São Paulo’s high-rise fire collapse tied to city’s homeless crisis
7 May 2018
In the early morning hours of May 1, a 24-storey building caught fire and collapsed in Paiçandu Square, in downtown São Paulo, the largest city in the Americas. According to the city’s security secretary, the fire was started by a short circuit on the fifth floor of the building.
Built in 1966 and abandoned 17 years ago, the building had been occupied in 2013 by one of São Paulo’s homeless movements, Luta por Moradia Digna (LMD–Movement for Fair Housing). It housed 146 families and 372 people, 25 percent of them immigrants. One resident died when as was being rescued by firefighters at the moment the building collapsed. According to São Paulo City Hall, five people are still believed to be buried under the rubble, which is expected to take a month to remove.
The extensive and frenetic coverage of the collapse by the Brazilian corporate media, which attracted record audiences for all network television channels, focused on the attempt to blame the residents of the building for the fire, pointing to the accumulation of flammable materials in the building—garbage and wood that separated the rooms in each floor—and their supposed “neglect” of the building’s electrical system.
After media reports that residents of the building paid up to 500 reais (US$140) in rent to the coordinators of the homeless movement, the corporate media escalated its efforts to demonize the squatters.
Right-wing columnist Leandro Narloch in daily Folha de S. Paulo wrote that “a specialized group in invasions enters an abandoned place, takes possession of it, divides it into small spaces and transfers them to poor people, charging a good rate for the service. This is the way the…