Urban-legal Paradigms Supporting Post-Millennium Evictions: the Role of the Courts in Displacement Practices

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Why is Brazil, a country with one of the most progressive and inclusive land legislations in the world, being accused of violating its citizens' constitutional right to housing? Why is the Brazilian Judiciary, despite all the legal mechanisms created by recent laws to reverse exclusionary patterns of land use, executing forced evictions of thousands of marginalized families? I argue that these violations and removals must be understood as legalized displacement. Namely, land dispossession practices are not only a direct result of the commodification of housing, but of a much broader discrimination process, in which the courts are playing a major role. Judicial dispossession can be read as a direct outcome of eviction mandates ordered by the courts. However, what makes it legitimate is not only the fact that it is ruled by judges, but that these practices are embedded within governmental, legal, and policy apparatuses. Drawing from Porto Alegre, a city with a tradition of participatory planning programs, this article will analyze how urban-legal paradigms support post-millennium evictions in Brazil by addressing how legal frameworks on land use and property rights are used to justify displacement. By employing archival research and discourse analysis, I show that courts are ignoring recent legal mechanisms created to ensure the constitutional right to housing in the country. I find that judges are mobilizing discourses that idealize private property regimes at the expense of alternative forms of tenure already established by paradigmatic land legislation. At stake here is the fact that these removals are expelling the vulnerable populations from the city. Lastly, I am calling into question the false distinction frequently made between evictions in the context of the Global South - perceived as violent conflicts involving mostly informal tenants - and similar processes in the Global North, often understood as part of more "legalistic" processes.
displacement, right to the city, Brazil, eviction