Voices from the Community; Bridging the Divide
Brazil and Rio de Janeiro were awarded the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, causing eruptions of celebration throughout the country, especially in Rio. Being chosen host of these mega-events has been widely rejoiced within Brazil, the first country in South America to host the Olympics. Many consider this conquest a sign that ‘the country of the future’ has arrived with the world finally paying attention to Brazil and considering it capable of host mega-events on par with cities of North America and Europe. The World Cup, and especially the Olympics, generate billions of dollars and provide the host cities opportunities to showcase themselves to the world. There is also a deep sense of pride a country feels in hosting international events in which national teams take center stage while cities, cultures and natural beauty are shown to the world. This is especially true in developing countries. These are the main reasons hosting mega-events is so competitive and being awarded them is so celebrated. They are exciting to watch, whether at the venues or on TV. As an irrepressible soccer fan that waits restlessly for the World Cup to arrive every four years it is painful to criticize this important event. Unfortunately, the beautiful sports, the athletes, their skills, the national teams, the intense games, defeat, victory and national pride cannot be separated from the multi-billion dollar corporate and political interests that corrupt them.
There are many overlooked issues that should be considered concerning mega-events. The amount of money and power involved is mind-boggling. Most authorities on this topic trace the major corporate and political interests to the Olympics in Los Angeles (1984), and to an even stronger degree to the Games held in Seoul, South Korea (1988). The spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, along with the final competitions of the most popular sports, consistently break records for the most watched events in television history. The incredible revenues result from exorbitant public spending, however, contributing to considerable financial and social costs. The stakes are even higher when these mega-events are held in poorer countries and cities where basic infrastructure and security are lacking. The urban warfare that recently crippled much of Rio’s North Zone is an example of this. The full-fledged police and military assault on Rio’s notorious drug gangs has been touted as part of the process to prepare the city for the events and to show the world that the authorities have control. It is troubling that the situation was allowed to deteriorate to this level in the first place, with the violent and sensationalized invasion of a Complexo do Alemão slum unfolding on live TV. It is even more tragic that this confrontation occurred mainly as a result of pressure from Fifa and the IOC to address this longstanding issue. Security and the long term ineffective policies to address it are only one of the many problems with mega-events.
Another dilemma is the reckless use of public money. In South Africa which recently hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup stadiums were built with no post-Cup uses in mind. These are massive buildings that will consume public money for many years to come and are in regions of the country that lack basic social services. Even during the World Cup many spectators complained of the seemingly empty stadiums, imagine them now. Millions were spent on these so called ‘white elephants’ that will probably never be filled to capacity again. Millions more will be spent in years tom come just to maintain them, all this in a country where crime, inequality, abject poverty and AIDS are a part of everyday life. In Beijing the famous, or infamous, Bird’s Nest stadium cost hundreds of millions to build and now has no teams or events to fill it, another white elephants and waste of money that could have been better spent. In Greece the 2004 Olympic Games cost billions and did not bring the tourism and cash flow that was anticipated. The Games are now widely considered a failure of large proportions and one of the key factors behind Greece’s current financial crisis. In Brazil there is less need to build large stadiums because they already exist in most cities because of the country’s soccer craze. Many stadiums, however, are closed and being ‘upgraded’, such as Rio’s famous Maracanã stadium where Pelé scored his historic 1000th goal. Seating capacity is being reduced, VIP sections are being built and ticket prices are going to skyrocket. Stadiums are just one way public money is wasted. In 2007 Rio hosted the Pan American Games and the City spent almost 2 billion dollars even though the original budget estimated only 235 million dollars would be necessary. (see stats here). The current budget for the 2016 Olympic Games is 17 million dollars with plans to build an extravagant Media Center and Olympic Village in the exact location where the favela of Vila Autódromo is currently located. Ironically Vila Autódromo, home to roughly 1000 families, does not even show up on the project presented to the IOC, it isn’t even on the maps. Feel free to navigate the Rio-2016 website for any mention of Vila Autódromo or other favelas planned for eviction (http://www.rio2016.org.br/en/Default.aspx). This leads into the next problem with mega-events.
Mega-events like the Olympics always involve displacements, evictions and gentrification, sometimes on a massive scale. This occurs as cities attempt to remove of all visible signs of poverty (or anything else deemed ugly) from areas in and around the event venues, hotels and tourist attractions. Fifa and the IOC hold host cities highly accountable in guaranteeing adequate transportation and hotel infrastructure, as well as security. In cities like Rio this translates to massive forced evictions and shipping thousands of poor families and the homeless off to far removed areas. According to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) The Olympic Games alone have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, mostly the homeless, the poor and minorities. Even in rich countries like the US the Olympics can have very real negative effects for large portions of the population. In Atlanta between 1995 and 1996 roughly 9,000 homeless people were arrested. The City eventually faced a Federal Court Order to “cease and desist” the pattern and practice of arresting homeless people without probable cause. Thirty thousand people lost their homes as a result of the 1996 Olympic Games. Much of this displacement took place in the form of gentrification, also known as market displacement, which is a less violent form of socio-economic displacement, but nonetheless, detrimental to those who suffer its effects. Evictions, displacement and gentrification are widely considered unsustainable forms of urban development as poverty and crime are usually shifted from one area to another without actually dealing with the roots of the problems.
The upcoming mega-events are providing Rio’s (and the world’s) corporate and political power elite the excuse they have longed for to tighten their grip on Rio’s development and future. Brazil remains a very corrupt country even if in certain areas significant progress has been made. Brazil ranks highly in regards to civil society freedoms and voting/elections. Nevertheless Brazil’s weak political financing regulations allow wealthy corporations and individuals to exercise decisive influence on elections. Brazil ranks extremely low in three other areas that facilitate forced evictions, (1) business licensing and regulation, (2) access to public information, primarily at the State and City levels and (3) whistle blowing measures. The difficulty in accessing or receiving public information is an issue Mundo Real, the residents of Laboriaux and other communities facing forced eviction understand well. Every time we request information from City officials and politicians regarding plans for Laboriaux we are either ignored or they give us confusing non-answers. The only way we are able to get official responses from them is when the Public Defender’s Office, through their Nucleus for Land and Housing (NUTH), pressures the City for answers. Even then it can take weeks for our question to be answered or partially answered.
One issue that has been made official is the City’s plan to evict between 122 and 135 favelas in Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the upcoming mega-events.
This is a shame because these events have potential to positively benefit their host cities and countries. The billions of dollars involved corrupt the process and prevent benefits from reaching the entire population and not just already privileged sectors of society. For more information on the mega-events and forced eviction please see our website and the Laboriaux blog.
Christopher Gaffney, professor at UFF, journalist and author of the book Temples of the Earthbound Gods helped edit this section. His blog contains a wealth of information regarding the upcoming mega-events in Brazil. www.geostadia.blogspot.com