On Friday, Bittar showed an AP reporter an architectural rendering that he said was the plan for redeveloping the area. A line of ramshackle auto mechanic shops on Metro's outer edge has become a tidy set of shops with space where cars can be serviced without blocking traffic. Abandoned warehouses have been converted to workshops. All the homes are gone, their residents moved to nearby housing projects that Bittar says should be ready in the next month or two.
"We are giving these people dignified living conditions," he said, adding that he went to the shantytown himself to talk with its people.
Santos and others remember things differently. The city's initial approach was truculent, they say. City workers told them they had no rights to the land, and "didn't even own the walls of their homes," Santos said.
Metro, established in the 1970s by railroad workers building an adjacent rail line, is one of thousands of communities across Latin America created as workers from the countryside moved to cities and threw up precarious shantytowns on vacant land. Brazilian law gives property rights to residents who peacefully occupy land.
With preparations starting for the Olympics and World Cup, Metro's residents initially were offered government-built housing in a working-class suburb 45 miles away, with poor access to transportation and jobs. About 100 families accepted, under duress. Another 100 or so took the offer that followed: resettlement in a closer housing project.
About 270 families are resisting the move, said the Metro residents association president, Francicleide Souza.
"We are living in fear and uncertainty," Souza said. "We don't know what will happen to our families tomorrow."
Compensation paid per home for Rio's removals in 2010 averaged $16,000. The amount varies according to the size and quality of a structure.
The money offered is not nearly enough to find another home in Rio, said Eliomar Coelho, a city councilman heading an investigation into removals. Market studies say Rio's real estate is now among the most expensive in the Americas.
"If you're going to take someone out of their home, you have to provide them with an alternative that is equal or better," Coelho said.
Alexandre Mendes, until recently head of the housing rights unit of the Rio state public defenders office, contends the relocation process is riddled with illegalities.
"Many of these removals did not respect principles and rights considered basic in local and international law," he said.
There are dozens of pending cases charging irregularities during the past three years, Mendes said. He said abuses include pulling families from homes at night while a bulldozer stood by to start demolition, forcing families to move to distant housing projects, and paying those who chose financial compensation little for their homes.
In the case of the Restinga slum, which made way for the new Transoeste highway across Rio's west side, Mendes was awakened by residents' calls in the middle of the night. It was just before Christmas 2010, he said. He got there at 2:30 a.m. and saw heavy machinery tearing down houses. If people refused to leave, walls were knocked down with them still inside, he said.
"The brutality of that moment, I can describe because I was there and I saw it," he said.
Metro's people have heard about such things, and their anxieties are making them cling to what they have.
Santos is pinning his hopes on a rumor that of the community's 126 businesses, 40 will remain. Maybe he'll be one of the 40.
"I have built something here — a house, a business," Santos said. "That's what I want. Not a gift, not charity. I want to keep on working and earning my money and feeding my family."
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