With the end of the Olympics in London, the world’s attention has turned to Rio 2016. Negative news stories have already started spilling out of Brazilian borders into the world’s media pages. Will transport be efficiently modernised, violence be successfully tackled, deprived areas be thoroughly refashioned?
Facing the brunt of this scrutiny, Rio de Janeiro’s historic favelas are consequently being sanitised and uprooted to create tourist-friendly zones. Numerous residents are confronting unwanted and unforeseen eviction from their homes. In addition to this Yves Prigent, the head of Amnesty International’s Fight Against Poverty Programme, corroborated that security forces are imposing such evictions without the proposal of alternative housing options. As a result, victims are often left little alternative than to occupy substandard properties.
Denied the right to community wide negotiations…
Such stories are arising from all across the city. Even Morro da Providência, Rio’s very first favela, is facing serious challenges and threats. Established by dispossessed veterans of the Canudos War some 115 years ago and then further populated by freed slaves, Morro da Providência is a strong symbol of community life. Residents here and in other such favelas have had little indication of their eviction, other than a spray-painted tattoo of a serial number and SMH: the initials of the municipal housing authority. 30 per cent of the community has already been earmarked for removal, but of those few are privy to when or how this process will come about.
Authorities have painted this as a necessary measure to rejuvenate the area. The regeneration plans, which by mid-2013 will have invested some $65 million in the vicinity, boast the building of a luxury cable car that is designed to ferry 1,000 to 3,000 people per hour during the Olympics. Whether this project will in fact provide benefits to local residents though is questioned both by activists and locals. Denied the right to community wide negotiations, inhabitants are being robbed of any opportunity to influence the changes being proposed and imposed from outside.
…the least empowered, the most easily silenced and overpowered of Brazilian society.
Socialising programmes such as the introduction of Pacifying Police Units have also invoked much controversy. For instance they have been very limited in scope, focusing namely on favelas in tourist areas, or those near World Cup or Olympic sporting venues. Though crime rates in these districts have indeed decreased, to many, these schemes are little more than short-term solutions that are failing to tackle the roots of poverty and gang culture. Criminal groups and drug traffickers are said to be simply moving their business from pacified zones to favelas over the bay from Rio.
Historically, all across the world, social cleansing and street sweeps have preceded the Olympics. Rio, however, does not only face the reallocation of its poor to the peripheries of the city but confronts the expunging of a whole way of life. The favela is the foundation of an entire socio-economic structure and a psychology of co-dependence, community and cooperation. Those facing eviction are the least empowered, the most easily silenced and overpowered of Brazilian society. Communities that were built upon struggle are now fighting a city authority, a national government and the IOC but sadly this is very likely to be a losing battle.