Since December, Sao Paulo has suffered from unusually heavily rainfall, which has caused widespread flooding. This has been turned into a human catastrophe, due to the response of the Sao Paulo authorities, led by Jose Serra, a likely challenger for the Brazilian Presidency and leader of the capitalist PSDB (Brazil ‘Social Democratic Party).
Pantanal occupation devastated by flooding
One of the worst affected areas is the zone known as Pantanal. Pantanal is the largest illegal land occupation in Latin America. Existing for decades, it has become a permanent fixture in Sao Paulo, with the construction of schools, banks and even some government administration buildings. Before the flooding, the government wanted the area cleared to build a park. However, all they were prepared to offer in compensation was 300 reales (approximately US$160) a month for six months, with nothing offered after this period of time. Moreover, 300 reales was wholly inadequate for people to get new accomodation. A campaign and struggle by the local population was organized, the ‘Movimento de Urbanizacion e Legalizacion do Pantanal’ – MULP. From the beginning, Brazilian members of the CWI (LSR) have played an active role in this struggle and have formed a part of the leadership of MULP.
LSR (CWI in Brazil)
However, then the floods came and the state government ordered one flood gate to be opened and another closed, to divert flood waters away from one of the main highways around Sao Paulo. Had this highway flooded, it would have caused major economic disruption. This was obviously of far greater concern to Serra than the devastating human cost of allowing the flood water to crash into the densely populated area of Pantanal. The flooding is now being used as an excuse to clear the area without adequate compensation. The result has been a human catastrophe. At least seven people have died and the area has been devastated, as roads have turned into rivers. Thousands have lost everything in their homes and their life savings.
Protestors carry snakes and dangerous insects floating in flood water
As the flood waters remain, the risk of infection and spread of decease increases. Insects, which carry the potentially fatal ‘denge virus’ have been found in the waters, along with rats and even cobra snakes. Serra is now attempting to use this crisis as an excuse to end the illegal land occupation and clear the area.
Hundreds protested in front of the Sao Paulo council on Monday 8 February and were faced by a line of riot police who, using pepper spray, pushed the protesters back into the street. Members of the Brazilian section of the CWI, LSR, will continue to play an active part in this struggle.