2016 Olympic Games: What Rio doesn’t want the world to see


With just over one day to go until the 2016 Summer Olympics
kickoff in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic legacy already falls short of its
initial promises to the city. Rio is still dealing with inadequate and
unfinished infrastructure projects and overinflated costs, on top of the
economic and political instability facing Brazil. These unfilled promises mimic
the disorganization and corruption from the 2014 World Cup in Rio. Both games
brought promises of meaningful transformations for Rio’s citizens, but instead
ended up violating human rights, increasing public debt, and concentrating
expensive infrastructure mostly in developed neighborhoods.

Six million people
live in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and one in four of them are poor residents
living in slums called favelas. In preparing for the World Cup and Olympics,
the city government announced a comprehensive development plan that they called
the social legacy plan. The favelas have long been starved of investment in
public infrastructure, so the prospect of new developments and upgrades was
exciting. Instead, the plan only further segregated poor residents. In
Providencia, Rio’s oldest slum, the main project was the construction of a $20
million cable car. While developers promised the cable car would connect
residents to jobs, in reality 30 percent of residents were threatened with
forced evictions to make way for the project. Not only was the community
unaware of the project beforehand, but it also had no input in the draft
planning or approval processes.

damaging effects of the Olympics on Rio’s poor residents

Widespread threats of forced removals of citizens from their neighborhoods for
development projects related to major sporting events in Rio have been
controversial. The Popular Committee on the World Cup and the Olympics— a civil
society network comprising social movements, NGOs, research centers and
universities— estimates that from 2009 to 2015, 22,059 families
were forcibly uprooted
their homes for development projects related to these events. Agencia Publica,
an investigative journalism outlet and a Ford Foundation grantee, told the
stories of 100 evicted families, providing them a voice through one of the
largest multimedia investigations related to the Olympics. According to Agencia
Publica’s co-director Natalia Viana, these firsthand stories provide “concrete
evidence of serious human rights violations, of the right to housing, to
freedom of movement, to information and even freedom of expression.”

Fifty days before the
opening of the Olympics, the governor of Rio declared a state of financial
emergency and asked for federal support to avoid a collapse in public security,
health, education, transportation, and environmental management. The cost of
the Rio Olympics is estimated to be more than $10 billion and that does not
include all of the tax exemptions, public loans, and fiscal incentives that
have not been disclosed. The government gave special legal exemptions to
developers, allowing them to circumvent planning and urban laws, restrict civil
liberties, waive mandatory environmental analyses, ban local and informal
businesses, and criminalize public protests. The NGO Justiça Global, another
Ford partner, produced a video series of
four episodes
how such measures are felt disproportionately by those who are already not well
protected, such as those with insecure housing, informal jobs, or already
suffering from marginalization and discrimination.

For example, more than
90 percent of the 900 families living in the low-income community of Vila
Autodromo were forcibly relocated to make way for the Olympic Park, even though
most of them held land concessions titles granted by the state. Although
compensation and nearby alternative housing was offered, many families resisted
leaving, prompting violent clashes with police. The residents felt they were
excluded and disturbed by the games for the capital interests of wealthy

In reaction to the
negative impacts related to these infrastructure projects, Rio’s government has
responded by blocking access to information and reducing transparency. The
organization Article 19, another Ford grantee, put in 39 Freedom of Information
requests on the impact of the construction of the Transolimpica bus rapid
transit system on the lives of the families whose homes are in the way of the
new bus system. But only one was fully answered. It was impossible to find out
information on the final route of the bus system, although hundreds of families
had already been forcibly displaced.

Additionally, more
than 2,500 people killed by the police in Rio since 2009, as reported by Ford
grantee Amnesty
. In the month of May alone, 40 people were killed by
police officers on duty in the city and 84 across the state. The communities
most affected by this violence are those living in slums located around the
main access routes to and from the international airport and competition

communities to ensure shared benefits

While cities agree to host major sporting events based on the premise that the
resulting development and legacy will benefit everyone, wealthy developers are
usually the ones that get all of the gains at the expense of residents,
especially those who are poor and marginalized. So what is
happening in Rio is not a new story

What is new is that
communities in Rio are starting to push back. A robust civil society network
came together to monitor and collect information on development processes,
expenditures, and rights violations. It helped residents speak out against
harmful development plans and get compensation for those being displaced. The
network submitted reports to international organizations, including the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and various United Nations
mechanisms. Communities became the defenders of their own rights, and they
sought the assistance of powerful institutions like the Public Defender’s
Office and the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, leveraging
alternative planning and national and international advocacy.

The alliances
established between communities and relevant stakeholders were unfortunately
not enough to reconfigure the existing power relationship between the city
government and the residents. The laws that were passed to relax tender
regulations and urbanistic controls did not ban forced evictions or set
procedural safeguards, and there was no broad public debate over the nature of
improvements needed.

Governments and public
managers still need to learn how a city can stage world events successfully
while also respecting the rights of the communities living in the path of
infrastructure projects. Participatory development and stricter international
regulation is a good place to start. Just like how government and business
elites organize and lobby to host these games, we must help communities
organize and defend their rights to ensure that they are truly benefitting from
the development and investment associated with these games.

* Original source