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Urbanizing favelas is among top goals of Brazil’s new secretariat

7 February 2023, 18:43
Urbanizing favelas is among top goals of Brazil’s new secretariat

SAO PAULO. KAZINFORM - An activist with the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) since 2005, Guilherme Simões took over in January as head of Brazil’s new National Secretariat for Policies for Peripheral Territories, one of the five secretariats making up the Ministry of Cities. Originally created in 2003, during the first term of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the ministry was abolished by former President Jair Bolsonaro, Kazinform reports citing Agencia Brasil.

A government department dedicated to taking care of peripheral regions is, however, a novelty in meeting the demands of social movements, Simões argued. He described it as a structure that combines urbanistic thinking with the life experiences of those on the outskirts of big cities.

«It’s where the ideas of urban planners, and architects meet the interests of the movements that operate on the outskirts. [President] Lula is meeting this demand by creating this secretariat,» he remarked.

Among the department’s duties, the secretariat should deal with the urbanization of favelas and the prevention of risks such as floods and landslides. Simões plans to address these issues in both the short and the long runs. «What we have observed in all these years is that the these peripheral territories have been neglected and marginalized,» he declared.

Born in the Grajaú district, in southern São Paulo city, Simões became a housing advocate when the MTST staged an occupation in the neighborhood. «I come from a really poor family, and I had a tough time getting by, having food on the table, and just living. It’s a real, concrete problem with a special significance to me. It’s always touched me,» he added.

The lack of adequate housing—an issue assailing millions of families throughout the country—is directly linked to Brazil’s history of slavery, he pointed out.

«We usually say that May 13 [1888, when the law ending slavery in Brazil was signed] came and the next day never ended for black people. We were left with no basic rights, and we were banned from politics, from the exercise of rights, from being citizens. This was never resolved,» he argued.

The Homeless Workers’ Movement

As a housing activist, Simões helped expand the MTST’s activities beyond São Paulo. «Today, the movement is active across 14 states,» he noted. He also graduated in Social Sciences from the State University of São Paulo and earned a master’s degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. His thesis casts light on Brazil’s urbanization as seen through the works of playwright Plínio Marcos.

In his position in the federal government, he hopes to establish constructive ties with the social movements. «There is a deep conviction that we’re on the right path, with social movements being voiced, and a government in tune with the agendas of the social movement,» he declared.

Simões also hopes that some of the solutions to the problems of the favelas and outlying communities should originate in the territories themselves. «Many see these areas as territories of abandonment, of absence. But they’re also territories of great power and great activity,» he said.


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