Photo: Engenho Novo
A dozen people were hurt and 27 arrested Friday in clashes between police and some of the roughly 5,000 squatters occupying a vacant industrial property in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-largest city.
Militants among the squatters set fire to a police vehicle, a bus and passing truck as they sought to remain on the site in the impoverished Engenho Novo neighborhood.
Most of the occupiers left peacefully when more than 1,600 Rio de Janeiro state police began the court-ordered eviction operation at 5:00 a.m., but some confronted the cops with sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails.
Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Only three of the 12 people injured in the five-hour-long clash required hospitalization.
Among those arrested at the scene was a reporter for O Globo newspaper who said he was prevented from using his cellphone to videotape a fistfight between a police officer and one of the squatters.
The facility, originally home to now-defunct telephone company Telerj and now owned by Oi, was invaded March 31.
Within days, hundreds of families had moved in, dividing up the office space into dwellings and building wooden hovels on the grounds.
The Rio municipal government says many of the squatters were not really homeless and claims the occupation was organized by “professionals” out to make trouble ahead of the Brazilian general elections in October.
“We invaded because we needed a place to live. We invaded here because the cracudos (crack addicts) had already occupied the area, they slept here and stole from inhabitants of the region,” squatter Jose de Souza told Efe.
Slogans on signs at the site linked the plight of the poor and the homeless to the large sums Brazil is spending to host the World Cup soccer tournament, which gets under way in June.
“They are investing everything in the Maracana (Rio’s iconic soccer stadium) instead of providing a home for people to live in or subsidized rentals,” De Souza said.