujo’s warrant was the result of a lone judge going rogue, “The Union [Federal Government]’s position has been to relocate residents elsewhere, as long as this does not occur, the Union has believed that residents should stay here,” explained Mendonça. “This judge acted against the will of the author of the action, without giving any alternative housing for the residents. ”
It is estimated that over six hundred families live in Horto, which is an area of about 140 hectares. Some of the residents are descendants of public servants who worked for the Gardens and were originally permitted by authorities to build houses next to the park. Some of the houses involved in the repossession actions have existed since the early 1900’s.