Thu, Jun 11, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Slum resists eviction for Olympics

AP, RIO DE JANEIRO

A Vila Autodromo slum resident picks up her clothes in front of the construction site for the Rio 2016 Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

The Olympic Park for next year’s Olympic Games is going up in one of Rio’s wealthiest areas, and real estate prices are soaring even as Brazil enters a recession.

Smack up against the rising girders, on the far edge of the Olympic venue, sits a “favela,” a slum, called Vila Autodromo. Most of the houses and businesses there have been bulldozed into rubble to make way for the games.

A free-standing stairway sits in the open air. The rest of the house is missing. In an abandoned house that is upright, a ragged hole exposes a pastel-painted child’s room. The fallout from the wrecking ball scatters pulverized bricks, broken mirrors and fragments of ceramic blue tiles.

It is a ghost town, except that 150 families of the original 700 have refused to budge, or take compensation or alternative new housing. Electricity and public services have been periodically cut off, and fights broke out last week when guards entered, firing pepper spray and rubber bullets to start an eviction.

The standoff underscores some of the resistance to developments related to the Olympics in Rio, with its stark divide between rich and poor.

“The Olympic Games are two weeks, and when it’s over that Olympic area is going to be a neighborhood with shopping malls and gated communities,” Maria da Penha, a 50-year-old woman who is heading up resistance to evictions, told reporters.

“So after the Olympics, why can’t I continue in my home where I have lived for 23 years?” she said.

Penha’s nose was broken and her eye was blackened when she was shoved to the ground during last week’s attempted eviction. She said she was expecting more violence as the holdouts get more entrenched, with the Olympics set to start in 14 months.

“I imagine that I will get beaten again, because I will continue to resist for my rights,” she said on Tuesday.

A tiny woman, Penha lives just 100m from the Olympics construction. Her house, like many that started as a modest slum dwelling, has grown into a spacious two-floor layout with a patio, fruit trees and a large terrace overlooking the Olympic venue.

“I have the hope to be here when the Olympics begin, and I will fight to be here,” she said.

Theresa Williamson, a Brazilian urban planner and advocate for Rio’s favela communities, said about 67,000 people in favelas have been evicted in Rio since the city was awarded the Olympics in 2009. She said there were “hardly any” evictions in the 20 years prior.

“The Olympics created this opportunity, the pretense for reorganizing the city and using that as a reason for removals,” she told reporters. “Ultimately it is a small group of real estate and commercial interests and construction interests that want that land for post-Olympic luxury developments.”

Much of the sprawling Olympic Park is to be transformed afterward into commercial developments. The athletes’ village, 2km away, has 3,600 apartments that are to be sold off as top-end housing. Up the road, the new Olympic golf course is surrounded by 160 luxury apartments with prices starting in the US$2 million range.

Lawrence Vale, an urban planner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has published a study titled The Displacement Decathlon, which examines how commercial forces in Rio and elsewhere drive mega-events like the Olympics or World Cup.

He and coauthor Annemarie Gray wrote: “The real losers in the Summer Olympics Games are often the low-income residents who happen to live in the path of new development, whose race begins well before and lasts long after the official competition.”

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