How the City Moved to…


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Favela, Rio de Janeiro, photo Neville Mars

The New York Times featured an article about the Rio Olympics today, that looks amazingly recognizable: just replace the name ‘Rio’ for ‘Beijing’, and change ‘favela‘ for ‘hutong‘ and you have the story about what happened downtown Beijing between 2002 and 2008:

“The authorities think progress is demolishing our community just so they can host the Olympics for a few weeks,” said Cenira dos Santos, 44, who owns a home in the settlement, which is known as Vila Autódromo. “But we’ve shocked them by resisting.”

For many Brazilians, holding the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics on Brazilian soil is the ultimate expression of the nation’s elevation on the world stage, and the events are perfect symbols of its newfound economic prowess and international standing.

Sports and evictions is a popular combination: the same happened in South Africa two years ago when people from Townships in Capetown were removed to the ‘relocation area’ of Blikkies Dorp (literally: Tin can Town). The Guardian about this ‘relocation area’:

“It’s a dumping place,” said Jane Roberts, who lives in the sparsely furnished structure known as M49. “They took people from the streets because they don’t want them in the city for the World Cup. Now we are living in a concentration camp.” (..)

Campaigners argue that this bleak place in Delft township shows that Africa’s first World Cup has become a tool to impress wealthy foreigners at the expense of its own impoverished people. Residents say it is worse than the townships created by the white minority government before the end of racial apartheid in 1994.

The same sort of phenomena seems to take place in Rio now:

“These events were supposed to celebrate Brazil’s accomplishments, but the opposite is happening,” said Christopher Gaffney, a professor at Rio’s Fluminense Federal University. “We’re seeing an insidious pattern of trampling on the rights of the poor and cost overruns that are a nightmare.”

Estimations are that in Brazil, 170,000 people face evictions. And the way these evictions take place, are also remarkably recognizable..:

In São José dos Campos, an industrial city, a violent eviction in January of more than 6,000 people captured the nation’s attention when security forces stormed in, clashing with squatters armed with wooden clubs.

Although there are similarities between these huge sports events that are used as a legitimation to remove large residential ares, there are also differences between the examples of Rio and Beijing:

Meanwhile, residents in some of the favelas, or slums, who face eviction are pulling together and standing their ground, in stark contrast to the preparations for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where authorities easily removed hundreds of thousands of families from the city for the Games.

Favela residents are using handheld video cameras and social media to get their messages across. And they are sometimes getting a helping hand from Brazil’s vibrant and crusading news media, arguably the envy of other Latin American countries.

Four more years till the Olympic Torch will be carried into the stadium. To be continued..

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