The community fighting forced evictions linked to Olympic-related works
Monday 18th January 2016- In the latest battle for Vila Autodromo residents fighting forced evictions, three families have found themselves trapped inside the Olympic Park.
They must show a pass at the main security gate of the Olympic Park to get to their houses, and have been prevented from receiving visitors.
Terre des Hommes staff accompanied residents of the Rio de Janeiro community this week, who are facing extreme pressure from Rio’s City Hall to leave their homes to make way for Olympic-related works, often going without electricity and facing near uninhabitable conditions.
Municipal Guards arrived before 7am on Wednesday (Jan 13) and blocked off access to the three homes with a fence.
“They do it to put psychological pressure on us,” said resident Sandra Maria de Souza, 47. “People get scared, and end up thinking it is better just to leave.
“We are vulnerable there, surrounded. If something happens, who will defend us?”
There are about 50 homes remaining on the site, which once was home to around 600 according to city records. Residents claim they have the legal right to stay on the land, but pressure has forced many to accept rehousing offers in the lead-up to the games, leaving a diminished community behind.
Some have accepted compensation; City Hall has spent an estimated 100 million Brazilian reals, or $35 million.
What was a thriving community a year ago, with shops, a community association and attractive streets, now resembles a building site or a war zone.
While City Hall has promised that some residents in a small area of the community may remain, the residents believe the intention is to bulldoze all existing homes for Olympics-related work.
Piles of rubble, once homes to families, litter the site, and the smell of dust from the adjacent building site is overpowering. The course of a river has been adjusted to make way for a widened road, giving access to the Olympic venues. On a rainy day, the relocated river looked in danger of overflowing and reaching people’s homes and the dirt roads fill with flooded potholes.
Vila Autodromo is not the only favela community to face forced evictions in the name of the Olympics. Others such as Vila Recreio II have also been wiped out, but Vila Autodromo has become a symbol of resistance.
One resident commented yesterday that reporters have come from as far as China, and activists have held regular barbecues and music festivals, painting and decorating what has remained of the leisure space for residents who are still resisting eviction physically and through the courts. That space was torn down earlier this week.
For those who remain, including about 10 children, life is a constant battle to anticipate the next move from City Hall, and survival depends on continued improvisation.
“Every day, it’s a new adventure,” said Pedro Berto, one of the residents who now has to show a pass to access his house, through the main Olympic Park site.
The irony in his statement belied his obvious stress at suddenly being blocked from accessing his home through the community. Our attempts to visit him were foiled by security guards from the Porto Forte Seguranca.
“It’s an order of City Hall,” one security guard said. Only those with passes who actually live there were allowed access, an act of isolation which residents view as yet another tool of intimidation against them.
We then returned to the community from the Olympic Park, a journey which took 40 minutes.
Since Wednesday, residents complained to the police about these tactics, including one resident who registered a threat from a municipal guard.
The blocking off of access of the three houses was registered however at the local precinct as an “ato atipco”, or “atypical act,” an obtuse term which is not clearly classified as a crime.
Meanwhile, resistance continues for those who are still living in the community. A barrier erected by residents had been ripped out this week, but by Thursday it was back again, cheerfully manned by a handful of people.
On Friday, City Hall sent police again to remonstrate with residents to remove the barrier, who in turn pleaded for a removal of the debris and better access for litter collection.
“They did it to see how we would react, to test our courage,” said Maria da Penha Macena, 50, of the blocking off of access to the homes. She has been a powerful figure in the fight to stay. “If they come back, we’ll be up at 5am to be ready for them.”
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