RIO DE JANEIRO – To many, the Olympic Games are a grand affair which celebrates the enduring values of athletic achievement and international friendship. But for the former residents of a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympics constitute a short-term gain for the Games and Brazilian authorities, and long-term pain for the locals who were evicted so the Olympic Park could be built.
Vila Autodromo, known in Portuguese as a favela, or shanty town, sits on the western side of Rio, not far from the large urban lagoon of Jacarepagua.
On Tuesday, the air in Vila Autodromo was filled with dust as trucks and bulldozers drove through on their way to demolish the remaining houses, an epa journalist reported.
There were at one time 300 families living here, and since the 1990s they had used legal channels to fight and win against efforts by the city to remove them.
Though back then they secured a 99-year lease on the land, once Rio was granted host status for the 2016 Olympics, their efforts to resist eviction failed and most residents took compensation and left the area.
“Slowly they chipped away at the community. We watched and documented this,” said Theresa Williamson, executive director of local NGO Catalytic Communities, which describes itself as an organization supporting and empowering residents of informal settlements.
Just 20 families refused to leave despite the pressure from city authorities, and in the end accepted a compromise in which their homes were demolished but they would get new white cement houses located 100 meters away, behind a wall separating them from the Olympic Park.
“Some regretted that they gave in. Despite the opposition to move them, the 20 families were able to stay on the land. Their resistance was a sort of victory,” said Williamson.
“No one I have spoken with wanted to leave,” she added.
One resident who resisted until the end, Augosto Pereira, on Tuesday helped his family move a blue water tank, among the rest of their possessions, out of their house before bulldozers tore it down.
“I built the house over many years and now it takes the city only five to ten minutes to demolish it,” Pereira said, standing in front of a wall on which was written in Portuguese “You Cannot Remove Memories.”
Beyond that wall and on the street, an official Olympic shuttle bus drives by.
“I feel proud to have been able to resist all the pressure to move so long. My emotions are a mix of pride and hate. The elite who are behind this are the ones who are poor in their ethics and morals, not we,” he said, as a kitten walked past his feet.