While Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff announced the official countdown to Rio 2016, a year from yesterday, a few hundred people held a protest outside City Hall. United by diverse interests, the modest but noisy group were protesting against human rights violations they see as caused by the forthcoming Olympics in the city.
The hundreds of families who have lost their homes in the Vila Autodromo community, for Olympic infrastructure, were represented, along with activists highlighting the ecological impact of building the golf course for next year’s games.
The largest group gathering in Rio’s blazing winter sun were the street vendors afraid of losing their livelihoods. Many are not officially registered and risk being fined or removed from the streets, but want the right to earn a living while some people in the Rio are set to profit handsomely from the Olympics.
“I’m a single mother and I’ve been working as a street vendor for 19 years,” said Maria de Lourdes, 41. “We want the right to work in the city. My three children depend on my money.”
Low income families start selling products such as cigarettes or chocolate on the streets often as a temporary measure, but they can become stuck in that way of life.
Although some street vendors are able to register officially with the local authority, the numbers are limited and there is a long list of strict rules to follow.
As with many of the protesters, their battle precedes the arrival of the Olympics to the city, but the Mega Sporting Event has brought it into sharp focus.
“It’s about gentrification,” said Ricardo Novaes, 54, reflecting the views of many discontented Cariocas (as Rio’s residents are known) that the transformation of the city as it prepares for the games is impacting on its most vulnerable citizens.
“Olimpiadas para quem?”
The main banner carried by marchers to the Rio 2016 headquarters said “Olimpiadas para quem?” – Olympics for whom?
A reminder of the street protests which brought thousands to Brazil’s streets during the Confederations Cup in 2013 was inscribed on one of the banners carried by protesters. Wording demanded free transport, one of the issues which instigated those protests, after a bus fare increase.
While that wave of protests was thought at the time to be a serious threat to the World Cup in 2014, Wednesday’s was small in scale and peaceful.
“The police are getting ready for war” one activist remarked on seeing military police arrive dressed in riot gear. But there were no clashes like the ones which marked the Confederations Cup.
As the last year of preparations for Rio 2016 are frantically getting underway, protests across the country for a diverse set of causes have become all but commonplace.
An economic crisis, political corruption scandal and president Rousseff’s plunging popularity have seen thousands take to the streets to protest over the past year, for various reasons.
The climate may be very different to 2013, but for the groups united on Wednesday outside Rio’s City Hall by the impact of Olympic Games, a full agenda of further protests over the coming months means this will not be the last anyone will hear of them.