Evictions have been intensifying in Rio de Janeiro’s Vila Autodromo community as the Olympics get closer.
Last week, the residents’ association was torn down along with the home of resident Heloisa Helena. More than a hundred municipal guards armed with batons blocked off the area, despite the fact residents claim the proposed Olympic through route is in a different part of the community. Residents sobbed and formed a human chain, but were no match for the troops and a large crane which knocked the building down in minutes.
They returned to demolish Heloisa Helena’s home after dark, a move which residents say is typical of City Hall’s dirty tactics designed to create uncertainty and intimidation, and avoid prying media eyes.
Many who live there have endured years of uncertainty, and some complain of contracting Zika and dengue fever from the waterlogged site. Abandoned by the government’s Zika-combating programme, Vila Autodromo is full of waterholes left by previous demolitions and construction work.
Once home to more than 500 families, houses have been destroyed with increasing urgency as the games approach.
Now just a handful remain, determined to resist the forced evictions, despite frequent power cuts. Rafaela Silva dos Santos, 28, was clutching her 21-year-old baby Sofia Valentina, the newest resident of the favela, as the demolitions took place.
“It was a good place to bring up children. But there are so many holes in the ground and they fill with water. My six-year-old daughter has dengue fever, I took her to the doctor’s. He warned me to be careful with my baby.The government hasn’t sent anyone here to eliminate it. I’m scared for Sofia.”
Mariza do Amor Divino, 72, already had a Zika diagnosis which she is just recovering from. “I’ve had dengue four times, but this was the worst.
“It started with a rash and a fever, I was vomiting and I couldn’t bend my knees. For five days I was very sick and I felt weak afterwards.”
As well as these health battles, residents have been faced with the reality that the evictions could have been avoided. A study by Rio city councillor Teresa Bergher of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), published in Brazilian newspaper O Globo last week, showed that, counting only compensation for evicted residents, Rio’s City Hall has already spent nearly 208 million Brazilian Reals ($52.63) since 2014. In terms of Olympic investments, this was only exceeded by the Aquatic Sports Centre, budgeted at 217.1 million Brazilian Reals ($54.95).
Most residents believe the community is being cleared for real estate speculation and the Olympics has simply been used as an excuse.
A new People’s Plan for upgrading the community was presented last Saturday, while further evictions happened just before the presentation. As the crane ripped away the residents’ association, president Altair Antunes Guimaraes said: “There is no justice in this country.”
His daughter Naomy, 13, the subject of our award-winning film “The Fighter”, was at the community on last Thursday to support the remaining residents in their battle.
“My dad didn’t even tell me about the residents’ association” she said, adding that he had kept quiet as he knew she would be upset about it.
“I came back to support the others. We are all sad. I don’t even know what to expect for the future of the community.”