RIO DE JANEIRO — More than 70,000 people were displaced to make way for last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Today some are satisfied in their new houses. Others had to start over and are struggling, bitter at the pressure from city officials and real estate speculators to relocate.
It will take years, maybe decades, to understand the impact the Olympics had on Rio. It’s the same for those who were forced to move from long-time, but often modest homes.
The mandatory relocation experience isn’t unique to Rio. London faced the same issue, as did Beijing before it. But Rio’s poverty and vast inequality helped draw attention to the actions of the city and Olympic organizers.
Former mayor Eduardo Paes was often credited by the International Olympic Committee as the moving force behind the event. Paes is currently being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games.
Here is what some Brazilians relocated by the Olympics had to say about their move:
VICTORY AMONG RUINS
Maria da Penha was one of the most vocal resisters of the Olympic-related evictions. She used to live in Vila Autodromo, the favela next to the Olympic Park. City Hall bulldozed her three-story house five months before the event, but even then she refused to leave. She now lives in one of the 20 whitewashed, identical bungalows the city had to build for them at the last minute.
“We managed to stay on this land, but my happiness is incomplete because we’re just 20 families out of 600,” she said. Much of the community’s old land was turned into a now-unused access road, and the survivors still struggle with deficient services. Around them, pieces of walls and kitchen tiles are a reminder of the aggression they faced.
Like many who fought eviction, they blame Paes for putting real estate interests above community rights. Paes did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“They justified house demolition and interruption of life stories under the name of the Olympics,” Penha added.
A 63-year-old foreman and fisherman, Jorge Ramos used to live in a multi-story house at Vila Autodromo with his wife and three adult children. Negotiating for his whole family, Ramos exchanged his old house for three 645-square-foot apartments at one of the social housing complexes, plus what he calls “sufficient” compensation.
Two years in, he is already refurbishing the failing pipes in his apartment.
“Of course they were not going to be the best, because they were built in a hurry, but it’s up to each one to make it as cozy as they want,” he said.
While he laments the threats and aggression of City Hall, he considers himself a winner in the process.
“What I had at Vila Autodromo was the house of my dreams, but I accepted that it was over and went looking for the best I could get,” he said.
THE HOUSING TRAP
Jane Nascimento was first evicted during the lead-up to the 2007 Pan American Games, and had to move out of her newer house again in 2015. She settled for two social housing apartments, one for each adult daughter, and 50,000 reals ($15,000) as compensation. The 61-year-old artisan lost her front teeth and much of her sight during the process, which she attributes to stress in the tussle with City Hall.
But while some lucked out on their apartment deals, she ended up in a much smaller place, inside an isolated condominium heavily monitored by militias. Her apartment resembles a tiny warehouse, and water keeps leaking from the roof.
“They took away my freedom to have a house, to have a dog, to work at home, even to move around at home,” she said.
She wants to sell the apartments, but is scrambling to get all her paperwork done.
UNDER THE BUS
When the city presented its plans for transportation lines between Olympic venues, Daniel Ferreira’s house was right on one of the proposed tracks.
“They came to measure, take some pictures and called me to offer 34,000 reals ($10,000),” he recalled.
Along with other neighbors, he fought back to move the line and save thousands of homes. His house still stands, but the city destroyed all access bridges to the houses in his street, and left a fetid river of sewage exposed.
“This may be a pile of rubbish for them, but it’s my castle,” he said. “Everything I conquered in life is here.”
Despite being more than three miles away from the closest Olympic venue, the northern community of Indiana was also targeted by the city. Longtime residents like Marcello Deodoro recall the visit of city agents with promises of upgrading works. Soon after, they were told they had to leave and make room for a public square.
“For Paes, favela residents were a disgrace to the city, so any favela was at risk at the time,” Deodoro recalled.
City Hall managed to create animosity between residents and tear down five houses before Paes was forced to backtrack and apologize in person. Despite the broken promises of better services, the community is still proud of that moment.
“We showed him we’re poor, but not dumb, and we deserve respect,” he added.
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