Rio de Janeiro authorities plan to build fast bus lanes and press centres in the Vila Autodromo favela for the Olympics, rights groups say, moving thousands of poor Brazilians from their homes.
RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For 20 years, Inalva Brito has lived under threat of eviction from her house in the poor community of Vila Autódromo. The Rio government has given several reasons why demolition of housing here is necessary, but a stronger motive lies behind the latest pressures -- multi-million dollar projects for the 2016 Olympic Games.
This 66-year-old teacher is one of the 170,000 Brazilians who are at risk of losing, or who have already lost, their homes in forced evictions linked to preparations for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, according to human rights organization Witness.
The one-year countdown to the World Cup kickoff began on Wednesday for Brazil, but the country is far behind schedule on many projects to host the prestigious games.
In Rio alone the government has resettled 19,220 families since 2009, according to government officials. But the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, a watchdog group monitoring preparations for both events, says about 40,000 people are going through eviction in Rio, maybe more.
“One year away from the start of the World Cup, we hoped that these great sports events would be beneficial for the population, based on the right for citizens to participate in the discussions regarding their city”, says Renato Cosentino, a member of the Rio Popular Committee and researcher at the Brazilian human rights watchdog Global Justice.
“But we are seeing a series of human rights violations, especially when it comes to the right to housing,” he said. Groups plan protests on Saturday in Rio and Brasilia over displacements.
Inalva said that since the government first sent bulldozers into Vila Autódromo and residents filed their first civil action against their removal in 1993, there has been no dialogue or public consultation.
“The municipal government has always acted in an authoritarian way,” she said.
Renato agrees. “Many of the evicted communities don’t even know the reason for it, nor have they seen a project. There is a lack of information,” he said.
Rio’s Housing Office told Thomson Reuters Foundation that evictions in Vila Autodromo are part of a citywide drive to “provide comfortable and safe urban mobility to its citizens.” Six hundred families who currently “live under precarious conditions in the favela will have to be resettled,” the office said by email in response to a query.
The city plans to construct a major bus terminal and two new high-capacity fast lanes for the buses on the Vila Autodromo land to connect to Rio’s international airport in time for the Games. The remaining land will be used during the Games for the International Broadcasting Center (IBC) and the Main Press Center (MPC) in the Olympics Park. “After the Games, it will become a public area”, the housing office said.
Inalva doesn’t fully trust the official statements. She suspects business interests are also behind the eviction threats. “There is a project to build condos in our land after the Games. The evictions will have a lot to do with real estate business interests, which will be higher than it currently is here because of the Olympics”.
According to Renato, 75 percent of the Olympics Park area will be made available to the private sector for hotels and apartment buildings.
The Rio government told Thomson Reuters Foundation that it offered Vila Autódromo residents the option to move to a housing project under construction in partnership with the federal programme, one kilometre from their community. The My House, My Life project is due for completion by 2014. Alternatively, they were offered subsidized rent of $187 per month, while waiting for a housing unit to be built in another area.
The resettlement process is handled in the most “democratic way, while respecting the rights of every family,” the housing office said. Families are notified in advance, and the importance of the resettlements in the broader public interest explained, it said.
However, Inalva said residents have the right to remain and will not agree. “This is public land, we have the Title of Use document, and it should be designated for the people who have been living here for over 40 years,” she said.
“The only residents who agreed on moving to the government buildings were the ones who don’t have their own houses, live in vulnerable conditions, in illegally occupied and risky areas. And the city hall never regulated their situation intentionally, so that they would have an excuse to remove us at any time,” the teacher added.
Twenty percent of Vila Autodromo residents have agreed to move. To protest the evictions, the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics is organizing in Rio a “Popular Cup” of community teams on June 15 – the day the Confederations Cups kicks off in Brazil.
(Editing by Stella Dawson)
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