Critics blast Rio's World Cup, Olympic evictions for hiding 'pockets of poverty'

The Associated Press

In this Jan. 9, 2014 photo, a resident looks from her window at the Favela do Metro slum near Maracana stadium where some homes have been demolished in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Residents in this slum were evicted from their homes two years ago for the area to be renovated for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, but people reoccupied the homes and are fighting to stay. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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By JENNY BARCHFIELD, Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — With her family of six living in five different houses scattered across the city, Dalvaneide Pequeno do Nascimento longs for the days when her whole clan shared the same roof.

Nascimento, her husband and children were among the more than 230 families forced out of their homes in Vila Recreio II, a Rio de Janeiro slum that was razed three years ago to make way for the Transoeste expressway connecting the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood that'll be the main hub for the 2016 Olympics with the western outskirts of Rio.

It's just one of a slew of urban renewal efforts launched ahead of this year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, works igniting a sweeping transformation of Rio after decades of neglect since Brazil's capital was moved to Brasilia in 1960. Officials are using the events as catalysts for expanded metro lines, roads, airport renovations and other works. Critics say poor residents such as Nascimento are paying the price and estimate some 100,000 people have been evicted or face removals to make way for the projects.

"The city has become the object of the big business, the big interests behind the mega-events," said Marcelo Chalreo, who heads the human rights commission of the Rio chapter of Brazil's bar association. "In the name of the (sporting) events, now everything has to be pretty and nice looking."

Nascimento said city officials presented her and her husband, bricklayer Jucelio de Souza, with a simple choice: Accept a lump-sum compensation for their house, be given an apartment in a distant housing project or walk away with nothing. With Rio's real estate market among the hottest in the Americas and even homes in many slums fetching upward of $50,000, the city's compensation offer of just over $2,300 was grossly inadequate, Nascimento said.

Scared of being left homeless, the couple chose the apartment and were assigned a unit in a housing project in the distant suburb of Campo Grande. Inaugurated in 2011, the Condominio Oiti project, a grouping of beige four-story towers that now houses nearly 200 families originally hailing from slums throughout the city, is 35 miles (60 kilometers) from Rio de Janeiro's center, and prohibitively far from the upscale home where she works as a nanny.

"It's a nightmare," said Nascimento, whose weathered, lined face belies her 36 years, 16 of them spent in the Vila Recreio II slum. "There's nothing here, no work, no hospitals, no public transport, nothing. They forced us out of our houses and dropped us here in the middle of nowhere."

City officials have in the past acknowledged that some 15,000 families were resettled, but insist the moves were done to remove people from areas prone to deadly mudslides and had nothing do with the World Cup or Olympics. The office of Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes confirmed that in a statement, saying it "is not and will not carry out any resettlements" connected to the World Cup.

For coming Olympics preparations, however, city officials said they planned to resettle 278 families living on land that's part of the Olympic Village. Local organizers for the World Cup didn't respond to requests for comment, while Olympic organizers confirmed the removals near the Olympic village.

Amnesty International Brazil paints a different picture, saying 19,200 families in and round Rio have been pushed out of their homes since 2009. An advocacy group for affected slum residents called the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics estimates that 100,000 have or will be moved.

Evictions and the Olympics have long gone hand-in-hand, and even the worst-case scenario for Rio involves far less than the 1 million believed to have been moved for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 or what some rights groups estimate were the 720,000 people displaced ahead of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.