By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last week the mayor’s office announced Vila Autódromo, a small community on the shore of Lake Jacarepaguá, would be demolished in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games despite a long period of negotiation with residents. The city is looking for private investors to help cover the costs of the Olympic facilities, prompting critics to question the motive behind the evictions.
As reported by O Globo, Vila Autódromo’s removal in 2013 is certain, and residents will be offered houses in Carioca Residential Park, a new housing development. However, according to community leaders, the case is still in court and has not yet been decided.
Vila Autódromo was built by fishermen in the 1970s, and many residents moved there after being evicted from other favelas in Jacarepaguá. It is not controlled by drug traffickers or militias, according to community spokespeople, and most residents pay property taxes.
The community’s struggle against eviction began in 1993 when then Mayor Cesar Maia decided to remove large favelas in Zona Oeste (West Zone), citing environmental concerns. Several were demolished, but Vila Autódromo’s residents worked with the Public Defenders office to take the case to court. In 1994, Governor Leonel Brizola granted residents titles to use the land for forty years.
Vila Autódromo was threatened with removal again in 2009, when Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that the site was needed in order to clear the area and maintain a “security perimeter” around the Olympic Park.
Over the past two years residents of Vila Autódromo, under the leadership of residents’ association president Altair Guimarães and activist Jane Nascimento de Oliveira, have resisted eviction and suggested alternatives. Along with community leaders in other favelas, they have organized numerous demonstrations at Rio’s City Hall, met with Mayor Paes and Housing Secretary Jorge Bittar, and called for an official investigation into housing rights’ violations.
Critics have suggested that the government wants to clear the way for real estate development and to curry favor with Paes’ campaign contributors. The city is seeking private investment to help shoulder the costs of the Olympic Park, estimated at R$1.3 billion. The document allowing the removal, called a Public-Private Partnership, stipulates that 75 percent of the site will be opened to developers after the Games.
According to news publisher Estadão, the city government bought the land for Carioca Residential Park for R$19.9 million from Rossi Residencial and PDG Realty, two major contributors to Paes’ last mayoral campaign.
The sale was apparently finalized without a bidding process, although the law requires bidding for public land acquisitions. Rossi and PDG are both constructing new developments near Vila Autódromo, and their property values are expected to go up if the favela is removed.
On the opposite side of the issue are the business developers anxious to take advantage of the tremendous attention and investment pouring into Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Around 120,000 jobs per year are expected to be created as a consequence of the Games until 2016, and then a further 130,000 jobs per year until 2027, according to research by the Ministry of Sport.