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Remembering Rio: ‘People’s lives came second to the Olympics’

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 interview Rio mother Ana Paula whose 19-year-old son Johnatha was shot and killed by a police officer firing randomly to try and disperse a crowd. She says: “To the future host countries, I ask that people stay alert and not let mega events be something more important than the life of the people in a city.”

The shooting happened amid a policy of police ‘pacification’ of favelas less than a month before the 2014 World Cup. This tragic incident occurred just seven months after she and her family had been evicted from their home in Manguinhos, a favela in Rio’s North Zone, as part of a pre-World Cup urbanization programme. She had lived there her entire life.

 

Terre des Hommes: It’s now one year since the start of the Rio Olympics. Tell us how the Games specifically changed your life?

Ana Paula: Things that happened so that the Olympics would occur in Rio included the militarization and ‘sanitization’ of the city. People disappeared from the streets. The number of deaths went up. Incarceration also increased. This affected life for all favela residents. 

TDH: Looking back, how do you feel about the Games and the Olympic Movement?

AP: There were things aside from the Olympics that were much more important to be done for the people of Rio de Janeiro. But all of the Government's tax resources were redirected to the Olympics, even though there were more important priorities then and now, like the lives of the population. They prioritized this mega event over the life of Rio residents. Before the Games, we saw people dying in hospital lines, a lack of medicine, people dying in favelas because of the pacification program. And the Government just wanted to guarantee that the Games would happen and prioritized only the Games. People's lives came in second place to the Olympics. 

TDH: Tell us about what has happened since the Games. Do you feel any questions have been answered, or issues resolved?

AP: My life is the same. It's one of lots of struggle and suffering, because I've seen that things haven't changed. The police's behavior is the same. During the Games, their action was very intense. Today, Rio's population has to live with the militarization of the city, such as tanks patrolling streets and near the entrances of favelas. The army occupation of Maré was a disastrous operation; lots of people died because of the army's actions. Today, you see the city of Rio militarized again with the army in the streets. This isn't going to bring security to anyone. So I can say that for me, nothing changed. 

TDH: What would you say to the IOC when they say there has been a positive legacy for Rio?

AP: I would tell the IOC that there was no positive legacy from the Games. What I said beforehand  that the Olympics would only leave a legacy of blood and pain I continue affirming this. And that's what it is. The city of Rio is founded on the mud of corruption. There's a lot of suffering. The people are unemployed, dying, and getting sick without hospitals. Schools are closing. Where is the legacy? That's my question.

Maria da Penha and Ana Paula outside the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.

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