In my series on the different neighborhoods of Recife, I didn’t want to exclude places of less apparent interest to the average tourist. Plus, knowing what it’s like to live in the favelas of Rio, I wanted to highlight a poor area of Recife.
Brasília Teimosa is the oldest urban occupation in Recife. It’s situated in the South Zone of Recife, between the neighborhood of Pina and the Recife Port, in an area characterized by a continuous line of reefs parellel to the shoreline. Its habitants, fishermen, vendors, students, housewives, have a strong connection with the sea.
The name is an allusion to Brasília, then the new capital of Brazil which was being planned by the Kubitschek government, in contrast with an area where the residents lived, in danger of expulsion. This persistence of Brasília Teimosa residents was quite an important matter in the 1950s, when the area was destined by the State government to be the construction site of some warehouses. The perseverance of the initial residents, who remade their houses during the night when during the day they were demolished became known as being teimosa (stubborn).
Here’s some detailed history from the most recent PDF on the Research Papers page of my blog.
“In 1934, the state of Pernambuco bought two lots from the Viscount of Livramento’s heirs, intending to build a fuel park. This area, called ‘Areal Novo’, was landfilled by the state and protected by walls.
In 1953, the Federation of Fisherman Colonies of Pernambuco (FFCP) applied to become the emphyteuta* of this area, with the goal of constructing a headquarters for the fishermen. The request was approved by Getúlio Vargas, President of Brazil at that time.
In 1953, the FFCP transferred 0.6 hectares to the Recife Yacht Club. The FFCP was, therefore, deviating from the legal conditions of the emphyteusis. On these grounds the Governor of Pernambuco, Cordeiro de Farais, petitioned the President of Brazil, Café Filho, and asked that the FFCP no longer be the emphyteuta. The question ended up in the Supreme Court, which decided in favour of the FFCP.
After several years, the legal dispute over the emphyteusis of BT was concluded. In 1979, the mayor of Recife got the emphyteusis of Lots 270 and 270-A. These lots were no longer called Areal Novo. Things have changed in the urban features of Recife and by the end of the 1950’s families squatted on Areal Novo and built BT.
When the state of Pernambuco started the landfill of the purchased lots, a few families encroached upon the area. One of the first squatters said about the beginning of the people’s struggles in BT: ‘In 1938 there was landfill. There was barbed wire everywhere. The police came to destroy people’s shanties, but we built them again’.
For twenty years squatters gradually arrived in BT. However, the most important period of settlement took place in 1957-58. It was a period of severe drought that increased the rate of immigration flow to Recife and the rate of squatter settlements. At that time, Brasília, the capital of Brazil, was being built. Squatters of the area previously called Areal Novo, were also building a new ‘city’, while being threatened by police, City Hall, would-be owners and some FFCP fishermen. Considering themselves very courageous and stubborn, they named the new settlement ‘Brasilia Teimosa’.
Squatters arrived in BT during Carnival in February 1958. In April a local newspaper announced: ‘Three thousand wooden houses were built clandestinely. City Hall considers itself powerless to avoid this invasion.’
The conflict had begun. The Port of Recife administration which owns 10.1 hectares of BT, demanded that City Hall expel the squatters. City Hall, however, maintained that it was not supposed to cope with invasions that took place on land owned by the state. While this debate went on, squatters and members of FFCP defended themselves against police aggression.
From the very beginning, the squatters created rules for their own settlement and started to organize the people in order to remain in BT. One inhabitant recalls: For six months, we had to use clubs and knives… Police destroyed houses in the daytime, we rebuilt them at night. … We organized a demonstration to talk to the mayor and explained that everyone had two lots at the most. One for building a shack, another for building a store… But I knew people who had 30 lots…
*Emphyteusis is a contract by which a landed estate is leased to a person, either in perpetuity or for many years, upon the payment of an annual rent ( foro).”
The neighborhood was one of the first areas urbanized with the resources of the BNH (Banco Nacional da Habitação, the first federal institution of urban development in Brazilian history), via a urbanization project called Teimosinho. This project began in 1982, with the relocation of families to Vila da Prata, and with similar removal actions being taken in 1986 and 1989, but the Brasília Teimosa area was, each time, reoccupied.
In 2004, a large urban intervention was undertaken by the Federal Government with the construction of an avenue along the shoreline. Currently, the neighborhood is urbanistically modified, along the shore, with typical restaurants and seafood shops, an economic strength of the residents.
According to the 2010 census, there are currently a little over 18,000 people living in Brasília Teimosa, which is populationally the most dense residential area in Recife. Here’s a video (PT) on some of the problems affecting the community.