RIO DE JANEIRO – Like most Brazilians, Evandro dos Santos’ devotion to soccer borders on the religious. Even when he wasn’t watching a game, he loved hearing the roar of the crowd in nearby Maracana stadium – this nation’s temple to the sport.
But Santos said he’ll never set foot in the place again.
Rio de Janeiro is giving the stadium’s neighborhood a $63.2 million facelift as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Maracana will be the jewel crowning both events, with the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the final World Cup matches held within its storied blue and gray walls.
The shantytown where Santos has lived with his family for 19 years, known as Favela do Metro, does not fit in that picture. It’s being bulldozed; hundreds of families have been bought out as part of a “revitalization” process for the big events and the hordes of foreigners they will draw.
“They’re destroying our neighborhood for a game,” Santos said, standing in the convenience store and bar he runs in the front of his family’s house.
All across Rio, people are being pushed out of their homes in dozens of communities such as Metro to make way for new roads, Olympic venues and other projects.
Documents obtained by the Associated Press show that in 2010 alone, the municipal housing authority made 6,927 payments for resettlement costs, rent supplements or buy-outs to people in 88 communities across Rio.
Nationwide, about 170,000 people are facing threats to their housing, or already have been removed, in the 12 cities that will host World Cup matches, according to the Coalition of Popular Committees for the World Cup and the Olympics, an advocacy group for residents of the affected shantytowns.
The evictions in Rio de Janeiro are similar to those in other cities that hosted the Games and World Cup, although in a smaller scale.
Before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, rights groups said 720,000 people were forcibly displaced. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, some activists said more than 1 million people were forced from their homes to make way for the new venues built, and some protesters were jailed.
In Rio, the city housing authority and the international and local Olympic organizing committees say all is being done according to the law. Jorge Bittar, head of Rio’s housing authority, said no one is being forced to move and the families largely are being offered better housing than they have now.
Residents, advocates and legal authorities disagree. They say rights are being abused in the process, and warn that could be the legacy of the Olympics and World Cup.
Bittar said each family is being informed the value of their property, and then offered a choice from several options: a home in a federal housing project in the place of their choosing, a stipend of up to $230 a month to rent a home they find themselves, compensation for their house, or assistance in purchasing another house.
Standing in the bar he runs in the shantytown, Santos gestured at the layer of bricks, twisted metal and broken plaster that surrounds his home. Across the street, next door, even on the floor above, homes have been demolished. Children play in the debris, which has been piling up since demolitions started in early 2009. Other homes are tagged in blue with the letters SMH – the initials of the municipal housing authority. That means they’re next.
The residents of Metro don’t know for sure what’s in store for the slum.