The Disaster Is Already Here


Anarchists in Southern Brazil on the Floods of May 2024


In the first days of May 2024, the territory known as Rio Grande do Sul in so-called Brazil suffered the biggest climate catastrophe in its history. More than a week of intense rain caused several rivers to overflow, wrecking dozens of cities and destroying everything in their path, before flowing into the Guaíba River, causing the biggest flood ever recorded in the Greater Porto Alegre region. By June, 171 deaths had been confirmed. Thousands of people lost everything; 614,000 were rendered homeless; over two million were impacted. The force of the waters erased entire cities from the map. More than 90% of the industry of the state of Rio Grande do Sul was flooded.

This is the greatest economic and structural damage a climate event has ever caused in Brazil. Reckoning by the number of people affected and the material damage, the tragedy already surpasses the destruction that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans in 2005.

The state and the capitalist mode of production are directly responsible for the devastation of the planet. They have cut down forests to make way for cattle, monoculture, and mining, degrading the soil with urban expansion. They are producing more and more catastrophes like the one that struck Rio Grande do Sul. Amid all the horror, we see the complete failure of the ruling class to care for our lives and our environment.

The Municipality of Lajeado after the waters of the flood receded.

At the center of this tragedy, anarchists, Indigenous communities, quilombos, and social movements have been organizing solidarity efforts as they try to rebuild their lives and their territories—soliciting and distributing donations, calling for joint efforts for cleaning and reoccupying affected properties, and organizing new occupations of empty buildings to house those who lost their homes.

Here, we explore how capitalists and the state have taken advantage of the catastrophe and how grassroots movements have responded to it, and present an interview with anarchists impacted by the flooding.

If you are dismayed or inspired by what you read here, please considering supporting anarchists in southern Brazil here as they address the ongoing impact of the floods.

A video about the flood by the Antimídia collective.

The State

Whenever a “natural” disaster strikes, we see once again that the priority of the state has never been to protect our lives. For decades, the Brazilian government ignored warnings about the dangers of environmental destruction and climate change and failed to take effective measures to prevent catastrophes like this. On the contrary, it played an active role in the destruction—sometimes at a slower pace, sometimes devouring the land voraciously. This contempt for life and hatred of nature was blatant in Bolsonaro’s neo-fascist government. But even social democratic regimes, including progressive governments involving parties like the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party, or PT), contributed heavily to global warming, relying on the automotive industry, oil extraction, and other energy sources with a high environmental impact to boost economic growth. In 2015, during the tenure of the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, scientific reports warning that climate change would cause floods were shelved as “too alarmist.”

At the state and municipal levels, the government’s continuous negligence has an immediate impact on our lives. Despite threats from one weather system after another, the governor and mayor did not develop adequate evacuation plans or warnings. They did not even invest in the most minimal steps to protect the population. The current governor, Eduardo Leite (from the right-wing Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB), shredded the state’s environmental legislation in order to favor businesspeople and reduced investments in Civil Defense during his government. Confronted by journalists, Leite tried to justify this by claiming that “There are these studies that, in some way, warn, but the government also has other agendas.”

In Porto Alegre, the dam floodgates that protect the city failed due to lack of maintenance and closing errors. This became even more serious because the last administrations of Porto Alegre city hall had scrapped the DEP (Department of Storm Sewage), the body responsible for the system of dikes, floodgates and pumping stations that protect the capital of Rio Grande do Sul against floods, which imposed further demands on the DMAE (Municipal Department of Water and Sewage). According to experts, the city would not have flooded if the system had been properly maintained and managed.

Making matters worse, the mayor of Porto Alegre, Sebastião Melo, only decreed water rationing after 85% of the city was already without access to drinking water. The populations of some neighborhoods were only notified that the pumps that prevented the flooding of their homes had been turned off after the fact, giving them no time to evacuate.

The Impact of Capitalism

The capitalist mode of production is the cause of climate shifts that threaten all life on earth. At the same time, the corporations and executives that profit from it are doing very little to mitigate the suffering of the population. In this case, if anything, they have made the situation even worse.

The capitalists failed to keep the supermarkets that were still operating stocked. Since they were interested in making a quick profit on people’s despair, they allowed those with money to buy up all the available water and supplies. At the same time, dozens of stores were flooded while they were still filled with food, water bottles, and other essential items for the population, which had been locked inside under the protection of police and security guards armed with rifles—who had formed paramilitary groups to prevent hungry people from accessing food or other resources destined to rot in water. The corporations and the state were more interested in protecting these goods than saving the lives of those who needed them, even if the items were bound to be discarded and compensated for by insurance companies.

A civil police officer shoots in the direction of a person suspected of looting a supermarket in Porto Alegre.

While people volunteered to rescue tens of thousands of dogs, cats, and horses from rooftops and organized spaces to welcome them with veterinary care and food, pet stores abandoned fish, birds, and mammals in their cages inside flooded facilities, while moving electronics to safety. Animals sold as objects were abandoned to drown, highlighting the logic of this system: for capitalists, life is just another commodity to be compensated for by the insurance company.

The little support that big companies offered was derisory. Grendene, one of the world ‘s largest footwear producers, suggested that its workers should donate items from their own food baskets to people affected by the flood.

The beverage industry Ambev, the largest brewery in the world—which turns an annual profit equivalent to twice the budget of the city of Porto Alegre—packaged drinking water in aluminum cans—more of a marketing campaign than a form of real solidarity.

Federação das Indústrias do Rio Grande do Sul (FIERGS), an entity that represents industries in Rio Grande do Sul, asked the federal government for R$100 billion (US$20 billion) in aid for companies affected by the flood. When businesspeople talk about “small government,” it is only where that concerns the interests of ordinary people. When it comes to defending the interests of the elite, they want a massive state.

Defenders of capitalism praised the actions of billionaires and businesspeople who donated paltry portions of their fortunes to help flood victims. This is when the good deeds were not complete lies, like the image that would show a helicopter belonging to billionaire Luciano Hang rescuing stranded people, which was actually an image generated by artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, ordinary people, including some who lost everything, were much more supportive and willing to help, donating proportionally much more of their resources than the super-rich. A live show by a rock band raised more money than the donations that the United States government and egocentric billionaire Elon Musk sent to Rio Grande do Sul, all combined.

Not to mention that capitalists profited directly from the catastrophe, such as the large supermarkets that sold all their stocks of bottled water to desperate people, often at abusive prices, and still had record sales with the generosity of ordinary people who bought items for donate to those who lost everything. And they will continue to profit while the people affected and those who sympathize with them are fighting to rebuild what was lost.

Grassroots Mutual Aid

Solidarity between those impacted by the disaster has proved essential for survival. Without it, the situation would have gotten much worse. Yet the city of Porto Alegre tried to hinder volunteer groups that organized donation centers and ran mutual aid hubs for weeks—the authorities made agreements with the property owners so that they could take over the operations, excluding and criminalizing the volunteers who had been organizing them up to that point. In another case, on May 20, the Military Police seized a truck that people were using to distribute food to those affected by the floods. Not coincidentally, the truck was from Cozinha Solidária da Azenha (the Azenha Solidarity Kitchen in Porto Alegre), linked to the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST). The police claimed that the truck was unlicensed, but it was not possible to obtain licensing as the systems were down throughout the state due to the effects the rains.

In the vast majority of neighborhoods, assisting those impacted by the flood was left up to the community itself and other volunteer groups that worked together to guarantee supplies of water, food, and warm clothing. This was the case for incarcerated people isolated in prisons in the region, who were left with no access to water, food, or hygiene items. It was left up to families—who were also affected by the floods—to organize to take them these basic items.

The Azenha Solidarity Kitchen, organized by the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) in Porto Alegre.

In Porto Alegre’s Sarandi neighborhood, the Quilombo dos Machado organized these operations for weeks with the support of other urban quilombos in the city, without any assistance from the state. As Luiz Machado, a resident of the Quilombo dos Machado, said,

this welcoming that the state should be doing, we—the community—are doing for ourselves.

When the Quilombo community asked Governor Eduardo Leite of the PSDB for help, he responded that “the state and public authorities do not have the structure to cover all spots”.

The governor’s words reveal a Brazilian form of necropolitics and environmental racism: a system designed to fulfill the economic demands of the rich, guaranteeing profits and votes rather than allocating resources to save lives—especially the lives of the poor, Black, and Indigenous, the demographics most affected by the floods. This is not just a question of inaction or failure. These situations are part of an ongoing extermination project.

A call for donations for anarchist and autonomous occupations affected by the floods in Porto Alegre.

After the Catastrophe: Direct Action

Municipal and state governments are building temporary cities for the tens of thousands of displaced people to live in until their neighborhoods are rebuilt or new housing is built elsewhere. But this is unnecessary; it only wastes materials and energy. In Porto Alegre alone, there are more than 100,000 empty homes already. Fully 30% of the homes in the city center are unoccupied. That’s ten times more than the total number of temporary homes planned. This is simply another way to channel funds to construction companies while politicians seek popularity through populist measures that do not touch the roots of suffering and inequality. Worse, it is an attempt to move the poor and Black population away from areas that the government and the construction companies covet, in order to pave the way for construction companies and other predatory projects to appropriate people’s homes.

New building occupations are emerging in response to the problem of homelessness. An autonomous movement of homeless people occupied an old abandoned hotel in the center of Porto Alegre in order to house 45 families. The National Movement for the Fight for Housing (MNLN) occupied another building, now called Ocupação Rexistência, dedicated to housing dozens of families of people affected by the current crisis. Members of the movement emphasize that they do not want the construction of a “temporary city” for affected families, but rather that empty properties be immediately used for housing. On June 8, the MTST occupied an abandoned 25-story building owned by the National Social Security Institute (INSS), also in Porto Alegre, to shelter families left homeless by the floods. Social movements employing direct action have been more efficient than governments when it comes to sheltering the 160,000 people who lost their homes.

For politicians and businesspeople, rebuilding the city is an opportunity to make a profit. Massive amounts of materials are needed to rebuild infrastructure and homes destroyed by water, and capitalists will profit by producing and selling these materials. Companies will compete hastily placed bids. And, as always occurs here when the government works directly with capitalists, there will be delays, corruption, overpricing, misappropriation of funds, favoritism.

Let’s not deceive ourselves—no government is going to attack capitalism. That goes for supposedly left-wing governments like the federal government of the PT too. No matter which party rules, be it the center-left PT or the lunatic far-right of Bolsonaro, the Brazilian state is structured to enrich an elite, bargaining away the future of life on this planet in exchange for power.

This Is No Natural Disaster

So the tragedy that devastated the territory occupied by the state of Rio Grande do Sul was not simply an inevitable natural disaster. This is just the latest in a series of extreme climate events that are happening with increasing frequency and intensity as a result of decades of destruction and exploitation of the planet, as the authorities ignore warnings from scientists and repress the self-determination and resistance of social movements and traditional peoples in the name of economic growth. In this brutal system, the state and capitalism converge to plunder the land and exploit our bodies while preventing measures that could reduce the impacts of these events on our lives.

These are the local consequences of a global problem. The same system that causes floods in Rio Grande do Sul causes fires in the Pantanal and the Amazon; it promotes genocide in Gaza to control natural gas reserves and oppresses students who rise up to stop that massacre; it contaminates water, violates Indigenous territories, and sinks entire neighborhoods to extract coveted minerals from the earth. It destroys forests, oceans, mountains, and deserts to guarantee profit for a handful of people while condemning billions to misery.

If, on the one hand, the politicians and capitalists have shown once again that they are not concerned with the well-being of the population, on the other hand, we see that solidarity still emerges spontaneously and we are capable of supporting each other, even overcoming serious ideological differences.

Thousands of people took the initiative to organize rescues with their own resources, risking their lives to save others, human or not. People have created shelters and support points including donation distribution centers and solidarity kitchens; every day, these produce thousands of lunch boxes for the displaced, which are transported by volunteer drivers. All this is maintained by a massive network of solidarity, extending outside the regions affected by the disaster, spreading throughout the territory occupied by the Brazilian state and other countries as well.

When the disaster struck, the majority of the population quickly set aside meritocracy and individualism and dedicated their time to helping other people, never asking whether they deserved that help, never expecting a reward for it. People paid out of their own pockets to ensure that others had something to wear and something to eat. In the midst of the catastrophe, many people had the chance to realize that we are all in this together and that money is of little help when there is no more water to sell on the market.

Capitalists and the state will do everything in their power to take over and centralize self-organized solidarity actions, whether by forcibly seizing control of operations, requisitioning properties, coercing people to return to their jobs, or institutionalizing the aid organizations that remain. Our self-organization and unrestricted solidarity are a real threat, as government and capitalism depend on our disunity and our indifference to others’ suffering.

We need to continue mobilizing and coordinating if we are to prevent capitalists from using this catastrophe and ones to come to advance their destructive projects. It is up to us to organize ourselves to occupy abandoned properties and ensure that they are used for the benefit of our communities. Make sure church buildings are used to support people in need and not to spread hate and intolerance. Fight so that no one profits from the tragedy, so that resources are distributed to those in need. If we are forced to rebuild our lives and our cities, let’s make sure we build something better, something fairer.

If what is called humanity has a future, that future will be collective. Otherwise, it simply won’t be at all.

Interview: Okupa dos Mil Povos

Okupa dos Mil Povos is a squat with almost twenty years of history in Porto Alegre. Located in one of the neighborhoods most affected by the flood, the territory was submerged for 24 days. Among the inhabitants are children, dogs, and cats. They still suffer from the effects of the water, mud, oils and chemicals that remained after the flood, in addition to the effects of the high-impact cleaning products needed to restore the space.

In this brief interview, we spoke with participants in the occupation about the solidarity work and fundraising to recover the space and resume life after the tragedy—now that climate catastrophes are no longer a future threat, but part of the present experience of surviving capitalism.

A discussion during an event at Okupa dos Mil Povos.

Tell us a little about the Okupa dos Mil Povos and how the May floods affected the space.

The Território Okupa dos Mil Povos was born as an autonomous collective at the beginning of 2021. Comprised of several people from different parts of the world, this anarchic collective emerged within a squat that started in 2005 when people expropriated capitalist real estate speculators to build a real alternative to the inert life of prevailing neoliberalism. In these few years of life as a collective, the collective has given free rein to the accumulation of knowledge that the Anarkopunk Movement built over decades, also following the rebellious and combative heritage of many generations of anarchists who gave their lives to build the present struggle that we carry out today through self-organization and direct action. We have been an active part of the Teia dos Povos (Web of The Peoples) in struggle in Rio Grande do Sul, creating and maintaining a forum for the dissemination of theoretical and graphic material for two years, bringing people closer to the ideas of autonomy of the Web that is expanding throughout Brazil.

Together with Indigenous and quilombola villages, we built the 5th People’s Assembly in 2022; we carried out health days with Warao Indigenous people who immigrated from Venezuela; we held raffles and sold screen-printed t-shirts to finance the healing and prayer house for the Kaingang community in the reclaimed Indigenous land in Canela, Serra Gaúcha—not to mention many construction days, vegetable gardens, murals (2022), conversations, and discussions. We were part of a propaganda and mural-painting collective that met at the Ateneu Batalha da Várzea (2021-2022). In this social center, in 2022, our collective held a series of discussions about the struggles in Latin America that we call “Latin America in Flames,” that drew participants from Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile.

We held open calls for street demonstrations, in support of the Colombian people in 2021 and denouncing the persecution and disappearance of Yanomami Indigenous people in 2022. We visited, accompanied, and promoted the recovery of ancestral territories alongside Kaingang, Xokleng, and Guarani Indigenous peoples. We wrote on the walls of the city of Porto Alegre a thousand times, day and night, during demonstrations or in the dark of night.

The May floods only confirm that the fight against capitalism and governments around the world is increasingly essential and vital. Our house, along with the community space, was underwater, under mud, chemicals, and contaminating oils, for more than twenty days. We will continue cleaning and we will continue building autonomy and anarchic popular rebellion, without leaders or parties, until we destroy the last pillar of prison society.

A glimpse of the Okupa dos Mil Povos, “Occupied Territory of a Thousand Peoples.”

How have mutual support actions been organized, one month after the floods?

Now, after the first month since the flood, there is no way of donating left that is not institutionalized or bureaucratized with social and personal records. In this context, it is very difficult for us to raise funds from these platforms. Our only inflows of money, so to speak, are from supportive companions and people we know who know about our situation and help us with something. We are still in great need of basic things like beds, a proper kitchen, and refrigerators. These are things that we do not have access to due to lack of economic resources; with our jobs we cannot cover the costs of things like these. In the beginning, lots of help arrived and, although it was not enough in the face of everything we lost, we were very happy to feel and see the mutual support of people, especially from anarchic circles, which is where solidarity is most seen in a moment of loss like this.

We also see a consistency in the generation and accumulation of data by most NGOs and delivery institutions.

Which occupations were affected and how has the collaboration been between radical social centers, occupations, and other movements?

In Porto Alegre, there are several squats with left-wing tendencies, all very different from each other, and others that are also anarchist, with queer/gender dissent and the like. In our experience as a house, I believe that support between these centers has been almost zero—it is sad but true. There is a social center that made a bridge between these anarchist spaces: the “Esp(A)ço” ran a big campaign where they managed to buy some collective tools which, in a sense, was the link to a minimum of dialogue and communication. It is important to note that personal relationships of affinity also involve this flow of communication that is not so visible, but exists. At the end of the day, we all know how our companions from other spaces are doing through this sort of word of mouth.

Other donation delivery channels are usually very limited and precarious, as well as bureaucratic. In general, we receive little and dedicate ourselves to contributing to other spaces of resistance, despite not being so close in terms of thought and action. We see the urgency of the need for minimal coordination of anarchic spaces and also in the construction of horizontal collective bodies.

A glimpse of the Okupa dos Mil Povos.

How can people from outside Rio Grande do Sul—and also from outside Brazil—help with the reconstruction work in occupations in Porto Alegre?

To answer the last question, we would like to say that we see anarchist solidarity from several points of view.

The first is material: without a doubt, this is often urgent for daily life and subsistence. In this sense, we still have open channels to receive support from anywhere on the planet.

We believe that combative solidarity is also very important. Continuing to strengthen the frontal struggle against all power structures is part of the tool called solidarity.

Another important dimension we see is communication beyond Instagram or Facebook. Direct conversation is important to bring different realities closer together and generate future affinities.

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who still believes that anarchy is possible, that building it is a daily task, everyone who strives to live their ideas of freedom more concretely every day!

An embrace for everyone!

From the occupied territory of los thousand pueblos,

June 8, 2024, Porto Alegre

-Organized individualities and anarchic collective of los thousand pueblos

A satellite image shows the flooding in Porto Alegre on May 6.