The Olympic games often conjure an image of fierce, competitive spirit that culminates with an athlete’s ultimate moment of glory on the podium as their country’s national anthem resounds through the stadium. But for some residents in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympics means demolished homes and forced displacement.
“Every day I leave my house without knowing if it will be standing when I get back,” Pedro Berto told BBC News. He lives in the Vila Autodromo favela, a neighborhood almost completely destroyed to make room for Olympics construction. Most of Berto’s neighbors left their homes, which have now been demolished, but Berto does not want to leave.
Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes originally said he would not force residents to relocate, but then signed a decree to push the last residents out of their homes. Berto has documents proving he owns his house, which now has a gaping hole from when his neighbor’s house was torn down.
In June, The Guardian reported that more than 500 Vila Autodromo residents willingly moved in exchange for financial compensation. Berto is part of the small percentage of residents who decided to stay, about 10 percent. The relationship between officials and remaining residents has been tense. When two homes were targeted for demolition in June, residents and police clashed leaving six wounded.
“I’m basically a prisoner.”
Homes like Berto’s now stand in the middle of a construction site, like lone islands cut off from the rest of the world. Some days Berto does not have running water or electricity, he told BBC News. He fears authorities would not be able to reach him in the case of an emergency.
“I’m basically a prisoner. I’m not part of Vila Autodromo anymore,” he said.
Berto must now present a special badge to pass construction site security to enter his neighborhood. The guards often don’t even realize that there are still residents living inside Vila Autodromo.
This is just one of the neighborhoods in Rio where Olympics development projects clash with and locals’ resistance to the change being forced upon them. More than 22,000 Rio residents have been relocated since 2009, according to a government report, although not all of these cases can be directly linked to Olympics construction.
“We were told many times that those who wished to stay would be able to do so, but we all know that’s not real. Those who continue to resist might succeed in staying,” Berto said. “What’s clear is that those who have the most money have the most rights. Those who don’t have money can fight for their rights, but they may not succeed.”