The Disappearing Favelas

favela-catacumba-baixa-620-size-598(Catacumba favela, in Lagoa)

“Those who pass by the Catacumba Park today, in Lagoa, the Selva de Pedra apartment complex, in Leblon, or by UERJ, in Tijuca, won’t find any sign that, less than 30 years prior, they housed the three largest favelas in Rio de Janeiro: Catacumba, Praia do Pinto and Esqueleto, respectively. The three communities were destroyed during the removal frenzy of the 1960s and their residents transfered to housing projects in the suburbs or in the Zona Oeste. From 1968 to 1975, at least 50,000 needy families were forced to leave their homes. “In the beginning I didn’t believe it, I thought it was a lie, but soon after they started the registrations. It was all very quick”, remembers the retiree Ismael Silva, raised in the Catacumba favela, in Lagoa, and a 30-year resident of Brás de Pina.

Of all the removed favelas of the 60s, the most controversial was that of Praia do Pinto, in Leblon. The residents found out about the plans of the Mayor’s Office for doing away with the community in the 1950s, and they strongly resisted. According to data from the 1949 Favela Census, at least 20,000 people lived in the location. The removal was only concluded after the fire, in 1969, during the governor Negrão de Lima’s term in office. “A lot of people didn’t want to leave. In spite of the problems, they prefered to continue living in the Zona Sul. The fire made everyone leave”, affirms Maria Rosa de Souza Noronha, 62 years old, ex-resident of Praia do Pinto, and later removed to Complexo da Maré.

Pracitcally all the shacks at Praia do Pinto were destroyed by the fire. On the following day, police tore down the few remaining houses that were still standing. Until today, no one can confirm if it was an accident or the Government’s last ditch effort to toss out the residents. But all indications point towards a forced removal.

praia-do-pinto(Praia do Pinto, in Leblon)

The ex-governor of Rio and current minister of Action and Social Promotion, Benedita da Silva, was born in Praia do Pinto and lived there until her family moved to Chapéu Mangueira, in Leme, years before the devastating fire. At the time, Praia do Pinto was the largest horizontal favela in Rio and used to be visited constantly by Zona Sul residents, among them, the poet Vinícius de Morães, who, according to accounts, had the idea of writing the play “Orfeu da Conceição” during one of the favela’s dance nights. On the sensuality of the Afro-Brazilians, Vinícius had said: “They seem like Greeks. Greeks before Greek culture”.

“It was a political plot by Lacerda”

Another extinct community of large proportions in the 60s was the Esqueleto favela, in Tijuca, that came to encompass close to 4,000 shacks and close to 12,000 inhabitants. The first residents settled in the area in the 50s. The houses were built with remains from the University of Brazil’s Clinical Hospital. The construction of which was interupted and never again retaken. “The whole removal process was done very quickly. Registered families were taken to housing projects and the shacks were destroyed. I thought it was all too quick, but there was no disrespect”, remembers Dilmo Emídio Ferreira, ex-resident of the Esqueleto favela, destroyed to make room for the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and a stretch of Avenida Radial Oeste.

faveladoesqueletoatualu(Esqueleto favela, in Tijuca)

The last 495 shacks of the Esqueleto favela were demolished in 1965. The ex-residents still believe it was politically-motivated. “It was a political plot by Lacerda because he wanted to be elected president. My whole family went to Vila Kennedy”, says Dilmo, who prefered to remain in Mangueira because of its samba roots. A little more than 4 decades after the removal he fondly remembers his friends, who were spread throughout the city. “I never saw many people ever again. At the time, drug trafficking was still in its early years, there was the swindler, capoeira, but no one in the favela knew about cocaine. The atmosphere was very chill”, he says.

“If they made a Favela-Neighborhood, I come back running”

Located on the divide between Ipanema and Copacabana, in a strategic area of high real estate worth, the Catacumba favela was gone by 1970. With a privildeged view of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the community had 2,320 shacks and close to 15,000 inhabitants. Adetrudes Justino de Souza, or Mr. Souza, 72 years old, was president of the resident’s association and assisted the State in the registration process of the families that were to be removed. Thirty-three years later, he still commemorates the achievement of having a land title but disagrees with who the process was conducted. “It was all too quick, people had to be prepared. They were thrown into housing projects”, affirms Mr. Souza, who lived for 23 years in Catacumba.

In spite of the distance to the city center, the forced separation from neighbors and the mostly arbitrary manner in which the government conducted the removals, for some ex-residents of the demolished favelas the move also had its positive points. Among pros and contras, they emphasize the achievement of land titles and the minimal systems of infrastructure, like sewage and water treatment. “This was the good part. But, in reality, we didn’t have a choice”, says Ismael, who took a long time to get used to the distance from his friends. “If they made a Favela-Neighborhood, I come back running”, he resumes.”

Source: Favela Tem Memoria

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