Rio's favela residents fight mega-event eviction

Gleaming plans for urban revitalization ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics include the not-so-shiny removal of thousands of families in lower-class communities.

Thousands of favela residents are fighting eviction orders in Rio de Janeiro and other major Brazilian cities as the country prepares for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 summer Olympics. The Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, a network of local advocacy groups, estimates that 170,000 Brazilians will have been affected by removals by the time the 2016 Olympics kick off, 30,000 in Rio alone. Residents and activists deem these evictions abusive and unnecessary, and plans for relocations have been criticized as vastly inadequate.

Favelas are “informal” communities that were founded over the 20th century by squatters in response to the lack of formal and affordable housing in the city. Most have since grown into densely-built neighborhoods with a vibrant social life, yet still suffer from a lack of infrastructure and public services, and have been ruled by ruthless drug gangs. In recent years, Rio's municipality has entered a process of infrastructure upgrading (with the Favela Bairro, then Morar Carioca programs) and security improvement (with a pacification program).

Click here for slideshow. Photos by Flavie Halais unless stated.


Map of areas of development in Rio. Felipe Menegaz.
Click to enlarge.

This map shows the main areas of planned urban development surrounding the construction of World Cup and Olympic infrastructure. Construction of the Bus Rapid Transit lines on existing highways connecting these areas with each other have already led to the removal of several communities. Elsewhere, other evictions are being conducted to make way for construction of mega-events facilities and legacy projects.


Vila Autódromo. Catalytic Communities.

Vila Autódromo, a peaceful community located on the shore of the Jacarepaguá lagoon in West Rio, is fighting plans that would see its 4,000 residents evicted and the land incorporated into the future Olympic park next door. Vila Autódromo is the only community officially targeted by the municipality for construction of mega-event facilities. Original development plans submitted to the city by British firm AECOM, in charge of the park's construction, clearly show the favela was initially intended to be spared – the decision to swipe it off the map is that of the municipality.

Vila Autódromo was established in the 1960s by a group a fishermen living off the lagoon. Since then, in spite of a lack of infrastructure (roads are unpaved, and sewers flow into the lagoon), the small favela has grown into a lower middle-class community. Residents have been joined in their fight against eviction by professors from the urban planning department of the Federal University of Rio, who have drafted a formal urbanization plan for the favela, which would integrate the neighbourhood into the city. Urbanization, they say, would cost less than relocating residents and destroying their homes.


Favela do Metrô. Witness.org

The small Vila do Metrô is located in the vicinity of the legendary Maracanã stadium, which will be used for World Cup games and Olympic ceremonies and events. The stadium is currently undergoing renovations that include a new parking space slated to be built where the Vila do Metrô now stands. All residents have been asked to leave, under the pretense that living conditions are unsanitary.

Evictions hold a particular significance in Rio's favelas, where most residents have built their houses themselves over decades. Many families came to Rio from poorer parts of Brazil like the Northeast, in search of a better life. Their houses stand as the symbol of their achievements.

Many remember the brutal removal campaigns led by the city in the 1960's and 1970's, which saw entire communities being forcibly relocated to large housing projects like the infamous City of God, and left a deep scar on favela communities.


The writing on the wall:“Buildings in Mangueira [Metrô is part of the larger Mangueira favela] weren't given as favors. They are conquests of our fight”. Flavie Halais.

Relocation options put into place by the city for all displaced communities include financial compensation, help to buy new property, or subsidized rents. Residents, however, have complained that the amounts offered are not sufficient to allow them to move nearby, as Rio is under the grip of a highly inflated real estate market.

Another option offered to residents, has been relocation into housing projects as part of the Minha Casa, Minha Vida housing program. Under the scheme, 107 families from Metrô have been moved to Cosmos, a neighborhood located 37 miles away in the city's periphery, and ruled by a violent militia. Indeed, many Minha Casa, Minha Vida projects have been criticized for being located far away, in dangerous areas, and having been poorly built.


Favela do Metrô 2. Flavie Halais

Not all residents in Metrô accepted the city's compensation package. Those who choose to stay are left facing the city's ruthless eviction tactics: city workers come and partially destroy empty houses, letting the rubble and litter accumulate. Living conditions become quickly unbearable as dirt attracts disease-carrying rats, dogs and insects.


Favela do Metrô 3. Flavie Halais

The letters SMH, spray-painted on houses slated for demolition all over Rio, stand for Secretaria Municipal da Habitação, the department of housing in charge of all eviction programs, including Morar Carioca and Minha Casa, Minha Vida. The acronym has been turned into a bitter joke by locals, who now refer to SMH as “Saia do Morro Hoje”, or “Leave the Hill Today”, as many favelas in Rio are located on hills.


Morro da Providência. Witness.org

Providência is Rio de Janeiro's oldest favela, at 115 years old. This hillside community is located in the old port area of the city. The neighborhood had fallen into disrepair after the port lost its spot as Rio's economic heart, but is now slated for massive redevelopment as part of the Olympic legacy. Plans made by the city for Providência's 'infrastructure upgrade' include a new cable car line connecting the hill to Rio's central station and Samba City, where floats are stored ahead of Carnaval, and the eviction of 671 families (4889 residents). Many of these families have complained they haven't been consulted about the project or warned of upcoming evictions, which the city denies. The cable car line, residents say, was definitely not a priority for the community and will mostly serve tourists. The community has lost its only area of leisure, a centrally-located square, to construction work.


Estradinha 1. Flavie Halais

Other, lesser-known cases of evictions are being conducted elsewhere in the city. This is the neighborhood of Estradinha, located at the very far end of the Tabajaras favela, a short walk away from the famous Ipanema neighborhood. Like many hillside communities, Estradinha has suffered from landslides caused by torrential rainfalls that occur each summer in the region. In 2010, a particularly violent rainfall season caused the death of 256 people. While this event prompted city hall to act on infrastructure reinforcement, it also led to many cases of evictions in the name of environmental risk, some of them violent. All 355 families residing in Estradinha were told to leave after the municipality assessed the land as being at risk, and 255 have done so already.

In this photo, a resident stands in front of a local bar, which once served as a focal point for community activities. In the background, the favela gives a stunning view onto the trendy Botafogo neighbourhood. Estradinha's location on prime land leaves some residents to believe the site will be sold to developers once the community has left.


Estradinha 2. Flavie Halais

In Estradinha, the city-government deployed their usual persuasion tactics – partly destroying empty houses and letting the neighborhood slowly fall into disrepair. Here, destroyed houses have threatened others above to collapse, as the constructions support each other on the steep hill.

Residents hired the services of an independent geologist, whose report clearly denies that the land is at risk of landslides.


“No to evictions”. Flavie Halais

About the author

Flavie Halais is a freelance writer based in Montreal, focusing on urban development. She is currently studying the impact of mega-events in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro's pacification program.