There was a family reunion in Vila Autodromo last weekend. As well as mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and grandchildren, some of the 600 families evicted from their community next to Rio’s Olympic Park returned, joining supporters, activists, researchers and journalists in celebrating the 20 families who won their battle to remain.
While the media were curious to see the new homes, built after remaining residents reached an agreement with City Hall to rehouse the last resisting families on the same site, those who have already moved away had different motives.
“I come back a lot, to see my friends,” said Gabriel Alves, 18. His one-year-old baby Ani Gabriela was gurgling in his arms. “It was difficult, because she was born at the same time that we had to move. I was underage at the time so they spoke to my father about it. But they said we had no choice, we had to leave. I prefer it here, it’s better. I was born and brought up here.”
Gabriel’s childhood friend, Alan Regina, 22, still lives in Vila Autodromo in one of the identical new units, which residents moved into on July 29. They were promised that they would have their new homes before the Games, and they were delivered – just – although an original moving date was brought back as the families found defects in the new homes and other details which were not ready.
But while Alan is part of a young generation that will continue the story of Vila Autodromo, baby Ani Gabriela, who was also born there, will now live out her story in a new government apartment block.
Their family is just one of 22,000 moved on since Rio was awarded the Olympics in 2009, according to City Hall’s own records.
Vila Autodromo is the only one that the authorities will admit was removed for the Olympic Games. But many other communities, such as Vila Uniao de Curicica, saw homes bulldozed to make way for legacy projects including new highways and bus rapid transit lanes. Few communities resisted as strongly, or attracted the same global attention, as Vila Autodromo.
The sense of community and collective memory in Vila Autodromo continues with the Museum of Removals which is on the site now, gathering artefacts and rubble from the eviction process, and making works of art out of them.
Only one original house, belonging to former fisherman Delmo de Oliveira, is still standing after a judge ordered it to stay. Delmo has told groups of journalists the pressure to leave from City Hall was a kind of “psychological terrorism”, albeit it one he was determined to resist.
“I’m happy with it,” said Maria da Penha as she surveyed the inside of her new home. “It’s smaller, the kitchen is smaller, but what’s important is we got the right to stay.” She shares her new place with her mother, husband and daughter Natalia.
Back in Alan’s house, where Gabriel attended to his baby daughter, the family shared a meal as they discussed adjusting to the new reality.
“I’m going to put some plums in, the yellow plums, and put plants in a wheelbarrow you can move around,” his mother Sandra said as she looked out at the small garden area the families had negotiated with City Hall for their new homes.
“My husband cried a lot when they knocked our house down. I’d never seen him cry before. It’s taking time to get used to being here – I couldn’t sleep at first. I’m not used to it yet but I will be.”
By Beth McLoughlin, our reporter embedded in Rio.