Rio Olympic Evictions Roundup

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Since October 2009 when Rio was selected to host the 2016 Olympics, more than 8,000 people have been evicted from their homes. Tens of thousands more are expected. Forced eviction should not be confused with consensual relocation; the prior is nonconsensual by nature and violates basic local, state and federal legislation, as well as widely held human rights.

Upon studying the extensive documentation of the removal of eight communities, partial evictions of several others, and reports from yet another 11 currently under threat, the following patterns of abuses have been found to be commonplace:

Lack of Notification

On May 21st, 2011 city authority representatives turned up in the North Zone favela of Largo do Campinho with demolition apparatus and a judicial notice and ordered people to vacate their homes so they can be demolished to make way for the Transcarioca rapid bus highway, an Olympic infrastructure project to connect Barra da Tijuca – location of the Olympic Park – and the international airport. Although aware of the prefeitura’s plans to remove the community, residents weren’t notified of the demolition plans and hadn’t received any compensation or alternative housing. Edmilson Machado, born and raised in the community, said “None of us have anywhere to go.” Another resident exclaimed ,”The work has to take place but do we have to be removed from our homes with force? They gave me one hour to get my things and get out of the house.”

The sudden arrival of the city authorities’ demolition teams, without any forewarning for people to arrange somewhere to stay or proper removal of belongings has been documented in Cantagalo in Ipanema (South Zone), Metrô-Mangueira near Maracanã Stadium (North Zone), Restinga in Vargem Grande (West Zone) and Favela do Sambódromo in central Rio.

Violent and Intimidating Eviction Tactics

On November 9th, 2010, court officials, police, social workers, firemen and moving trucks arrived at Vila Taboinha (West Zone) to forcibly remove 400 families. As the day went on the community continued to resist eviction which led military police to throw pepper gas bombs to disperse the crowd.

Aggressive and intimidating techniques pervade eviction accounts. Edmilson, a resident from Restinga, reports how City representatives forcibly removed people from their houses: “If someone refused to leave they would take the bulldozer and start breaking down the door. The officers would come in to your house, take you out by force and then demolish it.”

Residents are often intimidated into accepting the eviction, told that “it will be better if you leave now” and threatened with losing the possibility of compensation or alternative housing. Residents of Rua Quáxima in Campinho (North Zone) report they were told they weren’t allowed to go to a lawyer or the Public Defender’s Office about the eviction.

Those who resist are left to live amongst the rubble as the half-demolished community becomes prey for rats, drug addicts and thieves, all but destroying the security of the area. It’s perceived as a strategy for breaking people’s will to fight. In The Guardian’s report last year on Metrô-Mangueira, Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Brazil researcher said “They come, demolish the house, leave the rubble, frequently damage neighbouring houses and the infrastructure – breaking main pipes, cutting through electricity lines and making the community unviable – which then attracts… drug addicts, plagues of rats and cockroaches that basically force the rest of the community to move, often in very, very unfavorable circumstances.”

Other incidences whereby people left in similar, insecure situations have been documented in Recreio II (West Zone) and Vila das Torres in Madureira (North Zone).

Unfair or No Compensation

In Rio de Janeiro, the authorities are legally required to offer evictees three options: alternative housing; cash compensation; or assisted purchase. In practice this doesn’t happen as the authorities don’t have enough alternative housing to offer everyone or willingness to expend resources for assisted purchase or fair compensation. The result is a great deal of pressure during the initial rounds of negotiations. When offered, housing is generally in distant and peripheral West Zone neighborhoods known for militia activity and poor infrastructure, such as Campo Grande and Cosmos, up to 70km away.

As Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Housing says, “A lot of violations are happening in the financial area with the compensations and resettlement options offered. The compensation offered is extremely low – R$3000, R$5000, R$10,000 – values totally insufficient for these families to have a proper home. They don’t have anywhere to live.”

In Rio’s booming real estate market, the values offered are in no way enough for replacement housing, and completely rule out the possibility for families to stay in the same area. In Vila das Torres, which was removed to make way for the recently inaugurated Madureira Park, residents were offered R$8,000-17,000 with properties in the surrounding area going for at least R$80,000. Seu Albino, a 60-year-old resident said, “Of course we don’t want to get in the way of progress. But a fair value must be given, for us to at least have something.”

There are also reports of people receiving no compensation at all. A year and a half after losing her home, Elisângela from Pavãozinho was still awaiting compensation. Residents of Rua Domingo Lopes in Campinho (North Zone), evicted for the Transcarioca rapid bus transit line, allege they weren’t offered any compensation.

Also, compensation is offered for homes, not businesses, meaning that any sign of commercial activity on a property exempts the owner from compensation, as reported during the removal of West Zone communities Vila Harmonia, Restinga and Recreio 2 for the Transoeste Rapid Bus Transit line from Santa Cruz to Barra da Tijuca.

Lack of Justifiable Reason for Eviction

In many cases evictions are completely arbitrary. Vila Harmonia in Recreio (West Zone) remained in place for the original plans for the Transoeste Rapid Bus Transit Line. The plans for the Olympic Park do not require the eviction of the community of Vila Autódromo in Barra da Tijuca (West Zone). The evictions in what the authorities define as risk areas in Santa Marta in Botafogo (South Zone), Providência in central Rio and Pavão-Pavãozinho in Copacabana (South Zone) have all been deemed unnecessary by experts. In Muzema (Itanhangá, Barra da Tijuca), the reason given for eviction — dredging a canal — runs counter to previous programs to dredge the same canal, which did not require any relocation whatsoever.

In 2006 Rio was preparing to host the Pan-American Games. Sixty-eight families were evicted from the West Zone community of Arroio-Pavuna, the reason given that the land would be used for the construction of sporting equipment. Instead the remaining 28 families looked on as the site where their neighbors once lived was turned into a luxury garden for the adjacent condominium. Arroio-Pavuna’s experience is thought to be indicative of the broader agenda behind Rio’s evictions.

Watch these three videos with stories of Rio’s evictions: