'The Olympics here was a violation of our community'

Where the community once was, is now a vast bus park. It was a thriving community - now it is a ghost town.

Published: 06th August 2016 08:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th August 2016 04:24 PM   |  A+A-

olumpicsAP

Maria De Penha is sweeping the front of her concrete patio in front of a tiny whitewashed house as buses flood past, taking media staff and workers into the Olympic Park. Behind rows of parked buses, this is a tiny citadel called Vila Autodromo.

There were once 600 families living here. Now, only 20 tiny houses remain, towered over by a sleek skyscraper housing the media centre. The rest of the families have gone, displaced by Olympic building work. Where the community once was, is now a vast bus park. It was a thriving community - now it is a ghost town. The few houses standing were rebuilt and turned into a quasi-cultural space, to save embarrassment to local government who, many residents claim, bullied them and bulldozed them out.

The diminutive De Penha, 51, tells me that she had her nose broken when she was hit by police officers when she stepped in to protect a family being forced out. It is a brutal fact about the Rio Olympics that the very poorest have been adversely affected.

De Penha has become known as a fighter for rights in this community. While they bulldozed around her, De Penha refused to budge. She has been here 23 years, having moved from Rio's largest favela, Rocinha, and intends to stay. Like the others who still remain.

"We suffered physically and psychologically. So many families, many of them with children, were just bullied out of here, while the houses were demolished around us. It was awful. The community has been destroyed. It was a good community, with hard-working people. The Olympics is a good thing, but the way it has been organised is the problem. No one consulted us. It was a violation of our community."

While the local government regarded the settlement as a slum on the edge of the Olympic Park, the residents were proud of it. Those who have long since gone received a reported pounds 40,000 to leave, many offered new government-built housing where some now complain of extortionate services costs that have left them out of pocket. De Penha and others have dug in, but is it a victory? Delta De Oliveira, an artist who has lived here for 30 years said: "The Olympics was about the people of Rio, but look how it has affected us. I didn't want to be moved." The anger is deep in him.

Vila Autodromo is an example of displacement, a human rights issue running against the very essence of what these Games are meant to be, for the working people of this vibrant city. But it is the tip of the human rights iceberg. Similar stories abound, and there is a growing catalogue of police brutality against locals - most frequent in the poorest communities.

De Penha was flown to a conference in Geneva in June to tell of the plight that she and others have faced. No doubt it helped their cause. She spoke passionately about her community and what they had lost. The local government relented, and rebuilt the remaining homes.

Andrea Florence, from the humanitarian group Terre des Hommes, said: "We have reported at length the devastating impact mega sporting events can have on children and their families. We need to learn from Brazil's bitter experience and make sure this never happens again.

"In Rio, we have witnessed how children lose access to basic rights when families are evicted without due process or compensation. Children and adolescents in street situations were taken to young offenders' units, without having committed any criminal offence, to 'prepare' the city for media visibility. What we are seeing today is the consequence of a contract that was signed seven years ago, when Rio was awarded the Games."

Terre des Hommes has called on the International Olympic Committee to make promises to avoid situations such as Vila Autodromo occurring again. "This is why it is of utmost importance that the IOC includes explicit and binding international human rights, including specific child rights, and obligations in the forthcoming revision of the 2024 Host City Contract planned for after the Rio Olympics," Florence said.

"In December 2014, the IOC showed leadership by introducing a series of reforms known as Agenda 2020. Today, we release key recommendations that detail how to put these reforms into practice. The 2024 Host City Contract represents a key opportunity for the IOC to take an important step in the path towards ending abuses related to the Games."

As the Olympic Games gets under way, spare a thought for those displaced without so much as a thought; for the poor, for children and families forced from their homes, and elderly people

hit by police, all for the sake of a 16-day sports festival. There is another side to the Olympic Games - an ugly reality which must not be ignored.

Stay up to date on all the latest Olympics news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)

Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp