Rio de Janeiro's Favelas : The Cost of the 2016 Olympic Games

Rio de Janeiro's Favelas : The Cost of the 2016 Olympic Games
© Domenico Marchi

ArchDaily announced in October 2009 that Brazil will be hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, in addition to the 2014 World Cup. Just last August, AECOM was awarded the bid for the design of the 2016 Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro (watch the video here). As preparations for the administrative business of the games seems to be going smoothly, events on the ground say otherwise. The planned Olympic Park will be located on the current site of a favela with a reported population of 4,000 (New York Times: Simon Romero) , known as Vila Autodromo and Riocinha, and those citizens are not satisfied with the prospects of being relocated under the edict of Imminent Domain to satisfy the Olympic Organizing Committee.

More on this story after the break.

Like many cities chosen to host mega-events, Brazil’s government anticipates that Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, along with twelve other cities hosting the 2014 World Cup, will benefit tremendously from the global attention, tourism, infrastructure and economy.  The Rio2016 organizing committee promises that hosting the Olympic Games will provide the city with a range of employment opportunities and training.  4,000 temporary and permanent employees with be hired to the committee, 48,000 people will receive professional and volunteer training in areas related to the games, and 60,000 people will have the opportunity to volunteer.  But as Brazil prepares to host the games there has been increasing controversy about the land being used to build up the infrastructure and the value of that land to people already living there. Imminent, or Eminent Domain is a term that people living in urban environments are generally familiar with: the right of a state under common law to seize a citizen’s private property, often with monetary compensation and for government use.  Issues such as these often arise during preparations for the Olympic Games, but the reaction in Rio de Janeiro has been particularly strong and unified and very much in opposition to the plans of the government.

© David Berkowitz

The issue facing those living in the favelas, the Brazilian “shanty town”, today goes much deeper than the relocations required to build the infrastructure necessary to host the World Cup and Olympic Games. Brazil is notorious for its history of crime and drug-ridden favela communities and also has a history of clearing these slums in ruthless and harmful ways. The military dictatorship of the 60s and 70s razed entire favelas (New York Times: Simon Romero), reminding today’s residents of the brutalities of which the government is capable. In addition, investigations by the Human Rights Watch reveal police brutality and unlawful police killings involved with clearing crime out of the favelas. The reports looked at 74 cases from various cities between 2006 and 2009 and noted rumors of police organized “death squads” (Prospect Journal of International Affairs at USCD: Giovanni Dubon).

© David Berkowitz

Many cities associate hosting the Olympic Games with a sense of national pride and the potential to elevate their nation’s in the eyes of the world. But there are underlying urban and social consequences that often go unnoticed. In the 2008 Olympic Games hosted by Beijing, similar issues arose. Clearing residential neighborhoods was inevitable, but the reaction was not nearly as severe, notes Romero of the New York Times. Raquel Rolnki, Speacial Reporter of the UN on adequate housing, interviewed by Mundo Real, notes that the profits from mega-events do not benefit the whole population and that the government is risking itself in creating a “state of exception” where human rights are compromised for these games, as “in a state of emergency due to war or catastrophe”.

© Charlie Phillips

One of the most devastating issues, says Rolnik, is that residents are usually the last to know and are given few feasible options on recuperating their lost livelihoods.   Many of these communities were built generations ago and by the very people living there.  When the government comes in to demolish the favelas in order to build new infrastructure or host an event it offers no transparency to those residents as to when or why demolitions will take place.  ”Most communities are not informed of the development of projects before they are removed.  They have no chance to debate and present alternatives”, says Rolnik.  Often those people who are forced to evacuate are either offered financial compensation or resettlement to a new home.  The financial compensation, according to Rolnik, is not enough to provide for a new home; and resettlement neglects the value of the community that is being destroyed.

But it is unfair to blame the government for taking this route under these circumstances. As is usually the case, the experience of residents of the favelas varies through different accounts. In an article published by Time Magazine in September 2011, Rio Gives Its Favelas a New Makeover, Andrew Downie reports how many infrastructural improvements there have been in preparation for 2014 and 2016. Pacifying Police Units (UPP) have contributed to more drug seizures and arrests as well as lows homicide and robbery rates. Robin Yapp of The Telegraph reported in November 2011 that residents of Rocinha, the largest favela of 120,000 residents and one most plagued by drug gangs, has improved since the police raided the favela with “armored vehicles, grenade launchers and machine guns” with residents accepting of the police presence.

So what are the boundaries of imminent domain – and what are the costs that particular classes of people living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro must pay to participate in global events?  Rolnik offers some solutions: “exhausting all possible alternatives before resorting to demolitions and minimizing removal to 300 families instead of 700, for example”.

© David Berkowitz

via New York Times: Slum Dwellers Are Defying Brazil’s Grand Design for Olympics by Simon Romero; Prospect Journal of International Affairs at USCD: Human Rights Abuses in Brazil’s Favelas in Preperation for World Cup and Olympics by Giovanni Dubon; Time Magazine: Rio Gives Its Favelas a New Makeover by Andrew Downie; The Telegraph: Police Seize Biggest Rio Slum as World Cup Clean-Up Begins by Robin Yapp; Mundo Real via VioMundo: Raquel Rolnik: Removed for Mega-Events are the Last to Know by Manuela Watermill

Photos: Flickr user David Berkowitz, licensed through Creative Commons; Flickr user Charlie Phillips, licensed through Creative Commons; Flickr user Domenico Marchi, licensed through Creative Commons

Videos via Aljazeera: Favela Residents Face Eviction for World Cup and Olympics Prep

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Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "Rio de Janeiro's Favelas : The Cost of the 2016 Olympic Games" 12 Mar 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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