The Prestes Maia (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈpɾɛstʃiz ˈmaj.jɐ]) was the largest squatted highrise building on the South American continent. Originally, 468 families, united through the Downtown Roofless Movement (Movimento Sem Teto do Centro or MSTC) of São Paulo, lived in the 22-storey highrise since 2002.
The building had been closed and left in a rundown condition for years, serving as shelter for rats and cockroaches. The new residents cleaned out tonnes of rubbish and litter, organized it, expelled drugs and other criminal bosses. It contained a free library, workshops, and hosted autonomous educational, social and other cultural activities. In the last few years of the squat it was a laboratory of experiments in organizing a real human renewal of downtown São Paulo.
The building was to be returned to its legal owner, who in the previous 15 years had accumulated a debt in municipal taxes of some 5.5 million reais (approx. 2.2 million U.S. dollars / 1.4 million euros), which is close to the amount the building is worth (near 7 million reais).
On January 27 2006, representatives met with the police authorities in charge of the forthcoming eviction. During the meeting, it was made clear that the eviction would take place somewhere between the 15th and 21st of February (an exact date was not given for 'strategic' reasons). The families were advised to leave the precinct before the eviction to avoid unpleasant encounters, and when they asked where they were supposed to go, the answer was: 'to the streets or elsewhere'.
On February 7, the residents of Prestes Maia’s building staged a street blockade for almost 2 hours to draw attention to their plight.
On February 13/14th, about 200 people congregated at Prestes Maia anxious for the news and information. They were told that repossession of ownership had been postponed for an indeterminate period. The residents celebrated and thanked the support of the groups, individuals, lawyers and others who had helped the campaign.
The residents succeeded in gaining some concessions for relocation from the government, such as financial aid for rental and credit plans.
A gradual removal of the residents to other locations in downtown São Paulo was undertaken, with varying degrees of government promises and assistance, and since July 2007 the building has been closed.
At October 2008 the building is still closed and barricaded with concrete blocks.
Prestes Maia - freedom in concrete. Documentary by Levin Peter, Jonas Ginter, Marla Fee Wilke. 52 min, in coproduction with ZDF/arte. A production of gebrueder beetz filmproduktion (www.gebrueder-beetz.de). Germany 2008.
The Magic Carriage Hero (O Herói da Carruagem Mágica) – Independent ‘Cordel’-documentary that tells the story of the creators of Prestes Maia Community Library. By Philippe Bertrand. 15 min. Brazil 2007.
- Phillips, Tom (23 January 2006). "Brazil's roofless reclaim the cities". The Guardian.
- "Prestes Maia: largest urban area squat in South America faces imminent eviction". Indybay. 16 February 2007.