Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The title is a colloquial term for a “bitter struggle for territory, power, control, or rights.” Today’s Smidgen is about real turf, i.e. real estate: more specifically, what is being done with the land that underpins and overlooks Rio de Janeiro.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Although the battles in this war are couched in polysyllabic terms such as gentrification and revitalization, the fact is that they’re all about money. This is not surprising, as much of what’s being done for Rio (“to Rio” as some prefer) is in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games — which are essentially all about money.

Out in Jacarepaguá, the principal Olympic site has required the removal of a small “favela” that has sat quietly along the banks of horribly polluted marshlands, whose residents eke out an honest living. There are no gangs, no drug problems, almost no crime — three generations of residents all know each other. But they’ve gotta go.

The Olympic golf course has been put smack in the middle of an environmentally protected area, where flora and fauna are to be preserved. Golf, like any number of Olympic sports (equestrianism, modern pentathlon, sailing, fencing) is strictly for rich people. Barra da Tijuca is where newly rich people live and work — and will play golf. The jacarés (alligators) have gotta go.

The revitalization of Rio’s downtown is perhaps a better idea, but it too involves removing poor people and bringing in rich people. The new cable car over Rio’s Morro da Providência was designed for tourists, not for residents. One hundred families have gotta go.

Go where? Not to the “revitalized” downtown, where all the new housing is only for rich people. Not to the Zona Sul morros (hills in the South Zone) now undergoing gentrification, notably Vidigal. Sadly, the only option for uprooted Cariocas is Rio’s West Zone. For poor workers, their trek from home to work and back will now be many hours longer, and more expensive.

So far, at least, money is winning the turf wars.

The Curmudgeon will issue shortish Smidgens periodically. Please stay tuned.


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