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Brazil: Communities in Rio Blame Olympics for Evictions

Communities in the West Zone (Zona Oeste) of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil have been earmarked for eviction and removal by the City Hall in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. Recently, at least two of them, ‘Vila Harmonia’ and ‘Vila Autódromo', have witnessed the presence of tractors, government staff and police.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, prepares for to host the 2016 Olympics, but at what cost to local communities? Image by Flickr user JorgeBRAZIL (CC BY 2.0).

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, prepares for to host the 2016 Olympics, but at what cost to local communities? Image by Flickr user JorgeBRAZIL (CC BY 2.0).

According to Brazilian citizen media, the removals are taking place forcibly and in many cases are illegal. Small businesses affected have not received any compensation and home owners are likely to get paid less money than their houses are worth.

On the top of that, the authorities have not complied with the Lei Orgânica do Município [pt] (municipal law) regulations, which state that communities should only be removed if people's lives are at risk.

A video on Youtube uploaded by RioOnWatch.org , a communal blog created by the non-government organization Catalytic Communities, explains the case:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDEPEOErtpI&feature=autoplay&list=ULvnRra-NpS18&index=2&playnext=1

Consciência.net [pt] live-reported the eviction that took place in ‘Vila Harmonia” on February 24, 2011:

Neste momento, a guarda municipal impede que moradores saiam e entrem na comunidade, já que colocou um cordão de isolamento em frente a casa de um moradora, que fica no meio da localidade. Há notícias de que duas pessoas foram ilegalmente presas e não se sabe para onde foram levadas.

At this moment, the municipal guard is preventing residents from leaving and entering the community, as they have thrown a cordon in front of the house of a resident which is in the middle of the neighborhood. There are reports that two people have been illegally arrested and nobody knows where they have been taken.

‘Burden’ Communities

People have also complained about the violence on social microblogging site Twitter:

@Branquela_nago
…Ontem moradores da #VILAHARMONIA no RECREIO estavam apreensivos, devido a ordem de despejo com direito a tropa de choque e tudo!…

@Branquela_nago
….Yesterday residents of the #VILAHARMONIA in RECREIO were apprehensive because of the eviction order which came together with riot control troops and everything!

@ddornellas
A SMH do @bittarpt vai se responsabilizar pelos danos causados a moradora removida que acaba de sofrer um AVC? #vilaharmonia

@ddornellas
Will the Housing Department run by @bittarpt be responsible for damages caused to an evicted resident who has just suffered a stroke? #vilaharmonia

The issue has made the blog Movimento dos Trabalhadores Desempregados (Unemployed Workers Movement) [pt] wonder about the benefits of the 2016 Olympics:

Estranho que as comunidades mais antigas e mais pobres das regiões afetadas (como a área do Recreio, Barra e Jacarepaguá), ao invés de serem vistas como o alvo principal de possíveis benefícios desses projetos, são vistas apenas como “estorvo”, como obstáculos à especulação imobiliárias e à segregação urbana que tais projetos estimulam!

Neste momento mesmo, um imenso aparato da Prefeitura (guarda municipal e funcionários das secretarias de obras e habitação), do Estado (polícia militar e bombeiros) e da construtora Odebrecht (contratante da Transoeste e uma das principais beneficiárias dos contratos relacionados aos jogos) acabou de demolir uma casa na comunidade Vila Harmonia e avança agora sobre um terreiro de candomblé que ali existe há décadas.

It is weird that instead of being seen as a major target for the benefits [of the Olympic Game] the most traditional and poorest communities in those affected areas, such as Recreio, Barra and Jacarepaguá regions, are seen only as a ‘burden', as an obstacle to the real estate speculation and urban segregation that such projects encourage!

At this very moment, massive force applied by the City Hall (municipal police and staff of the departments of engineering work and of housing), by the state government (military police and firefighters) and by the construction company Odebrecht (contractors of the ‘Transoeste’ road project and a major beneficiary of the 2016 Olympics contracts), has just resulted in the demolition of a house in the community of ‘Vila Harmonia’ and they are now heading towards a candomblé [Afro-Brazilian religious] temple which has been there for decades.

Shaping the Olympic Legacy

Injunctions against the evictions in ‘Vila Harmonia’ were suspended last week and so was the injunction protecting the ‘Vila Autódromo’ community. As a consequence, a formal letter of complaint was sent to the Organization of the American States (OAS). The communities have been relying on public legal aid to avoid the eviction, but it seems that the legal battles have been lost.

The city planner and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Ronik [pt], suggests that rather than being removed, the ‘Vilas’ concerned should be urbanized:

(…) a Justiça autoriza as remoções, sem compromisso com uma solução habitacional que respeite o direito à moradia adequada da população que será atingida.

Desde os Jogos Panamericanos a comunidade da Vila Autódromo vem resistindo às ameaças de remoção. O fato é que ela está localizada na área onde será implantado o projeto olímpico, assim como ações de urbanização e reestruturação imobiliária. Para os interesses empresarias envolvidos na construção e remodelamento da região, as comunidades precisam ser removidas porque elas representam um empecilho à “limpeza” da área.

(…) The Tribunal authorizes the removal without taking into account a housing solution for the given population who has the right to adequate homes.

Since the Pan American Games (2007), the community of ‘Vila Autódromo’ has resisted the eviction threats. The point is that they are located in an area where the Olympic project will be implemented, as well as urbanization and real estate restructuring works. For the business interests involved with the development and region re-shape, the communities need to be removed because they are a barrier to the “cleanliness” of the area.

The reason behind the evictions and removal of Vila Harmonia and Vila Autódromo is an infrastructural project called ‘Transoeste’ [pt], which will account for 56 kilometers of road extension and a new bus service worth R$ 800 million (approximately US$480 million).

Ironically, the Transparência Olímpica [pt] website set up by Rio City Hall to monitor the expenditure and legacy of the Olympic Games boasts of the Transoeste project leaving an excellent social and economical legacy. But these communities facing eviction and removal have an altogether different perspective.

The social movement Mundo Real (Real World) criticizes sports mega-events in a whole:

Mega-events like the Olympics always involve displacements, evictions and gentrification, sometimes on a massive scale. This occurs as cities attempt to remove of all visible signs of poverty (or anything else deemed ugly) from areas in and around the event venues, hotels and tourist attractions. Fifa and the IOC hold host cities highly accountable in guaranteeing adequate transportation and hotel infrastructure, as well as security. In cities like Rio this translates to massive forced evictions and shipping thousands of poor families and the homeless off to far removed areas. According to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) The Olympic Games alone have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, mostly the homeless, the poor and minorities.

  • http://www.solanasaurus.com/ Solana Larsen

    So unfair :-(

  • http://thianabiondo.multiply.com Thiana Biondo

    And one of the worst thing is the discourse about olympic legacy, fair play and peoples integration! It is not for real! Just empty and marketing strategy! The movement of the Olympic Games let me down!

    • Joan Grant

      Its pretty much the same in London, though perhaps a bit less brutal. They moved small local businesses out of the area earmarked for the Olympics. They cleared away allottments that had been there for a hundred years. So far they have not created that many jobs for local people. It remains to be seen, how much benefit (jobs, housing etc) remains for local people once the games are over.

  • http://blog.witness.org Priscila Néri

    Thiana, thanks so much for posting this. We at WITNESS.org are also working on megaevents x forced evictions in Brazil and are facing similar challenges as the ones you raise (discourse of the so-called “public legacy” and “greater good” to name a few…). As one South African professor put it, campaigning against the World Cup in Brazil is like campaigning against Santa Claus during Christmas—it’s hard! But civil society is definitely getting organized and mobilizing to fight back and resist – the videos RioOnWatch and others have made have been great tools to explain the context and call for action to stop forced evictions. Raquel Rolnik, the Fórum Nacional da Reforma Urbana, the Rede sobre Megaeventos, and other networks and communities have also been speaking out about the injustice of megaevents that socialize the costs but privatize the benefits (i.e. taxpayers pay the bill while very few reap the economic/social rewards)… It’s great that Global Voices and others are helping bring attention to the resistance happening on the ground–Priscila
    (PS- last November we blogged about a strategy session on megaevents and forced evictions – you can read it here if interested: http://blog.witness.org/2010/11/brazil-megaevents-and-forced-evictions/)

  • lana

    hi. my name is lana schissel and im a masters student at the university of miami. my masters thesis focuses on how the urban preparations of rio for the olympics are going to effect the lives of residents.
    in my research, i was disheartened by the processes that i anticipated would happen in rio– forced evacuations, the “cleaning of the city”, marginalization, an even more severe concentration of wealth, and limited access to the benefits of capital accumulation that accompany tourist events like the olympics.
    because of this, i am started a website similar to seeclickfix.com, that we have here in the states. the purpose of the website is to have citizens be able to dialogue with local leaders, politicians, and olympic stake-holders, who have a vested interest in public support– the intention of the website is to act as a social networking site for citizens located in the 4 olympic zones, in the hope that through this dialogue, citizens will given access to olympic infrastructure funds, in an effort to expedite anything from community projects to insufficient street-lights. the long term expectation of this website is to encourage a culture of civic participation, and a new understanding of the hegemonic regimes that will be governing brazil for the next 5 years.
    i feel like people reading this blog are concerned with these type of issues, and would be at least interested in the potential of a website like this.
    please contact me if you are interested in getting involved with the project: lana schissel : sschisse@yahoo.com

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  • http://rioonwatch.org Christa

    Help us bring international visibility to this issue. Please read and share the following link regarding Vila Autódromo’s recent win in court. This is big news for favelas facing threat of forced evictions!

    http://rioonwatch.org/?p=2805

    Obrigada!
    Christa

    • http://thianabiondo.multiply.com Thiana Biondo

      Hi Christa,

      Thank you for sharing the good news. I am glad that at least one battle has been won by a local community. I will definitely suggest the topic to our writers!

      Abraços,

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