Brazil: Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden under Discussion

Botanic Garden - Areas in Discussion

View of Botanical Garden from Google Maps

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, “one of the most beautiful and best preserved green areas in the city”, has been under political and social discussion between the Government and families that live within the area. Today, besides the old legal fight about the ownership of the land, Rio de Janeiro's City hall is studying a bill that intends to assure a homestead for the families.

The garden was founded in June 13, 1808 by the Regent Prince at the time, D. João VI, with the main purpose to acclimate spices brought from the East via Portugal, former colonizer of Brazil until 1822. Fascinated by the nature´s exuberance, D. João VI installed the garden aiming to increase the production of valuable goods. In October 11th the same year, it was renamed to Royal Garden, and it was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1992. Nowadays it has an important research institute [pt] which is responsible for environmental scientific studies as well as the conservation of 82 hectares of rainforest in the city. The Institute's website has an interesting iconographic collection with 19th century pictures and paintings of the Botanical Garden.

Living in a Biosphere Reserve Garden

According to the Residents and Friends of the Garden Association [AMAHOR, pt], the Botanical Garden has had residents since the beginning of the 19th century, when houses were built for the workers of a gunpowder factory. A few decades after the factory ceased activities there, in the 20th century Botanical Garden workers were authorized to establish residence within the area. Nowadays the natural protected area is home to almost 600 families, even though the Government has been trying to remove the families from there since the 80s.

AMAHOR weaves a series of historical considerations that suggest the area should become a “Social Area of Special Interest” [AEIS, pt], as it is justified in the draft law of bill 161/2009. They believe that it is a “human rights issue” and that the “permanence of the families in the Garden, where they grew up and built ties, represents memories that simply can not be erased by a forced removal”. Therefore, they want to assure that the community has the right to legalization of the occupied lands and gets urban infrastructures, such as water supplies, to improve the neighborhood.

That is also what one of the authors of the bill, alderman Eliomar Coelho, says in his blog. He states that part of the community living there descends from old workers who inherited the houses and who have been fighting to protect the garden, namely from exploitation by big corporations that could deteriorate the Botanical Garden [pt]:

A questão é que estas famílias ocupam áreas que pertencem à União e padecem do iminente risco de despejo motivado por ações de reintegração de posse promovidas pela União Federal.

The point is that these families occupy areas that belong to the Union and they are under imminent risk to be evicted under the pretext of reinstatement actions promoted by the Federal Union.

Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto [Homeless Workers Movement, pt] also supports the bill and launched a petition, as they explain:

A comunidade pleiteia a regularização através da CUEM – Contrato de Concessão de Uso para Fins de Moradia –  ou da CDRU – Concessão de Direito Real de Uso – , pois estes são os instrumentos legítimos que nos auxiliarão a conter o avanço da especulação imobiliária que se utiliza da mídia e dos discursos preconceituosos para humilhar e criminalizar os moradores do Horto. Nossos direitos são respaldados pela Constituição Federal, pelo Estatuto da Cidade e pela Lei Orgânica do Município. Pela consolidação destes DIREITOS continuaremos a LUTAR incansavelmente, pois outras áreas da União estão sendo regularizadas de forma tranqüila, sem contestação da mídia ou da elite a qual esta mídia representa.

The community pleads the regularization through CUEM — Contract of Concession of Use for Habitation Purposes — or CDRU — Concession of Real Right of Use — procedures, because these are the legitimate instruments that will help us contain the advances of the real estate speculation that makes use of the media and of prejudiced speeches meant to humiliate and criminalize the inhabitants of the Horto. Our rights are backed by the Federal Constitution, by the City Bylaw and by the Organic Law of the Municipality. By the consolidation of these RIGHTS we shall continue FIGHTING tirelessly, because other areas of the Union are being regularized in a tranquil fashion, without contestation from the media or from the elite which this media represents.

Houses built within the Botanical Garden areas, photo from Gustavo Sirelli's blog

In response, a different association with a similar name to AMAHOR, Residents and Friends of the Botanical Garden [AMAJB, pt] is promoting another petition, this time against the bill 161/2009. They point out that the number of houses has increased and, if the bill is approved, the number of people living in that area will grow even more, thanks to the new services predicted in the AIES creation.

Many citizens feel aggrieved with the project, because the area belongs to the Government who has been unsuccessfully claiming the land for years, through lawsuits. Sonia Rabello, Urbanistic and Administrative Law Professor, discusses in her blog:

Moradia é um direito de todos. Não só dos que estão lá. Para isto é preciso políticas públicas consistentes e eficazes para sua produção. O Estado, a pretexto de regularizar aqui e ali não tem assumido o ônus de colocar o dedo na ferida, como temos publicado aqui. No caso do Jardim Botânico, o patrimônio é de todos os brasileiros, inclusive dos outros milhares de pobres que não souberam que podiam ocupar o local para ter futuro “direito” à moradia…

Housing is everyone's right. Not only of those that are there. To attend this demand, consistent and efficient public policies are needed so that this housing is created. The State, under the pretext of regularization here and there, has not been taking on the burden of putting its finger in the wound, as we have been publishing here. In the case of the Botanic Garden, the patrimony is of all Brazilians, inclusively of the other thousands of poor people that didn't know that they could occupy the place to have future “right” to housing…

There is great discussion around this bill and around the consequences for the community that will be affected by the destiny of the Botanical Garden. A judicial evaluation of the situation is essential to guarantee the best for the community and for the Brazilian citizens.

This article was proofread by Ricardo Salta.

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