We publish an inofficial translation of an article that has been published on the website of the Newspaper ANOVADEMOCRACIA, that has been set to us:



April 26 is a milestone in the history of the Brazilian people's struggle. In 1999, the battle for the Vila Bandeira Vermelha (Small Town Red Flag) took place in the urban area of Betim, Minas Gerais. In memory of the men and women who fought for housing there, we are republishing this article, originally published in AND (A Nova Democracia) Year I, No. 5, December 2002.




In these first two weeks of December, a municipal government in Minas Gerais is making a handover of 180 public houses to the same number of families - about a thousand people - that faced 600 police officers of the dreaded Minas Police on April 26, 1999, in an abandoned public lot in the Bandeirinhas neighborhood of Betim, in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte. The brick dwellings with bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and courtyard form a unit with basic infrastructure (water, electricity, telephone, asphalting of the main roads, school, and the prospect of a health station and recreational area), christened Vila Bandeira Vermelha by the residents.


The action of the City Hall of Betim - the eighth Brazilian municipality in tax collection and the second in the state - is the success of the organized people who planned, acted, resisted, fought and even responded with violence, at the moment when the residents considered retaliation just to ensure one of the basic conditions of life: housing.


There were deaths. Two young workers, Erionides Anastácio dos Santos and Elder Gonçalves de Souza, were shot and dozens were wounded, including women and children.




The struggle of Bandeira Vermelha was in no way different from the repression of the people's struggle in all periods of the country's history. From the revolt against fiscal exploitation by the imperial crown, to the resistance of the enslaved workers, to the abuses from the old republic, etc., the history of Brazil is marked by countless movements like this one. All suffocated with violence and cruelty.


The police violence against the families of the small town received a response equally from the organized popular movements and from true democrats, a support that, together with the willingness of the population to resist, prevented an even greater folly. Despite the campaign of terror waged by the municipal administration and the parties of the "Popular Front" (PT [Party of Workers], PCdoB [Communist Party of Brazil, revisionists and opportunists not to confuse with the P.C.B.], PSB [Socialist Party of Brazil]) that administered the town in those months - a campaign that the media played up in daily headlines, calling the families "communist invaders" - the people remained in place and "asserted popular democracy against the farce of the petist [PT - translator's note] administration."


The reverberations of the confrontation between the residents of the camp and the 600 police officers of the shock squad of the military police in Bandeira Vermelha received international notoriety. Mayor Jésus Lima saw no other solution than to negotiate with the residents of the camp for the land taken over by the 200 families, as decided by the Popular Assembly established on March 15, 1999.


"The garbage of the participatory budget and the housing program of the Municipality of Betim, in which tens of thousands of people had been registered for years without results, was finally exposed by the people, who decided to shape their destiny with their own hands," summarize the coordinators of the movement.





Gonçalves was the watch commander



In Minas Gerais, two organizations - the LPM (Luta Popular pela Moradia - Popular Struggle for Housing) and the MCL (Movimento das Comissões de Luta - Movement of Struggle Committees) - organize the poor population to fight for their rights. However, the heroic events in Bandeira Vermelha are like many others that occur daily in the major urban centers in all regions of Brazil. Groups of 100, 200 or more families invade a property, usually public land, to secure housing. They are workers who cannot pay the rent and are evicted with their families to live under bridges and viaducts or on the street in tents.


Except that the small town offered a new situation: the class consciousness of its participants. A situation that led to organization, solidarity and action. The terror of the police could not stop the willingness of the people to achieve their goals. The decision to resist guaranteed a way out of the countless dramas that these families experienced during the days of greatest tension.


People were aware that it would be a difficult struggle, but above all they were "tired of waiting for promises and hoping for pittances, " says Estela Andréa, 24, a young black woman who joined the fight with love and blood. The bullet that almost severed her leg on the day of the confrontation with the police did not discourage her. She spent several days seriously injured in the hospital, as did other comrades who were also hit with rubber and lead bullets.


For the reactionary press, the faceless of Betim.

For the Popular Assembly, Vila Bandeira Vermelha.


On the first day of the camp, it was decided that everyone would wear a scarf to cover their face: "a security measure against being prosecuted by the police and the same municipality, something that would inevitably happen" - says Cicero da Silva, one of the coordinators of the LPM. "We also decided to communicate with the press only through written communications, a decision that was relaxed on the first day and served as a lesson to confirm that this press would not help us in any way. They produced police papers, wrote detailed reports about the conditions in the camp and descriptions of people's physical characteristics, and tried to identify the leaders. The first articles in the newspapers called us the Faceless of Betim. Although on the first day we issued a statement signed by both organizations - LPM and MCL - to the entire population, the mayor said he did not know us," Cícero continued.


According to the LPM coordinator, " our way of organizing disturbed the city government a lot. Everything was decided in the meeting. We agreed that only two representatives of the two organizations would appear in public and that the negotiations with City Hall would be conducted by them and the members of the Support Committee. This decision has prevented the opportunists of the Popular Front from negotiating separately with some families and continuing to threaten them in order to divide our movement." According to Cícero, the support committee was formed by more than 40 units of the class and several democratic and progressive individuals. Their task was to coordinate solidarity with the families in the camp and to spread the goals of the struggle.


Marcelo was one of those who were persecuted


Negotiations with the city hall did not happen, as the assembly also decided to negotiate only directly with the mayor. Within 40 days, more than 30 requests from the Support Committee were rejected at City Hall. While the press attacked the residents of the camp, claiming that "these people didn't need houses and the movement only wanted to destabilize the government," in reality the city government was preparing a major repressive attack to evict the families. The showdown with City Hall strengthened the camp every day, because "the more its representatives slandered the movement, the more support the camp received." During those 40 days, there was no shortage of food, medicine, clothing, and doctors.


The Support Committee disseminated to the population of Betim and the capital the declarations of Vila Bandeira Vermelha - the name given to the camp by the People's Assembly in the first days, "to crown the unity of the two flags of the movements, to pay homage to the neighborhood of Bandeirinhas and to venerate the struggle, to raise it as high as possible, because, the color red represents the blood of the fighters that has been shed and that cries out for justice throughout the world. Those who fight raise a red flag with pride and take on the task of enforcing the ideals of those who gave their lives in search of freedom," as stated in a document of the LPM.




In the society we live in, real solidarity between people or groups is rare. Even when it comes to families who have nothing in life except a lot of disappointments, not even a roof over their heads. But at Bandeira Vermelha it was different. Dona Maria das Graças, 47 years old and mother of five children, participated in the rotation of comrades in charge of the camp's kitchen. She took all the risks, she said, because she already knew that "the police would come." She had a big problem in her life, which was paying a rent of R$ 180.00. She relates that she had moments of indecision "in which I wanted to throw everything away.... but seeing hopeful children and women who believed in the future. so I said: I will not".




LPM and MCL coordinators report on the April 26 battle. Cláudio Andrade of LPM reports, "The camp was under heavy tension at the beginning. A helicopter from Rede Globo flew over the area at 6:15 a.m. and carried out several maneuvers. The comrades guarding the entrance to the camp noticed, still in the distance, the movement of a large police squad with two tractors in front of it, which began to surround the camp. The whole maneuver was filmed by the comrades. An alarm call mobilized the group coordinators, who quickly summoned all the comrades to a meeting. The decision to resist was made with the loud chanting of our slogans: 'Not even if things get tough! This land is ours', 'We are already on this land and we will not leave it'. Our slogan is 'Occupy, resist and build!', 'Occupy, resist and build people power!'".


Cláudio describes the strategy of the police in the attack on the camp:


1. siege to isolate the site, as was done in 1996 with Vila Corumbiara - a plot of land in the industrial area of Belo Horizonte that was taken under the coordination of the LPM and the MCL;


2. pressure through provocation, through the action of the commandos besieging the camp;


3. use of tractors to tear down the fences and clear the way for the troops;


4. use of helicopters to drop bombs inside the camp to cause panic;


5. dispersing the masses and arresting the leaders.




The police strategy failed. Cícero da Silva, another coordinator of the LPM, explains why: "The comrades of the camp were prepared for the possibility of a police attack. We were aware that our independence, our decision not to submit to the chaos of the so-called participatory budget and the queues of thousands of families waiting for the housing program of the municipality, was considered an unacceptable affront by the municipality. That is why we have already talked about how to act in this case during the meetings to organize the land seizure. First and foremost, all the participants agreed on the right to defend ourselves against police encroachment. Secondly, we discussed how to defend ourselves, and we organized for that. Upon arrival at the camp site, the first task was to build a fence, which was then reinforced by building another fence inside. We decided that everyone should cover their faces and use different names so as not to be recognized and followed. We formed a committee for guard and self-defense, which took turns for 24 hours at the fences and inside the camp."


"During the 41 days we lived there before the confrontation, we conducted self-defense training with all the residents of the camp." Cícero also says that visitors had to show identification at the main gate of the camp and were only allowed to enter when accompanied by people known to the support committee. This measure was taken to prevent infiltration by the police. Not allowing the press in also served this goal . "During the meeting," said Cláudio Andrade, "the position of all comrades was decided and the coordinators took their places with their respective groups to defend the camp. Everyone knew what they had to do: protect the entrance to prevent police intrusion; set up a guard at another likely point of attack; organize the people in resistance into small groups; protect the children."


The people knew this would be a hard battle,

but most of all, they were tired of waiting for promises


"The troops approach and without warning or trying to negotiate, the tractor starts to destroy the first fence and the policemen start shooting. Gas bombs were thrown into the camp from the helicopter. At that moment, Comrade Elder volunteers to take over the video camera and record the steps of the police. Erionides took over the group that was to stop the onslaught of the tractor and threw a Molotov cocktail at it. This fearless action by Comrade Erionides cost him his life. He died from a gunshot to the head. Another comrade who accompanied him in the operation was seriously wounded while trying to help him. Shortly thereafter, Comrade Elder was shot in the abdomen. Despite his wounding, he continued filming, as the scenes he recorded show, until he was shot again in the thigh. Only then did he stop filming, as he could no longer walk. The comrades tried to help him, but when they realized the severity of his injuries, they carried him out of the camp to get help from the comrades of the Support Committee, who were on the scene and prevented by the police from entering the camp. Elder was able to be evacuated but died in the hospital. The killing of comrades Erionides and Elder confirms that snipers targeted their victims, especially those they thought were in command."


"The camp was bustling with activity. Amidst shouts of children and others. Those in command to call comrades to their posts. Other comrades were shot. Paulinho was hit and lost an eye. Izaú was hit by a bullet in the back and another in the heel. The bullet is still in his shoulder. Several comrades were hit by rubber bullets and seriously injured. Many children were injured by bomb fragments, because the police did not spare ammunition and used large-caliber weapons such as shotguns, machine guns, rifles, as well as stun grenades and tear gas," Cláudio concluded.


According to the coordinators, the news of the death of the two comrades had exactly the opposite effect to the intention of the repression to cause panic and disorganize the defense: "People doubled their strength and determination to fight. No one left the camp. The helicopter, nicknamed 'Big Bird' by the residents, was prevented from continuing its mission by stones and steel balls thrown with slingshots by the comrades who remained organized and determined in the camp."


Cléber Costa de Farias, coordinator of the MCL, summarized the struggle this way, "The reason we resisted until the end is that all the comrades were very well prepared. We spent a long time showing in meetings and assemblies that this was our chance to get housing. It was two years of preparation. When the police arrived, everyone knew that if we lost this chance, it would be much more difficult to get another piece of land. And in the confrontation, when we saw that two comrades were cowardly murdered and others were seriously injured, it led to more resistance, more determination and more solidarity, so that the families were determined to defend everyone who was there. Our movement had a vanguard. There was coordination with the clear goal of conquering our right. And that's what I think. We have to change that in our country. We have to conquer a piece of land, but also change everything that is there. People have no health care, no school, no work, they are at the mercy of misery. All of this has driven people to have the courage to stand up to the police. Misery drives people to determination, and when they saw a way out to free themselves from the rent, they took it. The experience of Bandeira Vermelha has made people aware of who is who in our country and who really defends them."




Marcelo Frutuoso Batista, 28 years old, joined the movement because he had to pay a rent of R$ 240.00. The money he earned was not enough for food. He worked on the assembly [literally translated "route" - note of the T.] (Between Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro) and performed various services until he met the movement. He and his wife did not miss a single meeting. His commitment made him coordinator one of the groups. Marcelo is still emotional when he tells of the events. Especially with regard to the bravery of women, who for him were the main responsible for the maintenance of the moral of all and who stimulated the men with their courage to hold through. "There were women who were stronger than their husbands," he says. In some cases, the husband had already given up the fight, but the wives encouraged him to continue. "Women who lifted the wounded children from the ground, took them on their arms and went to the front to fight. A real struggle, no doubt." The couple Maria Ribeiro and José Gonçalves de Souza, together with several other comrades, ensured the security of the camp and warned of repression. "The despair gave me courage, I was afraid to live under the bridge," says Maria.


Estela Andréa had no place to stay and lived in a house in Belo Horizonte, in which ten people of a family lived. "I lived from alms," she said. She found out about the movement and did not miss the opportunity, she reveals. "When I arrived, I had a lot to do to clear the bushes and build the huts," she says. Estela was "brave" on the day of confrontation with the police, says one of the coordinators of the LPM. In addition to other attacks, she was shot in the leg and she had to stay in the hospital for several days. For them it was not an easy line -up of an empty property, "it was no shithouse" she explains and reveals that everyone knew that the police would come to evict the people away. "There were many rumors about the arrival of the repression, and that was frighting us," she continues. "We thought that they would no longer come and that everything would get solved through negotiations," says Estela. But public violence came without mercy. "The People only wanted what was right," she said in conclusion.


Dona Maria Das Graças says she was in the kitchen when she was alerted that the police had surrounded the camp. "The tractor was already tearing down the fence," she remembers. She says: "The children shouted and I left the kitchen towards the gate. Some time later I saw how a person was shot. It was Elder who arrived, being carried by comrades and asked me to keep his documents. An MP (military police officer ) shouted on me, that I should go away and leave the men. How could I go away and leave the men? We formed a block and went out to confront the soldiers and to prevent them from entering the camp, "she said.


The men and women of the Vila Bandeira Vermelha let their highest human values speak and defended the honor of the community with all strength. Sticks, stones and their own bodies were the trenches against revolvers, shotguns, rifles and machine guns. The blood flowed quickly, symbolized by the two fallen workers: Elder Gonçalves de Souza and Erionides Anastácio Dos Santos, which were included in the series of the heroes of the people.


We are already on this land and we will not leave it!

Our motto is: occupy, resist and build!


Maria das Graças, Estela, Cícero, Cléber, Marcelo, Maria Ribeiro and Gonçalves are examples of people who have had a great experience of struggle, who not only live in this community, but who are certainly spread throughout this vast Brazil of social strife in the daily lives of poor families. They often experience a fierce struggle to ensure their needs and basic human rights. It is a fierce struggle to conquer what is actually theirs and their right. It was this identification with class, with the real conditions of life, that gave birth to the movement and its capacity to organize, resist and conquer.


The strong resistance of the residents of the Vila Bandeira Vermelha camp, the solidarity of the residents of the neighboring Bandeirinhas neighborhood, and the immediate intervention of the Support Committee prevented a second police attack on April 26. The Jésus Lima government was defeated in this attempt and was forced to retreat. The people won the battle.




The coordinator of the LPM, Cícero da Silva, denounces "the opportunistic actions of the electoral parties PT (Party of Workers), PSB (Socialist Party of Brazil), PV (Green Party), PSN (Party of National Solidarity) and PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil), which have behaved in a fascist and police-like manner throughout the struggle in Vila Bandeira Vermelha, attacking the organizations of the independent struggle of the people." The coordinator reads us a communication that was distributed by these parties in the region under the title "In defense of life! No to violence!" was distributed. In this note, the opportunists blamed in 10 points not the military police or the municipal government, but the families of the workers who had resisted and prevented the massacre of hundreds of comrades. Point 1 of the note says: "The parties of the Popular Front of Betim defend the struggle for a piece of land and a roof over their heads as a legitimate right of the people. They affirm as a universal right that every person has the right to a standard of living that enables him to provide for himself and his family, his health and well-being, his food, clothing, housing, work, employment and education."


"As good opportunists," said Cicero, "they continue, down to point 3 of their manifesto": 'The parties of the Popular Front of Betim strongly condemn the use of violence in social conflicts and regret the death of two homeless people and those injured in the confrontation,' and in point 5 'they condemn and reject the vandalism of the right-wing councilors and leaders of the movement who, taking advantage of the body and the pain of family members, vandalized the city hall building. A public good of the city...', further in point 6 they warn the city council that 'right-wing conservative sectors of the city and the state are organizing in such a way that ungovernability, chaos and terror can be installed in our municipality' and cynically demand, after the massive attack of the police on the residents of the camp, 'far-reaching negotiations directly with the people concerned and the representative bodies of the homeless movement. We do not allow the use of coercion and violence as a means of resolving social conflicts.'" Cícero continues indignantly, "These parties that at no time went to the camp, not even on the day of the murder of two workers (whom they call homeless), even denying the existence of 10. 000 families registered in the Betim housing project and denounced that a guerrilla training camp was established in our camp, accuse the leaders of being terrorists and cynically present themselves as interlocutors between the municipality and the residents of the camp in a highly legal institutional language, in point 10: 'Finally, the parties that sign this manifesto, which have a tradition of fighting for a just and equal society, make themselves available to the parties as interlocutors in the search for a way out of the conflict and reaffirm their commitment to fight tirelessly, together with other democratic and popular forces, for the continuation of a government that has saved the citizenry in Betim. '"


"The nerves of these people are immeasurable," says the LPM coordinator. "Electoralists, cheats and crooks, like Jésus himself, who became a politician, supported land occupation movements and was elected mayor by promising to give land to the people. Once they take state power, they reveal very clearly their opportunistic attitude and their disregard for the lives of the people. They do not hesitate to kill to prevent us from acting independently and asserting our rights. It is as someone said at the funeral of comrades killed in battle, "The only land they gave was seven palm trees for two fathers of families. And Cicero concludes, "In the municipal elections of 2000, the year after the confrontation, the PT lost in the race for mayor, as a result of this struggle that exposed its anti-people and fascist face. In this year's elections, the former mayor, who this time ran for state deputy, came in third, disproving the reactionary maxim that "people have short memories.






Vila Bandeira Vermelha: 180 houses with basic infrastructure. It is the culmination of the struggle of the people of Betim for the right to housing.


The community of Vila Bandeira Vermelha is considered the "nucleus" of the popular struggle. For the families who resisted the actions of the military police almost three years ago, 180 houses are being built. Another 20 families who also participated in the movement will receive their houses in the Teresópolis neighborhood in the same municipality.


On November 28, a few days before the inauguration of the new houses, the residents of the Vila addressed the Betim City Council, demanding that the new neighborhood be called Vila Bandeira Vermelha and that the streets be named "26 de abril" (Confrontation Day), "Erionides Anastácio," "Elder Gonçalves" and "15 de Março" (Land Seizure Day). They also had to confront PT councilors who attacked the residents who spoke in plenary against the people's right to determine the name of the neighborhood and the streets. The men, women and children of the Vila showed once again that they are aware of their strength and ensured the victory of the vote. "It was a matter of honor to show the city councilors who we are. If they voted against it, we would make our mark. And as for the name of the neighborhood, we are sure that no one will erase the name of Vila Bandeira Vermelha from the history of our country or from the minds of opportunists," said one resident.


Today, on the eve of the realization of the families' biggest dream - a house of their own - people feel victorious and recognize the value of the organization. However, all agree that the community of Vila Bandeira Vermelha "will now get going." "It was worth the struggle. It is a new reality, but the struggle will continue," assures Maria das Graças. Continue with unity, solidarity, awareness. This is the opinion of Marcelo, one of the coordinators of the commissions.


All of them are aware that "without unity, people cannot achieve anything." That is why they want to continue fighting and spreading the struggle for Bandeira Vermelha, so that it can serve as a model for the development of other communities that are currently going through the same problems as they did three years ago.