This post, written by Thiana Biondo, was originally published on Global Voices Online, a website that translates and reports on blogs from around the world. See the original post here: “Brazil: Communities in Rio Blame Olympics for Evictions.” To read more about forced evictions taking place in Brazil and learn about WITNESS’ work on the issue, see these recent posts by Priscila Néri: “Interview: Brazilian NGO CONAM on Resisting Evictions” and “Brazil: Megaevents and Forced 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.
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 uploaded by the non-governmental organisation RioOnWatch.org via Youtube explains the case:
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.
People have also complained about the violence on social microblogging site Twitter:
…Ontem moradores da #VILAHARMONIA no RECREIO estavam apreensivos, devido a ordem de despejo com direito a tropa de choque e tudo!…
….Yesterday residents of the #VILAHARMONIA in RECREIO were apprehensive because of the eviction order which came together with riot control troops and everything!
A SMH do @bittarpt vai se responsabilizar pelos danos causados a moradora removida que acaba de sofrer um AVC? #vilaharmonia
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.