Latin American Studies

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Rights of Way to Brasília Teimosa

The Politics of Squatter Settlement

Charles J. Fortin is former Professor and Coordinator of the Graduate Program of Urban and Regional Development, Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil; Evaluation Officer with the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C.; and Peace Corps Volunteer in a favela in the State of Bahia, Brazil.

The site of Recife’s Brasília Teimosa favela emerged as a flash point of economic and political interests in the 1930s and the scene of subsequent strife into the 1980s. The name of this district is a contemptuous allusion to the new capital of Brazil, with its forward-thinking planning policies and urban design, in stark contrast to the favela. This concise account unearths events surfacing through periods of revolution, dictatorship, populism, Cuban Communism, the 1964 military coup d’état and crackdown to the amplified reverberation of civil society voices and engagement decades later. Shifting ideologies and jolting transitions between regimes directly affected what occurred on this 110-acre parcel of urban land. Between 1934 and 1984 competing groups and individuals came to covet this space because of its strategic location and political consequence. Brasilia Teimosa is about the politics of ouster and the power of resistance. What took place there still resonates in squatter settlements throughout Brazil; deplorable living conditions prevalent in favelas are the result of deprivation of access to market resources.

This work examines the interactions between the state and neighborhood associations regarding the allocation of public goods and services in the context of urban resources and their system of supply. In particular it focuses on the political struggles of shanty residents of Brasília Teimosa that are pertinent to the provision of and access to urban land tenure. Control and use of public lands have functioned as instruments of the state to pursue political projects in coalition with private real estate partners, to undermine the strength of opposing factions, or to seal populist pacts with the urban poor who, as illegal occupants of public land, are locked into a dependency relationship with the state. As will be shown, the residents of Brasília Teimosa discovered and exploited “space” for political maneuvers in order to secure permanence on a centrally located, publicly-owned site.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-626-4
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: March 2014
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-686-8
Paperback Price: £27.50 / $34.95
Release Date: October 2014
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Foreword by Janice Perlman
Preface – Why Brasília Teimosa?
List of Acronyms
List of Figures, Maps and Photographs

Recife’s Expansion Encroaches on Public Property

National Politics and the Overlay of Tenure Rights

Federation Sabotages Fishermen’s Dream

Drought and Migration: Profiteering, Prostitution, and Government Deadlock

Recife Front, United States Intervention, and Military Coup

Centralized Planning and Top-Down Dictates: Tourism Complex in Brasília Teimosa

Church Action under the Cloud of Military Rule

Residents Council Resurgence and Police Retaliation

Tenure Disputes and the Archdiocese’s Commission of Justice and Peace

Jaime Lerner’s Plan and Projeto Teimosinho

Mayor Gustavo Krause’s Action Program

Mechanisms of Conflict Resolution: Owners, Renters, and Field Office Politics

Campaign of 1982: Land Tenure Titles as Political Currency

Promises Broken, Trust Betrayed


List of Interviewees
Further Reading

The subject is timely as ever, as pressures from the market keep on forcing residents of favelas to move out of valuable land all over the country. The book also helps us to understand the type of context that … feeds the resentment against the Government that explodes once in a while, as we saw in the wave of protest that swept Brazilian cities last year.
Paulo Rui Anciaes, LSE Review of Books,
Reviewed at:

Fortin undertook a comprehensive study of Brasília Teimosa. Through interviews and archival research this book describes how the area emerged and how the residents have persisted in staying there.… the book offers a comprehensive overview of historical events… Fortin examines how larger issues on state and a national level affected the condition of this area and thus he paints a stunning picture of how macro politics can play a role in small places… The many themes of the book touches upon are important issues that are still at the core of debates about who has ‘the right to the city’.

Rights of Way is a story about the struggle and the power of people’s protest movements and how the residents are ultimately betrayed by the state. The theme about the power of resistance and the struggle for social justice is a problem that resonates in the current Brazilian society.
Maria Nielsen, reviewed in Brasiliana – Journal for Brazilian Studies, Vol. 3, no. 2 (March, 2015), ISSN 2245-4373 (Denmark)

Charles Fortin describes the long and resilient struggle endured by a squatter community located in Recife’s prime shore land… At times Brasília Teimosa was the focus of intricate national and international interests, as the Recife political scenario grew more and more communist during the 1950s and 1960s… in the most erratic ways, Brasília Teimosa managed to break through the military dictatorship and make it into the 1980s… it is worthwhile reading for those concerned with poor people’s struggles, resilience and accomplishments in a world where petty politics play the most powerful role.
Lúcia Capanema-Álvares, reviewed in ERLACS – European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, No. 99 (October 2015)

Brasília Teimosa, a favela or informal settlement located in Recife, Brazil, has interested the author since the early 1980s; and he has been curious about how this community of poor people, which occupies prime beachfront real estate, has nevertheless lasted for more than 50 years, resisting government and business pressures to give way for development. This study examines the history, organization, challenges, and survival of this particular community, bringing to the fore the growing phenomenon of urban informal settlements throughout the world.

Rights of Way to Brasília Teimosa is a good in-depth account of a Brazilian favela, its formation and its struggle for survival and improvement… By telling the story of this neighborhood in Recife, Charles Fortin addresses all major issues that afflict informal communities in Brazil: lack of infrastructure, insecurity of tenure, substandard housing, and a distrustful relationship with government agencies. Fortin starts with a brief history of Recife and its accelerated growth… This urban history introduction is followed by a personalized review of the evolution of tenure rights in Brazil. I emphasise here the issue of a personalized account because the whole book reads as an ethnographic investigation, the primary sources being interviews rather than primary documents or published scholarship. Here we have the strength of the book… The interviews, transcribed often in the dialogue format, give us a very substantial account of how all those actors engaged Brasília Teimosa…
Together Chapters 2 and 3 give us a great account of the paradoxes of land tenure and land ownership in Brazil…

Chapters 4 and 5 describe the dramatic changes during the 1960s, from socialist hopes to the harshness of military dictatorship (which Fortin correctly labels United States Intervention) … All of this, as already mentioned, is presented in the words of dozens of actors interviewed by Fortin: priests, politicians, city officials, community leaders, residents… The lessons learned (analyzed in subsequent chapters) is how central land tenure is for the whole society, and how important the issue became as political capital.

In 2010 a young filmmaker from Recife released a documentary called Brasília Formosa (Pretty Brasília) … It shows a dynamic community, learning how to integrate itself into the twenty-first century while still weighed down by nineteenth-century problems such as racism and sexism. It is a powerful sequel to the book by Charles Fortin, both giving a robust … account of how Brasília Teimosa came to be.
Bulletin of Latin American Research, volume 37, number 4

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