An occupied house is an enchanted house


23rd February 2024

Somos los duendes que habitan en las casa abandonadas,

La propiedad privada es un robo, y lo nuestro arte de magia.

Una casa okupada es una casa encantada,

Cuando haya un desalojo, aparecemos en otra.

El hechizo está en hacerlo todo con tus propias manos,

Convirtiendo cuatro muros en espacios liberados.”

– Sin Dios

Casa Okupada, Casa Encantada’

The following article is part of the book "Casa Encantada: A Portrait of the Fight for Housing in Belo Horizonte Going Through the Pandemic", which documents the fight for housing in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

This is just one effort, among many, that members of the Kasa Invisível collective and the community around it are involved in with other occupations in Belo Horizonte. These actions aim to promote solidarity between these spaces, inhabitants and the movements that work alongside them.

The aim is to share the impressions, dramas and stories of people who come together to take action and fight for the basic right: a space to live in. People from different backgrounds dared to challenge the sacredness of private property and occupied these floors, walls and ceilings, inhabiting them and filling them with life. A life of desires, dreams and movement – with beauty, even if crooked and forgotten – like the facades of the houses we occupy and call home.

Baruq is an illustrator, writer and editor. As organizer, lives at the squat Kasa Invisível, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He is also member as editor of the infoshop 1000contra and publishes in several anarchist outlets in Brazil and US.


Organise: the crew have a firefund to cover printing costs with any excess going towards a tour of Europe. You can make a donation here: You can find more information via social media @kasainvisivel and their website

Tour Dates:

  • 30/03 – Sat – Lisbon, PT
  • 01/04 – Mon – Madrid, ES
  • 02/04 – Tue – Vitoria, EH
  • 04/04 – Thu – Zaragoza, ES
  • 05/04 – Sat – Barcelona, ES
  • 08/04 – Mon – Grenoble, FR
  • 09/04 – Tue – Grenoble, FR
  • 10/04 – Wed – Dijon, FR
  • 11/04 – Thu – Dijon, FR
  • 12/04 – Fri – Paris, FR
  • 13/04 – Sat – Paris, FR
  • 15/04 – Mon – Hamburg, DE
  • 17/04 – Wed – Berlin, DE
  • 18/04 – Thu – Berlin, DE
  • 21/04 – Sun – Vienna, AT
  • 23/04 – Tue – Prague, CZ
  • 26/04 – Fri – Ljubljana, SL
  • 02/05 – Thu – Athens, GR

Invisible and outside the plans

"What is a city? It is the opposite of the forest. The opposite of nature. The city is an artificial, human territory. The city is a territory designed exclusively for humans. Humans have excluded all possibilities of other lives in the city. Any other life that tries to exist in a city is destroyed. If it exists, it is thanks to the force of the nature, not because humans want it."

– Nego Bispo, ‘A terra dá, a terra quer’

Belo Horizonte was the first planned modern city in Brazil1. Founded in 1897, its urban design expresses the ideals of the young Republic, established only 8 years earlier by a military coup that ousted the Empire. It featured wide, straight roads, rationally designed to facilitate circulation and hygiene, to prevent overcrowding, blockades, protests, and barricades. By overriding and straightening even the course of rivers, the new model contrasted with the narrow, winding stone streets of the former state capital, Ouro Preto. Ouro Preto was founded on the exploitation of slave labour used in the extraction of gold, silver, and other minerals and agricultural products.

The Contorno Avenue, originally called 17 de Setembro Avenue, encircled the entire project and marked the boundaries between urban and suburban areas. The main streets formed perfect squares: in one direction, those with names of the states of the federation, and in the other, streets with names of indigenous peoples exterminated or expelled from the territories upon which all cities in the Americas are built. Cutting diagonally are avenues named after political figures or "notables" such as those who planned the new capital of Minas Gerais such as Afonso Pena, Augusto de Lima, Olegário Maciel and Bias Fortes, among others.

From the early stages, the realisation of the new capital was marked by the abrupt destruction of habitats, obliterating anything or anyone in its path. In addition to the rich biome at the intersection of the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado, the construction of Belo Horizonte required the removal of the old settlement known as Curral del Rey along with its nearly fifteen hundred inhabitants. Many of them were evicted without prior notice or compensation. The most symbolic case is that of a woman who became one of the city's first and most cherished legends: Maria Papuda2 (a derogatory nickname due to her appearance caused by goiter), a poor black woman who, until 1894, lived in a modest wattle-and-daub shack, near where the Palácio da Liberdade, the headquarters of the government of the state of Minas Gerais until 2019, was erected. Dona Maria allegedly placed a curse on the future occupants of the palace after being forced to move from her shack without any reparations. The fact that in the following decade two governors died in the property only reinforced the legend, which also says that Maria Papuda's ghost still haunts the place.

The poor workers who built the city were not considered worthy to be potential inhabitants and were not provided with any space in the initial plan. Many of these people squatted on land near the city center, creating the first slums and settlements in the city (such as Vila Córrego do Leitão, established even before the city's official inauguration). When the City Hall issued decrees and sent the police to remove these houses in 1900, a continuous dispute began in which the government saught to permanently push the poor away from the city center. This ongoing dispute is a major part of Belo Horizonte 's history.

The same processes persist today, 126 years later, when the urban sprawl has far exceeded the limits of its original plan and is unable to properly accommodate either its inhabitants, vegetation, or rivers. With only 3.9% of its surface still covered by vegetation, Belo Horizonte is the city with the lowest green coverage among the 10 largest capitals in the country. In 2019, the city had 56,000 families without their own homes3 (renting or living with relatives). Additionally, 95,700 people live in inadequate housing, meaning without sewage, a roof, or water. The 2022 census data records that 5,300 people live on the streets, without a roof over their heads, while 108,000 properties remain vacant – a number 20 times greater than the homeless population4.

When the Covid-19 pandemic reached Brazil in 2020, it’s impact made the woes affecting the poorest people even more glaring, deprived of access to the basics such as education, social security, or even getting identity documents or birth certificates5. Such contrasts became even sharper when the commandment "stay at home" was not applicable to those without a home. Nor for those who live crowded together with family members in shacks and precarious housing, at risk of collapse or without basic sanitation. Occupying empty properties becomes, in moments like these, an even more urgent issue for survival.

In 2020, a record number of around 100,000 people6 lived in occupations in Belo Horizonte alone and the state of Minas Gerais had the second largest housing deficit in the country, with 500,000 homeless families7. In the city center, there was a visible increase of 22%8 in the homeless population, newly arrived due to the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic and the federal government's deadly policies.

Unlike established and more structured land and housing struggle movements, which outline organisation and planning prior to the emergence of a new occupation, newer movements such as MLP (Popular Liberation Movement) have emerged from the demand to organise and build solidarity with occupations that arise spontaneously from the self-organisation of homeless people. After an occupation, which is not necessarily planned by the movement, MLP militants and supporting collectives, such as Kasa Invisível, come together to create material, social, and legal support to ensure the occupation survives.

Historical houses, forgotten in legal limbos between speculation and abandonment, have become homes in a new wave of occupations that emerged to pressure and achieve housing and other basic rights that are not accessible without a roof over one's head. Spontaneous occupations, many arising impromptu overnight, without the support of large movements or social entities, have gradually organised and built networks over time, according to their needs. Others emerged as a result of the development of this form of organisation, housing a portion of the population with a history of homelessness, ex-prisoners, immigrants, precarious and excluded individuals.

These autonomous initiatives go against the tide of a decline in squatting and large-scale land occupations that marked the 2000s and 2010s. A transition from direct action to "action" in parliament was significant and produced consequences, as many housing movements were curtailed by movement leaders – who are already or become party leaders – who chose to join the wave of democratic restoration of their decade to "occupy" institutional politics, from offices to positions and budgets – a similar process seen to fail in Spain with Podemos and in Greece with Syriza9. This reflected in a weakening and a retreat from direct struggle and the opening of new occupations, at the same time that the demand for decent housing continued to increase.

As the old Spanish punk anthem goes, "an occupied house is an enchanted house." Neither fascism nor the cowardice of reformist tendencies are capable of stopping the building of mutual support or the use of direct action to solve the problems of those who suffer the misery of capitalism. To continue fighting for a world where property is not worth more than life, we must continue to enchant and be enchanted by the hope of building new spaces and relationships – and not be seduced by the siren song that turns revolutionary spirits into professional militants, institutional political employees chasing party funds, positions and personal prestige.

It was as a result of this search for refuge amidst the political storm and the virulence (literal and metaphorical) of a government aligned with fascist conservatism and systematic death, that the occupations illustrated in this publication emerged. When the hegemonic strategy of the left was to "wait for fascism to melt away on its own," expecting that elections would function as the vaccine for a pandemic, anti-fascists took to the streets and excluded individuals with different histories resorted to direct action, squatting houses and fighting for their rights. It is because we were there with other people who neither know nor can wait, that we tell these stories today.

* * *

Rua Silva Jardim 387

Our place on the map and in social conflict

The globalization of capitalism had the effect of weakening, pauperizing and marginalizing large segments of the lower classes. In the face of 'local disorders' that result in violence, incivility and insecurity, public authorities put in place 'pacification' devices to which urbanism and architecture are called to contribute. The reconfiguration of public space must, at the same time, dissuade the new 'internal enemy' from taking action and facilitate repression, thus confirming the link between urbanism and the maintenance of social order.”

– Jean-Pierre Garnier, “Um espaço indefensável”

The Kasa Invisível occupation is located at the intersection of Avenida Bias Fortes, Rua dos Guajajaras, and Rua Santa Catarina, forming a star-shaped junction dotted with historic buildings that included five occupied houses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, four of them still stand, in the last block of the Lourdes neighbourhood, considered "posh" and with some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

Avenida Bias Fortes is approximately two and a half kilometres long, starting at Praça da Liberdade, where the Palácio da Liberdade is located, crossing the iconic Raul Soares Square, and heading north towards Avenida do Contorno. There, Avenida Bias Fortes becomes Viaduto Helena Greco – formerly Viaduto Castelo Branco – and passes over both Avenida do Contorno and the train line, and continues towards the neighbourhoods of the northwest region.

The area around Raul Soares Square, of which Kasa Invisível is a part, was where the first land occupations by poor workers occurred, back in the early history of the city. Since the first removals carried out in the early 20th century, the elites have tried several times to sanitise and police Raul Soares Square and its surroundings. It has become a border between a bourgeois and gentrified Belo Horizonte and a popular, commercial zone traversed by informal workers and people experiencing homelessness – all bodies that the elites' dreamed-of city seeks to make invisible or eliminate.

Our Kasa is situated, therefore, on the border between two worlds connected by a straight line of asphalt: at one end, an architectural complex and postcard of the city that includes the former palace headquarters of the government of the third largest state in the country – where decisions that directly affect our lives are made; and at the other end, a viaduct that serves as a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, surrounded by waste recycling points and crack dens. Where people excluded from society try to survive by rummaging through rubbish, eating what they find, warming themselves with cheap alcohol and other substances to forget what cannot be changed. Images of a heaven and a hell that always remind us that we are geographically and socially much closer to those at the bottom than to those at the top.

This territorial opposition is not the only thing that goes unnoticed in this piece of land that we have been living in for a decade. In fact, the entire city is full of blind spots that we overlook in the automatic rhythm of routine in the city where the Urban is the Capital. On the path that connects the viaduct of the homeless to the palace of the rulers, we pass by chestnut and ipê trees that announce the arrival of spring. With some attention, it is also possible to see blackberry, avocado, guava, mango, and papaya trees among the lamp posts and street signs. If we climb the avenue towards Praça da Liberdade, we cross Rua São Paulo, which hides underneath the asphalt, buried alive between manholes and stones, the Leitão Stream that originates in the Santa Lúcia neighborhood and crosses streets and avenues until it reaches Avenida dos Andradas, where the Arrudas River is also partially covered. On days of intense summer rain, exacerbated by climate chaos, the rivers rebel against their forced invisibility, resurfacing and turning the adjacent streets into their tributaries, carrying everything in their path. Thus, São Paulo, Tupis, and Padre Belchior streets become waterways again – even if temporarily –, churning the ground, carrying mud and debris to the sophisticated streets of the Lourdes neighbourhood and on downtown.


The scribbled records and stories written in this book are an attempt to overflow our paths, like the suffocated rivers of our metropolis or the weeds cracking the inert asphalt and concrete, to bring to the surface a life of conflict and struggle for existence. This is my humble contribution to the memory of the struggles we have fought, recorded through the eyes and voices of so many comrades. May this message spread through time, may our solidarity not respect borders, fences, walls or the cold letters of the law of international treaties of merely symbolic rights, so that, like Dona Maria Papuda and all enslaved, exploited, excluded, and evicted peoples, we can continue to organise, retaliate, and take back what is ours. Let us haunt the dreams of those who proclaim themselves rulers and owners of these lands.

About what was left out: the majority of land conflicts in Belo Horizonte.

We were street people. We were just professional revolutionaries, that's all we did. We had no jobs, we were not students, all we did was radical. Militancy. Like, complete. Morning to night, Everyday. We fed people freely, we had an apartments (we used to call them ‘crashpads’) where people could stay for free, we had clothing, so we did anything free.”

– Ben Morea, Up Against the Wall! Motherfuckers, in 2019 interview.

The choice to portray the squats and their inhabitants with illustrations and photographs, accompanied by articles and interviews goes beyond a personal preference for drawing, graphics or architectural projects. As seen in the work of photographer Enrique Metinides, who captures accidents and crime scenes with an almost cinematic eye, a sensitive and subjective way of documenting everyday events has the potential to endure over time. Whilst newspapers and pamphlets will age and may lose their impact with time, becoming documents of interest only to researchers. Artistic work can however be a way to produce a timeless record. With drawing, I seek to look at and recreate what is portrayed and invite individuals to traverse these scribbled and written lines.

I got inspiration from other works such as the book "Antes que acabe" by João Galera, which illustrates dozens of old houses targeted by real estate speculation that constantly destroys and reconfigures the city of São Paulo. However, more important than the facades of historic houses, I think it's important to investigate the life and stories of resistance that traverse these spaces.

Gathered together this collection of accounts and records of 20 squats in Belo Horizonte may seem, to an outsider or someone unfamiliar with the struggles for housing and land, like part of a larger trend or a predominant model of urban occupation in the region. In reality, they are of a particular time and a specific scenario, inserted in a much broader context. Over 100,000 people live in almost 80 occupied spaces, including buildings, houses, and land, just in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte10 alone. When placed in that perspective, 20 old houses, with few more than a hundred occupants, represent a very small portion—far less than 1%—of the number of people living in squatted spaces in our city. However they represent a rare and noteworthy event, for their strength and achievements given such an unfavourable context. However, it is important to emphasise that the scenario of land struggles in which we find ourselves is much larger and more complex than this book can hope to encompass.

When we chose to depict old abandoned residential houses that have become squats or community centers, we left out other equally important related occupations. Like the Luiz Estrela Common Space, named after an emblematic street artist who mysteriously died in June 2013. The space was occupied in 2013, in the heat of the uprisings that swept the country that year against transportation costs, turning an old military hospital and children's sanatorium into a centre of anti-capitalist, anti-colonial culture and politics. It hosts a theater, a communal kitchen, a permacultural initiative, music, and much more.The Anita Santos occupation, started in 2018, when about 20 families occupied land owned by the state railway company. It was also organised by the MLP (Popular Liberation Movement), which runs actions with the Community Kitchen and distributes hundreds of free meals weekly in partnership with the Homeless Movement and the Street Pastoral. The MLP organises a dozen house and land occupations in Belo Horizonte and the surrounding region, including the 8-story squat called João e Maria in the municipality of Contagem. The Vicentão Occupation, which emerged in 2018 from the movements Brigadas Populares, Morada de Minas Gerais Association, the Association of Renters of Greater Belo Horizonte (Amabel), and the Intersindical, had 90 families. It was evicted in 2020, with the promise that residents would be entitled to assistance to pay rent; however, the agreement was never fulfilled, and many residents returned to the streets, joining those who occupied the houses depicted here, many of them organised with the MLP.

In the central region of the city, some large occupations stand out, such as Pátria Livre, which emerged in 2017 when 13 families from the Pedreira Prado Lopes, the oldest favela in BH, organised with the Workers' Movement for Rights (MTD) to occupy and create a housing and cultural centre in a warehouse and land, which even includes a popular bakery. The Carolina Maria de Jesus Occupation, organised by the Movement for Struggle in the Neighborhoods Villages and Favelas (MLB), started in a former public building on Avenida Afonso Pena and now houses 200 families in a 15-story building on Rua Rio de Janeiro, in the heart of the city. The MLB also organises the Maria do Arraial Occupation, on Rua da Bahia, occupied in 2023.

It is important to emphasise, however, that the largest occupations in terms of territory and inhabitants are not the vertical occupations of buildings in the central region, but the horizontal occupations of idle land that are occupied and become true neighbourhoods of the city, where movements and residents are responsible for urbanisation, opening roads, and building structures for sewage and electrical networks.

At the turn of the decade from 2000 to 2010, there was a trend to decrease the occupation of buildings in central areas and focus instead on occupying peripheral lands to avoid repression, relying on self-construction of properties by occupants, and creating new popular territories. Examples include the Camilo Torres Occupation, in 2008, in the Barreiro neighbourhood, housing 140 families. The Dandara occupation emerged in the Céu Azul neighbourhood in 2009, with 150 families taking direct action in the same year that the PT government created the "Minha Casa Minha Vida" popular housing program. Today, approximately 2,500 families reside in the area.

The Eliana Silva occupation, which emerged in 2012, remains active with 350 families organised by the MLB as well. When the occupation began, it was besieged by Military Police vehicles that prevented people, supplies, and medical aid from entering. After an attempted eviction the families resumed occupation on other land nearby. The authorities' attitude was evident when they refused to authorise a water connection to the area, only relenting when residents organised and hijacked a COPASA water company truck. Another significant land occupation, organised by the MLB, is the Paulo Freire Occupation, in the Barreiro neighbourhood. Occupied in 2015, it continues to house about 200 families. Near the central region, we should mention the Vila Fazendinha Occupation, initiated in 2019 by residents of Vila Esperança, a favela in the Calafate neighbourhood. About 30 families occupied unused state-owned land and quickly built houses, a garden, and space for horse breeding. Vila Fazendinha is organised with support from the Base Organization Movement (MOB-MG), a housing rights movement independent of political parties and other institutions. MOB has also been active since the beginning of the Guarani Kaiowá Occupation in 2013, in Contagem, very close to Belo Horizonte. It was another land occupation driven by the struggles of 2013.

Among other examples of occupations and land disputes in Belo Horizonte and the surrounding region, we end with the largest land conflict in the Americas: the occupation of the so-called Izidora Region, which also began in 2013, composed of the Esperança, Helena Grego, Rosa Leão, and Vitória occupations. Together, they consist of 8,000 families, totaling 28,000 people, spread over an area of about 10 square kilometres in the north of Belo Horizonte.

We cannot fail to mention the urban Quilombos (or Kilombos) (communities of peoples descended from African slaves), which constitute an important area in the struggle for territory to live, practise their culture, and their way of life. Belo Horizonte officially has five urban Quilombos: Manzo Ngunzo, Souza, Luízes, Mangueiras, Kaiango, and the Irmandade Os Carolinos.

* * *

Rua Santa Catarina, 435

The broad context of the struggle for housing, land, and territory in Brazil is as vast as the continental dimensions of the country and as old as the genocidal war that the Portuguese waged upon arriving on the Brazilian coast shaping the next 500 years of exclusion and extermination of indigenous and African peoples.

To focus solely on recent history, during the so-called "democratic" period, we note that the Landless Workers' Movement (MST) is still considered one of the largest social movements in the world. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2024, the movement boasts around 1.3 million members and settlers in territories organised by the movement11

The MST emerged at the end of the Brazilian Civil-Military Dictatorship (1964-1985) as part of a broad movement for democratisation and the guarantee of basic human rights. The right to housing was prominent in these movements. With the new Constitution of 1988, the "social function of property" was established by law, meaning its use for housing, food production, and the benefit of the community. Accumulating land for mere speculation became "a disrespect to the law," and occupying land to provide social use for people without land or housing was recognised as a right by the courts. This openness allowed the struggle through direct action of occupation to also succeed in legal disputes. This has positive effects on the strategies of movements from the early days of the MST to the struggles of squatters today.

However, the sanctity of private property remains alive and well paramount for a large portion of judges and lawmakers. Especially for the propertied classes and their henchmen within and outside the police force. The struggle for land in Brazil is extremely violent and claims the lives of dozens of peasants, environmentalists, quilombolas, and indigenous people annually. State intelligence agencies, such as ABIN, military schools, and their doctrines, have remained the same since the Dictatorship, preaching that "the enemy of Brazil is internal," meaning peasants, indigenous people, the homeless, and drug traffickers—if they are poor, black, and residents of the peripheries.

Thus, we celebrate this small documentation as a tiny part of a great struggle. Meanwhile, we will continue fighting, organising ourselves, building solidarity, and dreaming of an end to private property and its world order. ■


1 See:

2 On July 28, 2023, the MLB - Movement for Struggle in the Neighborhoods Villages and Favelas, organized an action with other movements in Belo Horizonte, such as MOB, Kasa Invisível, and MLP, which gave rise to the Maria do Arraial Occupation, at Rua da Bahia, 1065, named in honor of Dona Maria.

3 PUC Minas, Number of homeless families grows in Belo Horizonte:

4 Estado de Minas:The number of vacant properties in BH is 20 times the homeless population.,1516248/imoveis-vazios-equivalem-a-20-vezes-a-populacao-em-situacao-de-rua-em-bh.shtml

5 Approximately 3 million Brazilians do not have any civil documents, not even a birth certificate, and are completely invisible to the state, unable to access basic services such as healthcare. See:

6 100,000 residents in occupations in 2020:

7 With approximately 500,000 homeless families, MG is the 2nd with the largest deficit in Brazil.

8 Homeless population grows and reaches 11,000 in BH.

9 “From 15M to Podemos – The Regeneration of Spanish Democracy and the Maligned”

10 See the article “From Fireflies and Ants: the flickering, collective, and obstinate power of occupied Belo Horizonte” by Clarissa Campos in the book Casa Encantada.

11 Visit:

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