One year ago this week the 2016 Rio Olympics began. Sadly for many of the city’s poorer people – especially the young – what should have been a joyous celebration came at a terrible cost. Throughout this week, in a series of articles, Children Win will speak to some of the people whose lives were changed forever by the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In this article, we speak to 51-year-old mother Maria da Penha whose family home in Vila Autódromo, a community next to Rio’s Olympic Park, was demolished: “I had my face beaten, my blood was spilled, and my rights were disrespected. My family and my community were violated. Where is the right of the citizen to have dignity and housing, and to participate in these Games? The organizers say they are for everyone. They aren’t.”
Terre des Hommes: It’s now one year since the start of the Rio Olympics. Tell us how the Games specifically changed your life?
Maria da Penha: Myself and the other families in Vila Autódromo have suffered the threat of eviction for over 26 years. They always wanted to take us out of that land, but it’s land that is ours – we have the right to it. With the arrival of the Olympics, the threat of eviction was made more concrete because the Olympics was used as a premise to evict us. It also brought the money to remove my community. If the Olympics didn’t happen in my country, maybe my community would still be there today.
In my life, the removal of my community caused a big impact. We can’t move forward, we can’t live our lives. We are at the mercy of a Government that should be doing organized maintenence works on the community instead of making my life hell. That home was where I got security from. Where am I going to go if they take me from there? It’s cruel, it’s a process that would be dramatic for any human being. It’s a mental violation. Every day you hear that you’re going to be taken out of your house. I don’t wish that on anyone. It’s horrible.
TDH: Looking back, how do you feel about the Games and the Olympic Movement?
MdP: The Olympics is supposedly about the unity of people. But what unity is this? It’s for people who have money. The working people, the poor people, don’t have a right to the Olympics. I want to leave this as an open question for people to reflect about – principally the Olympic community.
TDH: Tell us about what has happened since the Games. Do you feel any questions have been answered, or issues resolved?
MdP: I had my face beaten, my blood was spilled, and my rights were disrespected. A year later, I’m still putting myself back together physically and psychologically. My family and my community were violated. Where is the right of the citizen to have dignity and housing and to participate in these Games? The organizers say they are for everyone. They aren’t.
What’s still missing to accompany the new homes the Government built for us is the second phase of construction, which was due to be finished by now. It should include the neighborhood association of the community, a plaza for children, a cultural space, and a sport court. We had all of these in the past, but the Government demolished them. No-one has told us why they haven’t built these yet, so we’re pressuring the authorities to see why it wasn’t done. It’s our right, they’ve signed, and they have to do it. The city government and judges didn’t fulfil our housing rights in this situation; they threw me out of my home. These commitments now are only a result of the fact that we fought back with lots of organized popular resistance and public defenders. If it was just up to the city government and judges, we’d be sleeping on the street.
TDH: Before the Rio Olympics, you visited the IOC headquarters to talk about the issues. What would you say to the IOC when they say there has been a positive legacy for Rio?
MdP: After a two-and-a-half year eviction process because of the Olympics, we suffered lots. I’d say the Olympic Committee needs to be more committed to respecting the rights of citizens in each city. They need to look again at past commitments to not remove homes to make way for the Olympics. That is wrong.
The Olympics only take place for one month; the effects on the lives of families are there to stay. What you should remove is only trash, not people’s histories. People need to be respected. The people who live in each place – be they favelas or other types of communities – have the same rights.
TDH: What would you say to future host cities of the Games?
MdP: I’d say that there shouldn’t be any more Olympics. But since they will happen – and this applies for any mega event – I hope that citizens know their right to remain in their homes and be ready to fight for that right so that authorities respect them. Everyone has a right to housing, and politicians should know this better than anyone. They have the obligation to provide dignified subsidized housing, not just cubicles.
The Olympics need to honor the slogan they have of ‘an Olympic Games for all’; they need to really be for all people and not just for who control capitalism and whose companies are going to make big business deals out of all of this. In my view, that’s what the Olympics have become – a big business.
I’m proud to be a Brazilian and fight for my rights. All citizens should do this. Our politicians are our employees, and we need to control them, rather than them controlling us. All politicians, when they run for office, have the responsibility to respect the citizens of that country, whether they be rich or poor.