2016 Olympics: Brazil's vision comes with mass evictions

Activists in Brazil estimate 170,000 people could face eviction in preparations for the 2016 Olympics. Favela dwellers fight back.

Preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are in full swing. Development plans include a futuristic waterside park, and like in past host countries, the razing of low income communities.

The announcement of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics is still celebrated by many as solidifying Brazil as an international player - pointing to the countries economic maturity and political stability.

The favela dwellers faced with eviction tell a different story. Simon Romero of the New York Times reports "a network of activists in 12 cities estimates that as many as 170,000 people may face eviction ahead of the World Cup and the Olympics."

Romero points out that the very cultural and economic developments that made Brazil a successful contender in the 2016 Olympic bid also created conditions for disenfranchised citizens to challenge labor conditions and land development plans.

At stadium sites, construction workers, eager to share in the surging wealth around them and newly empowered by the nation’s historically low unemployment rate, are pushing aggressively for wage increases.

Unions have already held strikes in at least eight cities where stadiums for the soccer tournament are being built or refurbished, including a stoppage in February by 500 laborers in the northeast city of Fortaleza, and a national movement of 25,000 workers at World Cup sites has threatened to go on strike.

During preparations for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing authorities removed hundreds of thousands of families without mass resistance.

Eviction efforts in Brazilian favelas are facing more organized and media savvy slum dwellers - Brazilians who have gained the support of local news media and blogs calling attention to the evictions. Brazil also totes the highest number of Twitter users after the United States.

Irina Vinnitskaya of ArchDaily writes, "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?"

Reports of favela residents' attitudes towards development projects have been varied. Andrew Downie of Time Magazine wrote about infrastructural improvements in Rio favelas and Robin Yapp of The Telegraph wrote about the lowered violence due to increased police presence in one of Brazil's largest favelas.

To address the question of cost - of who benefits from participation in global events - Vinnitskaya turns to Raquel Rolnki, Special Reporter of the UN on adequate housing. Rolnki describes the situation as akin to a "state of emergency due to war or catastrophe." Alex Magalhães, a law professor at Rio’s Federal University said, “Brazilian law is adapting to carry out the Games, rather the Games adapting to fit the law."

[via The New York Times; ArchDaily]

Image: Flickr David Berkowitz

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com