By Ade Guobadia
For many Brazilians, hosting the 2014 World Cup is the ultimate expression of the nation’s global standing and symbolic of its recent economic dexterity. But for others, the months leading up to the World Cup have been everything but fun and games.
“…no one is resettled if not for a very important reason”
Over the last few months thousands of favelados, inhabitants of Brazilian slums called favelas, have been forced out of their homes by the police and armed forces. Jorge Bittar, head of Rio’s housing authority, claims that “no one is resettled if not for a very important reason.” For Bittar, the families are not being forced out because of soccer, but because they chose to build their slum towns in unsafe areas in the first place.
The only issue with Bittar’s claim is that favelas have been in existence for over a century and up until now there haven’t been any complaints about their location. This is probably because their existence on the outskirts of major cities allowed the government to neglect and conceal widespread poverty and drug use among the country’s most marginalized ethnic groups.
“They say it’s because of the Olympics, but this is just a smoke screen”
Bittar’s claims also bring about a very important question: If the quality of life in favelas was such an issue, why did Brazil’s government wait until they had the added pressure of the World Cup to do something about it? Tadeu Marco Peixoto, a long-time resident of a favela outside Rio, says it’s because his neighborhood has become a target for real estate developers who “want to take us (favelados) out because they believe the poor cannot live among the rich. They say it’s because of the Olympics, but this is just a smoke screen.”
After the announcements that Brazil would be hosting both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games it seemed like the government was taking positive steps towards safeguarding and modernizing their most run-down and neglected neighborhoods.
In September 2011, TIME magazine reported several “unusual sightings” in Chapéu Mangueira, a smallish favela overlooking Rio de Janeiro. The sightings included everything from salaried electricians to government officials bearing gifts like pots, pans and other basic housing appliances. All this kindheartedness, a part of a larger plan to makeover the shantytown as a pacified, tourist hotspot.
Eviction at Gunpoint
Unfortunately instead of continuing with this seemingly positive trend of improved housing and quality of life, the gentrification process has gone from bad to worse for favelados. What was once socio-economic violence veiled by claims of increased infrastructure has become full blown violence being carried out at literal gunpoint.
On January 8th, government officials touched down once again on a shantytown outside of Rio. However this time instead of bringing household appliances with them, they came equipped with M-16 rifles and bulldozers. The police force demolished over ten homes and in doing so displaced over 700 families.
The community responded by holding a demonstration on a neighboring road. The protest included chants, songs,dances of protest and (after police intervention) was escalated to a point where residents of the former favela began throwing rocks at squad cars and officials who responded by firing rubber bullets and flash bombs.
Many favelas have a longstanding anti-government overtone to them due to the presence of anti-establishment drug lords who occupied the slums in the early 70s. This makes the well organized and often times violent protests to this year’s World Cup no surprise.
The protests have garnered attention and have spread from the favelas to social media spaces like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr which in turn, has resulted in several petitions on Change.org and similar websites.
2016 Olympics on the Horizon
With the World Cup coming to an end protesters are now focusing their attention on the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Demonstrators are asking the Brazilian government to at the very least allow favela residents the opportunity to benefit financially from the event by permitting them to sell food around Olympic stadiums.
Many Brazilians accused the government and FIFA of “cultural terrorism” this year following their decision that only sponsors with “official bids,” like McDonalds and Coca-Cola will be allowed to participate in vending traditional Afro-Brazilian foods.
Hopefully, with the Olympics just two short years away, the Brazilian government will find a way to host a sporting event that both betters their international standing and is a safe, profitable and enjoyable experience for all its citizens, regardless of social class.