Three months and counting: Occupy Golf takes on the Rio Olympics
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Three months and counting: Occupy Golf takes on the Rio Olympics

Unlike many World Cup and Olympic projects, the 2016 Olympic golf course has been financed entirely with private sector investment. So why are cariocas up in arms?

On December 6th of last year, a small group of environmental activists in Rio de Janeiro began ‘Ocupa Golfe,’ in protest of what they claim is the largest environmental devastation in the city’s history.

Much of the course and its 23 associated condominium buildings, located in the city’s sprawling western zone, are being built on the previously protected Marapendi Municipal Park, an environmental reserve. Ocupa Golfe maintains that the reserve is home to approximately 300 species of animals, many of which are endangered.

As is customary with Olympic-related projects with tight timelines, the area was fast-tracked for development. Through the Mayor’s initiative, Supplementary Law No. 125/2013 was passed in an emergency city council session. The move is disputed by activists who say it was an unconstitutional breach of procedure. Others within government also question the law’s legality, as the project never obtained any environmental license.

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Ian, 20, one of the most involved activists at the site.

The Ocupa Golfe group comprises roughly 20 core members who frequently spend nights and days on the highway median in front of the Riserva Golf “stand,” which houses the development’s real estate agents and their offices.

This small core is supported by a much larger network of activists and donors that help to supply them — the group has more than 7,000 followers on Facebook alone. Reactions from passing drivers vary, and every few minutes the group is either on the receiving end of a honk and a thumbs-up or the occasional “vagabundos!” (“bums!”).

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RJZ Cyrela’s sales office. Activists believe their presence has discouraged interest from potential buyers.

Over its first three months, the group has had numerous confrontations with law enforcement. The Municipal Guard, the Group of Special Operations and the Shock Battalion have all roughed them up at some point, they say.

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Raphael, 21, holds one of the rubber bullets police have fired on the occupation.

Social media has been key to their cause. Occupants often live-stream police interactions and a video of a confrontation with the Municipal Guard on January 7th uploaded to their Facebook page has been viewed nearly 250,000 times.

Bernardo, 19, explained that despite the police taking or destroying everything they had “we put the video up and within 24 hours we had everything back in place” through donations from those following their page. They’ve also raised money through crowdfunding campaigns for food and supplies.

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Gilson stands by his tent, donated by supporters since the last one was destroyed.

Ian, 20, who has spent the last two months in between the passing cars of Avenida das Americas, thinks the video has helped.

“[The police] don’t pass by much anymore, they don’t even look at us,” he said.

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The occupiers’ signs on the median of Avenida das Americas. The extensive irrigation of the course during a period of severe drought has also sparked controversy.

The group is active beyond its highway median basecamp as well. At the Olympic Committee’s most recent event at Copacabana’s Windsor Hotel, the group was present to greet IOC President Thomas Bach at the entrance.

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Police guard the entrance to the Windsor Hotel, where Ocupa Golfe members met the Olympic Committee outside.

For the time being, construction of the golf course continues, but occupants take comfort in how vacant the realtor stand is.

“The realtors are the ones who yell at us. They’re angry because with us here they can’t sell anything,” said Ian. Riserva Golf officials did not respond to email inquiries about the occupation.

Occupants see poor sales as a small victory within a longer fight. Raphael assures me they’ll be there “until the end of the construction.”

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