“This past Saturday, Recife turned over a new leaf. Early in the morning, social networks were abuzz with news of the court ruling annulling the fraudulent auctioning via which the Cais José Estelita was stolen from beneath the Recife residents’ feet. It was done by the Novo Recife Consortium in 2008, relying on cumplicity of the state’s main political forces, the PSB and the PT. It was mayors from these two parties that made the illegal privitization possible, mainly Geraldo Júlio.
For those who don’t remember, the Cais is an area of more than 100K meters squared strategically situated on the bank of the Capibaribe, next to the historic downtown and on the road to the city’s highly-valued Zona Sul. It was bought underpriced by the Consórcio Novo Recife, made up of the Moura Dubeux, Ara Empreendimentos, GL Empreendimentos and Queiroz Galvão construction companies. The contractors intended to build 12 towers of nearly 40 floors each for strictly private use. The Novo Recife project is a typical case of the arquitecture of fear that has been implemented across Brazilian cities.
The privitazation of the Cais and the reaction that it provoked, via the Ocupe Estelita Movement (MOE), made waves in both domestic and international newspapers. Estelita tells the story of the closing of public space in Brazil, in two different, overlapping ways. Whether taken as part of political participation, which is understood as a meeting place for the anonymous and collective experience of the city, public space is threatened in the face of the State as it is controlled by large corporations, in a neoliberal cycle.
Struggles such as the MOE (or the Ocupe Cocó, in Fortaleza, the Ocupe Golfe, in Rio, or even the Ocupe Parque Augusta and the recent occupation of state schools in São Paulo, among others) point to a shift among these kinds of social mobilization and the traidtional mechanisms of political representation, especially the parties and their elected officials in the legislative and executive branches. The representative democratic crisis isn’t new, as everyone knows. But, in the Brazilian case, the adoption of neoliberal policies with minority private interests within the State apparatus on a never-before seen level came paired with re-democratization and the enthusiasm of the avid progressive forces earger to enter the political scene. They were connected to old and new social movements, such as the struggle for land, for workers’ rights, in defense of the environment, consumers, women, gays, and blacks.
Deep down, the struggle for the right to the city involves disputes about different ways of life that may or may not be encompassed by it. The MOE was a meeting point for very different flags – gays, bicyclists, gorilla journalists, vegetarians, and activists for animal rights, marijuana, informal workers and affordable housing…We can then ask why the city is vital for each of these struggles. The answer seems to be in the right for diversity, directly threatened by the bourgeois lifestyle and its fixation on the existence of the private arena. I discovered, with Estelita, that the fight for the city is a fight for the right to be as it is, without being threatened by intolerance. The collective existence of public space can be a means of education for civic life and civilization urgently needed for our elite classes. That is to say, the urban crisis that we are going through helps to understand the rising facist, right-wing wave because, increasingly isolated in their private world, individuals tend to make them absolute, and forget that others don’t need to ask permission to live differently.
This is why the recent court decision carries such a profound meaning, opening up space in the city and in policy-making. During the entire struggle, we tired of hearing phrases like “you’re right, but it won’t lead to anything”. If we win, it’s going to be new page for the following generations, and a sign that we need to insist in the construction of roads that can connect civil society to the political system in which questions like this one are decided. This connection has been blocked in Recife more than in other places, by the complicity among two ruling parties, who handed over the Cais to the consortium, to obtain campaign financing, with the same logic of the operation of Brazilian politics, now criminalized.”