As attention turns to the World Cup kicking off next month, the host Brazil is ramping up efforts to improve its image and infrastructure. One of the main targets has been Brazil’s infamous favelas.
For those in these poor and densely populated parts of cities, the improvements have meant an increased police presence and violent clashes. Some residents have been evicted or felt pressure to move to make room for new infrastructure.
"I think that it’s a missed opportunity,” says Lucy Jordan, a freelance journalist based in Brazil, an interview with Global Journalist. “They could have used these events to really improve infrastructure for communities close to the stadiums and they haven’t done so."
An estimated 11 million Brazilians live in favelas. In Rio de Janeiro alone there are 1.3 million favela residents. Though favelas began as slums built by former soldiers and workers, Brazil’s Institute of Geography and Statistics classifies them not as slums but as “subnormal agglomerations.”
Known for poverty and crime, favelas now differ from slums in the quality of housing. Rio’s favelas comprise well-built houses that have running water, garbage collection and Internet, according to Brazilian NGO Catalytic Communities.
Current favela residents have significant property rights. Brazil’s constitution guarantees rights to anyone living in a house uninterrupted and without opposition for longer than five years—so long as they don’t own any other property.
The history of the Brazilian government’s attempts to reclaim and develop the land occupied by favelas is long. But some observers see the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio to be the latest excuse for aggressively encouraging relocation, according to the Washington Post.
Across the country, some 19,000 families have been displaced to make way for highways, apartment houses and other development projects, according to The Guardian. When development is completed for the two sporting events, an estimated 170,000 people will have been removed from their homes, according to activists with the program RioOnWatch, which began monitoring evictions in 2010.
“The law establishes that people should be left equivalently or better-off after a relocation,” says Felicity Clarke from Catalytic Communities, a think tank and advocacy NGO based in Rio de Janeiro,in an interview with Global Journalist. “However, we have seen many evictions, which is when people are forcibly taken from their prior homes and not given proper compensation.”
According to a 2001 Brazilian law, the authorities must offer three compensation options: replacement housing nearby, cash compensation, or an assisted purchase of another property.
“Since 2009 we have seen no cases where those three options were provided,” Clarke said.
Favela residents have been offered either public housing in predominantly distant locations, cash compensation as low as 6000 Brazilian real ($2,700), or subsidized rent of 400 real ($180) per month but without guarantee that it will be maintained, according to Clarke.
Many have claimed the compensation offered for their homes has been inadequate. With the high cost of living in Rio, many are forced to relocate far outside the city center.
Officials from FIFA, the World Cup’s governing body, and the Brazilian government maintain that no one has been forcibly removed from their homes. The federal government has responded to protests by promising oil royalties will go to fund education and to import foreign doctors to meet the demands of the public health system.
“Neither of these has yet had significant impact,” Clarke said. “The importation of foreign doctors only helps address one specific health issue — the lack of access to doctors in distant rural areas.”
According to Chris Gaffney, professor of urban planning and architecture at Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil has engaged in a strategy of dividing the favela communities to continue a program of gentrification that began long before Brazil landed the World Cup and Summer Olympics.
“The individual negotiations were disingenuous, and there have been no community negotiations,” says Gaffney, in an interview. Rio de Janeiro’s gentrification also creates a rent gap that affects the middle class as well as the poor, he says.
Those who are still in favelas are living with an increased police presence in their neighborhood. Shortly after Brazil won the bids for the World Cup and Summer Olympics in 2008, Rio de Janeiro state police began a Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora in an effort to secure the poor neighborhoods that are widely perceived as hotbeds of criminal activity. Since 2008, police have established 37 posts across the country, allowing them to monitor around 1.5 million people.
Rio’s 130,000-person Maré complex of 15 favelas is the latest to become monitored under the pacification program. At the end of March some 1,400 police and marines set up security posts in the neighborhoods.
But others expressed dismay because of the heavy-handed tactics used by police since the program began, The Guardian reported.
Following the pacification of Rio’s largest favela, Rocinah, 20 police officers have been charged in association with the torture, disappearance and presumed death of an impoverished brick-layer named Amarildo de Souza. Investigators say police used electric shock and asphyxiation to coerce information from de Souza after detaining him during a drug trafficking investigation, the New York Times reported.
The reports of torture sparked demonstrations in Rocinah, leading authorities to send an additional 2,000 police to the neighborhood, according to
Not all resistance efforts have been violent. In a peaceful attempt to raise awareness of these issues, a Brazilian grassroots group organized a soccer tournament called the Copa Popular (Popular Cup). The first games of the event began in the Santa Marta favela, in Botafogo, on April 27. Nearby, The Rio Times reports, residents of 150 homes are threatened with eviction.