Guilherme Boulos is the leader of the homeless movement (MTST) in the megalopolis of São Paulo, a city with more than 20 million inhabitants. The homeless campaign, which has organized successful protests in defense of squatting in the city, plows a middle course between Workers’ Party (PT) loyalists and ultra-leftists who deny even the most obvious achievements of the Lula years. The movement has fought the anti-PT right (sometimes physically in the streets) while mobilizing the homeless against the austerity policies implemented by President Dilma Rousseff. Born in São Paulo in 1982, Boulos graduated with a degree in philosophy at the state university of the same city, where he became a student leader. Juca Kfouri, a columnist at Folha de São Paulo, describes Boulos as “the only person on the Brazilian left who can get 17,000 people on to the streets at the drop of a hat.” Boulos spoke to The Nation in a cafe in downtown São Paulo before heading off for a meeting with PT councilors in the town hall next door.
Andy Robinson: The PT base, [PT leader] Rui Falcão, and even [former PT leader and Brazilian President] Lula [da Silva] have stated their disagreement with the adjustment program. Do you think there may be a change of policy?
Guilherme Boulos: No. There is no indication that Dilma will change. With each new wave of pressure from the financial markets, the government yields. Economic policy is hostage to the market and the new right. It makes no sense, but there it is. The social cost is very high and, moreover, the austerity has annihilated tax revenues, so we’ll have a bigger deficit. The interest rate is very high and we are paying this on public debt. It’s suicide.
AR: Are members of your movement feeling the pinch?
GB: Of course. In 2009 the PT launched the most ambitious public housing program in the country’s history, Minha Casa Minha Vida [“My House My Life”]. It had many contradictions and we have criticized it, but it was a big investment in public housing. The program is paralyzed. In 2015 they have not built a single new home. This is generating turmoil and deepening the social crisis.
AR: So that’s why you’re able to mobilize so many people?
GB: Yes. The struggle of the homeless has gained support because of a deepening urban crisis. Government policies were based on a model of providing house-building loans. In 2004, loans to construction companies amounted to 5 billion reals [then around 2 billion US dollars]. In 2014 they reached 102 billion reals, an increase of 2,000 percent. At the same time, the price of housing in São Paulo has risen by 212 percent in eight years and in Rio by 260 percent. This translates into the expulsion of tens of thousands of people. Rents have exploded. The city floor has turned to gold with this urban gentrification. The World Cup and the Olympic Games have exacerbated the housing problem. Even after adding 3 million public homes to the supply, prices are still going up. Brazil is now a machine that creates homelessness.
AR: Do you think the movement can lead a campaign to push government policy in a different direction?