This report from Vila Autódromo is the first in a series by favela residents that will highlight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on daily life in their communities. The series is made possible through a partnership with the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies at San Diego State University.
Only 20 families—less than 4% of the original community that once resided here—is all that remains of the Vila Autódromo favela, located in the West Zone of Rio. The community was the target of violent ongoing removals in the period leading up to the 2016 Olympics, motivated by real estate speculation and the exchange of favors between politicians and businessmen.
Here in the community, we already live in unparalleled isolation—we are not provided with public services beyond garbage collection three times a week. With the quarantine, we had to go further into isolation and take extra precautions while trying to follow the guidelines disseminated by communication outlets.
All of us, not only here, but in all of Brazil, were terrified with the news that came from China and Italy, countries which have had among the biggest losses in terms of deaths and where people have sometimes had to choose who will live and who will die. Given this, we could not just sit with our arms crossed. We needed to adjust as quickly as possible, especially knowing the precariousness of our health system. At this moment, this is what haunts us most: the fear of ending up in the same situation as these countries.
As we are a small group here in the favela of Vila Autódromo, we were able to quickly organize. Solidarity has always been the rule. Even before, when we were close to 700 families. We have always been very supportive of each other, of course, some more than others, and today it is no different.
One of our major concerns, in addition to staying alive in the midst of this pandemic, is, certainly, sustaining ourselves. The bills keep coming. We are all concerned with our food supply, with our spending.
Last week we saw a light at the end of the tunnel with the approval of a R$600 (US$115) emergency basic income payment for informal workers for three months. Informal workers represent about 40% of the workers in all of Brazil. This is a considerable amount: we are talking about 38 million people. However, we also know that the government’s greatest concern is not with the most vulnerable population. We are treated like garbage. Those in the government only care about our cheap and exploited labor. The government is only concerned with the economic crisis that the pandemic might bring and with the possible consequences for who is in power—with the greater likelihood of impeachment.
In this moment of crisis, a basic income stipend is of greatest necessity, but our government, as always, insists on giving only the leftovers, crumbs, to the poor. This amount of R$600 is very little for those who have no other income. Families will have to choose between eating and paying the bills. As the pain of hunger is greater, those who survive the pandemic will find themselves in debt.
We are following media reporting in favelas, and it’s very sad to see that many favelas do not have water. If the main guidelines of doctors, infectious disease specialists, health agencies, and the World Health Organization, are all centered around hygiene, how are favelas supposed to follow these guidelines without water? One governor after another comes to power and then falls out of power, but no government agency resolves the problem of water supply or the precarity of basic sanitation; problems that are closely intertwined.
Before the removals, we had many problems with the water supply in Vila Autódromo. Our water was clandestine, but we did not want it to be that way: at that time, through our residents’ association, we asked several times for water regularization with the CEDAE public water utility, but were never attended to. In the new Vila Autódromo, we witnessed the regularization of service. Now, we pay for water monthly and, thank God, our water has not been lacking.
Another major concern is with the orientation of medical authorities to maintain a distance of at least one meter and a half between people. Despite this, we still see crowded BRT (bus rapid transit) lines every day. Why don’t they increase the number of buses as they do during Rock in Rio? It’s an event that increases the number of people in circulation on the bus line by 100,000 people, but during which the buses are not crowded, as they have one bus come right after the other. Where are these buses? Why, in such a dangerous moment of a pandemic like this, that has already killed more than 70,000 people and has infected more than 1.2 million around the world, do they not put extra buses into circulation so as to avoid contact and contagion between people?
In this period of quarantine, I feel that we are living in a shadow of this ghost called coronavirus. Everyone is frightened by the possibility that the worst could happen to anyone at any time. In our community, no actions have been taken by the government. Among us residents exists the action of solidarity: we help each other in whatever way we can.
Our day-to-day consists of everyone being inside their homes. We talk to each other less than normal. We know very well that if we become sick we will be left to our own luck. We thank God that, as of yet, we have no suspected cases of coronavirus. This is because we are taking care of each other to keep it this way, and because through of our resistance and struggle, we have managed to obtain adequate sanitation, water, and paving. We have no doubt that if the hard-won services we have achieved here became a reality in all of the favelas of Brazil and the world, the risk of contagion would decrease. Greetings of community and solidarity to you all!
Luiz Cláudio da Silva was born on November 14, 1962 in the favela of Rocinha, the son of a single mother who worked as a house cleaner. He studied in public schools, and grew up like any child in the periphery. Married and father to a daughter, he moved to the Vila Autódromo community in 1994, where he still lives today. He is a physical education teacher and activist. He participated with his neighbors and their supporters in Vila Autódromo’s resistance to the 2016 Rio Olympics. He is one of the organizers of the Evictions Museum and continues as a volunteer member of the museum, receiving visitors from Brazil and all over the world.