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Rio Destroys Poor Neighborhoods, Replaces Them With Luxury Apartments For The Olympics

Rio’s Olympic Village CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/SILVIA IZQUIERDO)
Rio’s Olympic Village CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/SILVIA IZQUIERDO)

When the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are finished, the complexes that will house athletes throughout the Games will be converted into luxury high-rise apartments that cost as much as $700,000 to buy, the Associated Press reported this week. That “five-star resort” will have views of the mountains and the ocean surrounding the city, but it will exist in lieu of the people who lived on the land before the city won the right to host the Olympics.

Nearly 300 families were relocated to make way for the Olympic Village, according to previous AP reports. Even more evictions have taken place nearby: by February, 450 families had been moved out of the Vilo Autodroma favela, which sits close to the Olympic Village, to make way for parts of Olympic Park, meaning some 90 percent of the neighborhood has been destroyed.

Those relocations have become a hallmark of Brazil’s efforts to host mega sporting events. The country moved as many as 15,000 families out of other favelas in Rio and Sao Paulo ahead of last summer’s World Cup. Though the government disputes that any of these were related to sporting events, Amnesty International estimates that since 2009, as many as 19,000 Brazilians have been relocated out of their homes, and at least some of those have made way for projects directly and indirectly related to the Olympics. At least 230 families, for instance, were moved out of the Vila Recreio II favela to make room for a highway connecting Olympic Park to the Rio suburbs; 900 more had to leave the Vila União favela to make way for bus routes related to the Olympics.

By the time the Olympics end, one Rio-based organization estimates that 100,000 Brazilians will have been evicted and relocated.

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This does not make Brazil unique. Such displacement for the sake of “modernization” or simply to build sports-related infrastructure is a common feature of preparations for the Olympics.

Human rights groups said in 2007 that China was evicting up to 1.5 million residents for the Beijing Olympics; London displaced hundreds of residents of social or low-income housing complexes in the immediate vicinity of its Olympic Park before the 2012 Games. Farther back, more than 720,000 were displaced for the Seoul Olympics in 1988, while the 1996 Atlanta Games included the destruction of at least 10 public housing projects.

Rio could have tried to replace some of these neighborhoods with affordable housing, but even that would cause problems: in London, for instance, many of the displaced residents can’t meet the affordable housing requirements. And replacing low-income neighborhoods with a luxury condo complex was a deliberate choice, according to Mauricio Cruz Lopes, the CEO of the Village development.

“[F]or these Olympic Games,” Lopes told the AP, “what we offered the International Olympic Committee during the bid process was an upscale village with upscale apartments.”