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Rio’s Olympic Makeover

Rio de Janeiro no longer wants its favelas.

Brazil is bustling in preparation to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, two international events in need of extensive  and expensive arrangements. In light of these events, many organizations are denouncing Rio’s municipality for what they consider to be a premeditated attempt to eradicate some of the city’s most embarrassing shantytowns.

Most recently, the tragic fire at the Santa Maria dance club, in which 237 people died, had caused Brasilia to postpone a 2014 World Cup ceremony. Several months prior a report published on April 25, 2012 by the organizing committees of The World Cup and the Olympic Games simultaneously addressed “the violation of human rights in the wake of the upcoming international events.”

“The way the Olympic project has unfolded reveals the reality of Rio, an increasingly unequal city which will see thousands of its families excluded from this project and entire communities completely taken off the map. Most of the events’ profits will end up benefiting only select socio-economic agents.”

In fact, in Rio, and elsewhere in Brazil, thousands of individuals will have to be relocated to make way for the necessary road and sports infrastructure needed to hold the two biggest sporting events worldwide. For example, the TransOlympica linking the Olympic Village to the rest of the Olympic arenas cuts right through a favela, a layout that could have been easily avoided according to many urban planners.

As a result of the massive clean-up taking place, thousands of families were displaced, mostly to the city’s north, where they were confined into precarious housing that was also too far from the city center, making it almost impossible for people to commute to work. Stripped from their original inhabitants and left in ruins, the favelas have become highly unstable playgrounds for drug traffickers.

Over the past few months, Brazilian urban planner Raquel Rolnik, UN rapporteur for the right to decent housing, has voiced her discontent over the issue. Her office had received eviction complaints coming from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Recife, Natal and Fortaleza. Rolnik confirmed that over 170,000 people were displaced, including 10,000 in Rio alone. Homes were demolished while their inhabitants were at work. According to the Spanish daily, Público, the international officer has asked the Brazilian government to initiate a dialogue with the affected communities.

Hence the question of who benefits from the committed social crimes. Well, it is primarily the city of Rio aiming to boost its image ahead of the two upcoming international events; events through which Brazil wants to maintain its standing as a global superpower. Rio is serving as the country’s showcase to a watching world.

Activist Maria de Graças explains that favelas are rapidly retreating from cities and areas with high property value, a pre-existing phenomenon in the pretext of “embellishing the cities for their anticipated visitors.”In fact, Brazilian cities, especially Rio and São Paulo, are being targeted by an unprecedented property speculation operation. Values of land previously occupied by favelas have gone through the roof, stirring up the interest of promoters from around the world. A swift implementation of construction plans is imperative to maximize the benefit from the economic opportunity that the Olympic Games represent.

With the world watching Rio closely, the city had done everything in it’s power to portray the image of “Cidade Maravilhosa” or the Amazing City. As a result, renovations and construction plans are being used to pull the public attention off of the thousands of Brazilians living in extreme poverty. The government’s attempts to clean up Brazil’s image have exposed an ugly underbelly – the country’s complete inability to resolve its staggering social problems.

– Paola Teulières, translated by Ali Hajali


(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works  David Schenfeld, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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  1. The government isn’t trying to eradicate anything. Quite the opposite, the approach is usually to integrate these communities which are often located at the very heart of the city. Favelas like Dona Marta or Vidigal have become landmarks of Rio; acclaimed, definitely not embarrassing. The whole spectrum of brazilian society is benefitting from the hosting of the World Cup and the Olympic Games, particularly the low and upcoming classes. The social problems have been tackled intelligently, since the last administration, reason why Dilma was elected and Lula ended his term with 85% approval rating. The idea of a Big Bad Government, similar to China’s, is too simplistic to describe Brazil’s dynamics. When it comes to brazilian politics, everything is much too complex and paradoxical.
    Another thing. No one in the big centers lives in extreme poverty. ‘Favelados’ own TVs, cars, often computers. Extreme Poverty exists in the rural areas, away from the cities, mostly in the North and Northeast regions. But these people won’t be affected by the TransOlímpica, that’s certain.

    • Dude, Have you ever been in a favela??!

      Poverty is not just about having a TV, it is also about being able to live in a safe place. I think this article definitely brings an interesting issue. You can’t longer deny that the government is getting rid of some of the favelas. If you really live in Rio you can clearly see that a lot of the favelas are being move to make space for new constructions. It is a fact, you can’t deny it. Plus, if you read the polls correctly you will see that Lula’s popularity comes from the countryside and also industrial cities, nothing to do with a city like Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, the so-called popularity of Lula, Dilma and the PT is not so great in Rio or Sao Paulo. So, yes I agree, Brazil has nothing to do with China but you have to admit there are still major challenges.

  2. FYI Lula and Dilma won in Rio in the last three presidential elections. Lula even won in São Paulo in ’02. Lula’s and Dilma’s Workers’ Party (PT) also elected one senator (out of two) in both SP and RJ states in the last elections, and won the congress battle electing a majority of 16 congressmen in SP and 5 in RJ, both with 3 points ahead of runner-up PSDB.
    http://veja.abril.com.br/multimidia/infograficos/eleicoes-2010-presidente (it’s all there, I’m guessing you speak portuguese)
    So the facts show that Dilma’s and Lula’s popularity is, indeed, very high in the big centers of the South East region.
    No one contested the fact that there are major challenges to be dealt with, including population displacement, but ‘eradicate’ is most definitely not the way to put it.
    Also, ‘Extreme poverty’ is a strictly financial term meaning a person who lives on less than US$ 1.25 a day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extreme_poverty
    So no, safety is not a factor.

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