On the night of January 7 another series of forced evictions took place in the Metrô-Manguiera favela slum in Rio de Janeiro. Approximately 500 meters from Maracaná stadium, site of the 2014 World Cup final match, 40 families were brutally kicked out of their homes by the military police who used pepper spray and tear gas grenades.

Unfortunately, this did not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following preparations for Olympics and World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of people have already been evicted due to event-related construction projects and real estate speculation activities. They have received compensation settlements well below market rates or have been relocated to the far outskirts of the city,  in violation of the City’s Organic Law which stipulates that victims of forced evictions have to be relocated close their previous residences. How can these types of activities still happen 12 years after the national Statute of the City was passed?

The Statute of the City of 2001 mandates that all cities of over 20,000 implement a Master Plan that follows a series of norms to guarantee effective public participation in all city government spending and project implementation.  When the Statute was passed, cities were given a grace period of 5 years to either facilitate new Master Plans or revise their current plans to abide by the new directives.  At the time, Rio de Janeiro’s 1992, 10- year plan was still in effect.  With the 5 year grace period granted by the Statute of the City, it remained legally binding until 2006.  The City Council passed a further, 2 year extension, however the new Master Plan was only ratified in February,  2011.

During the legislative vacuum between the expiration of the old Plan and the ratification of the new one, the City Council passed a series of laws to facilitate real estate speculation related to the World Cup and the Olympics. Furthermore, Mayor Eduardo Paes issued Decree N. 32080 on April 7, 2010, which authorizes forced evictions in all areas that the City Government decides are at risk for natural disasters.  This decree is being used as a political tool to clear out areas of interest for the real estate industry in places like Providencia Favela, located in the newly gentrifying port area, where the City is building a cable car system for tourists and over 800 families are targeted for eviction. Since there was no Master Plan in effect during this period, are these new laws and decrees legal?

During a recent interview, Alex Magalhães, lawyer and professor at Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro’s urban planning department, commented on this apparent legal vacuum.

“The Statue of the City is a national urban policy, so all master plans have to act in line with it. The master plans are one of the moments in which the Statute is concretized and put into action. Therefore, it can be argued from a technical, legal standpoint that there is a lack of compatibility between Rio’s Plan and the Statute, turning Rio’s Plan illegal according to national law.”

Dr. Magalhães says that during the Master Plan’s revision process social movements and a few city councilors filed a series of legal complaints to the District Attorney’s office, but it refused to take any measure against the City Government. “It didn’t make a case of administrative impropriety against the Mayor and City Council due to delays in revising the Plan,” he said, “this did not happen in Rio de Janeiro despite happening in many other Brazilian cities.”

Marcelo Edmundo from the Central de Movimentos Populares social movement thinks that despite the legal questions about the City Government’s actions, it is hard to imagine that there is a legal solution to guarantee anyone’s rights.  “Nothing that was done up to now has produced any kind of results. There is a certain level of complacency on the issue of human rights that is caused by a big deal that’s been made between the government and the judiciary.  We see it in the court system, the District Attorney’s office and in the public defendant’s office.  I don’t see how within the legal system, at least at the local level, we can preserve anyone’s human rights.  The only way to confront these violations is through a change on the part of the population. If we have to rely on the Court system the only thing guaranteed is more gentrification and evictions. The only way we can guarantee anything is through organizing people to protest.”

(This was originally published in the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana newsletter. Translated from the Portuguese by the author.)

Brian Mier is a geographer and freelance journalist who lives in Brazil and works as a policy analyst at the Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais. He has a podcast, focused on news reported in the Brazilian alternative media, at http://progressivebrazil.tumblr.com/