US writer slams Brazil's 'monuments of poverty'

The National Congress building can be seen from the mast of the National Flag, at the square of the three powers in Brasilia, Brazil.

RIO DE JANEIRO - With its bold Oscar Niemeyer-designed monuments, the city of Brasilia symbolizes Brazil's frenetic modernization of recent decades.

But efforts to expand an ultra-modernist design template to historic cities such as Recife, where locals are battling developers' plans to add 12 skyscrapers to the coastal city's skyline, are being met with growing fury.

US author and literary critic Benjamin Moser added his voice Sunday to the protests, telling the Globo newspaper he felt giant projects on a Niemeyer scale should be rejected.

"His architecture is an offence to Brazil. Only he could have made a park without a tree in it as in Recife.

"The concreting over of Brazil, or Recife, is a declaration of hatred to the country," said Moser, primarily known in Brazil as the biographer of Ukrainian-Brazilian author Clarice Lispector.

Niemeyer, who died two years ago aged 104, conjured Brasilia from almost nothing as Brazil moved its capital in 1960 from Rio de Janeiro.

Moser is not alone in feeling revulsion at the planned transformation of Recife, capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco and a city which, unlike Brasilia, has history as the capital of 17th century Dutch Brazil, its old town retaining vintage colonial-era architecture.

Many residents are aghast at plans to construct a dozen huge tower blocks as part of a "New Recife Project."

Even as the city - where tens of thousands live in slums - hosted World Cup action earlier this year, police were cracking down on rights activists and artists occupying the proposed site in protest at the planned high-rise development.

Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to remove protesters from the area sold by local authorities to private developers.

Some leftist lawmakers have slammed the development as simply a vehicle to allow the construction firms to benefit from property speculation.

Moser says the Recife development sickens him.

"When I see this New Recife Project I see a country which hates itself. Such projects try to be symbols of riches. Instead they are monuments of poverty. This is not about ending poverty but making it less visible," the Netherlands-based writer said.

Protesters say City Hall did not go through proper planning channels in waving through a deal sealing off public land for a luxury development residents say will only benefit the wealthy.