All Eyes on Brazil

World Cup spotlight alerts the globe to Brazil’s social problems

All eyes are on Brazil as it prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics. It is the country’s opportunity to show the international community that it has graduated from the limbo it now rests in between the developing and the developed world. While there is much excitement and new development projects in the major cities planning to host games for the World Cup, there is also an increasing amount of tension between the government and the poor people living in Rio’s near 1,000 favelas—or slums. The people of these favelas are an integral part of Rio’s culture and history and their voices should not be muted nor should their visibility be diminished as the city gears up for the upcoming mega-events.

The favelas, made famous by the movie “City of God,” are most commonly in international news for violence between police and drug gangs. One in five people in Rio now live in favelas, and the government is trying to move people out of the favelas and out of the eye of the international community by forced land evections. Some people have lived in the favelas for generations (as many of them were settled by freed slaves at the turn of the 20th century), and now the government of Rio is handing out eviction notices on the claims that people don’t have property rights or they live in a “dangerous area.” When people living in the favelas get these notices, they have no choice but to move to the new area the government has assigned to them—often on the outskirts of the city and far away from their work—and they usually don’t receive compensation for it.

While in Rio, I was reporting for a non-profit media watchdog group called RioOnWatch.org. The organization’s mission is to cover the government dealings in the favelas to inform the international community on what is going on in Rio, and the organization also equips the leaders in the favelas with the reporting skills to cover what is going on in the communities from an eye-witness perspective.

On Saturday, July 30th, the World Cup/Olympics Popular Committee (Comitê Popular da Copa e das Olimpíadas) organized a march and rally to protest the social injustices the mega-event planning process has caused in Rio de Janeiro. The rally was timely planned to culminate just outside as the preliminary 2014 FIFA World Cup Draws occurred inside the Marina da Gloria–an extravagant event costing Brazilian taxpayers $30 million. Many community leaders came out to voice their anger over forced evictions. Gizele de Oliveira Martius was at the march to voice her disappointment with how the government is treating people in the favelas. “The government of Rio is removing people from their homes and putting them in areas far away from their original lives and work,” she says. “They don’t want us near where the sporting events or airport are out of shame, so foreigners don’t see.” This, she says, is unacceptable, as people living in favelas are a proud part of Rio and their opinions should be solicited in mega-event planning.

“Our objective today is to show journalists here for the draw what is happening in Rio,” she explains. Once the hundreds of marchers reached Marina de Gloria where the draw was taking place, over 50 police officers were there to block off the entrance to the Marina. Though the police were following orders, one officer admitted he sides with the people participating in the rally more than with the government because “we too get paid little and feel shame at what the government is doing.”

Although most people in the favelas feel either unaffected by the World Cup and Olympics or slighted by the government’s efforts to “clean up” the communities, some people are taking advantage of the potential the favelas have as a form of tourism. “E uma vista privilegiada—a privileged view,” Cremilson Rosa de Oliveira says as he sits atop his under-construction hostel in the heart of Cantagalo, Rio’s third oldest favela. Perhaps the striking views of Copacabana and Ipanema beach from the top of a favela provide a juxtaposed but accurate depiction of Rio’s extreme inequality.

The hostel, planned to be called Alto Ipanema, is set to open at the end of 2011, and de Oliveira anticipates many more tourists coming through the hostel doors with the mega-events looming in the next few years. De Oliveira also plans to use the iconic images of the favelas to attract foreigners to experience life within Cantagalo for themselves—“para saber, para conhecer a vida aqui”—for a price of 55 reais a night.

Even though de Oliveira was able to find opportunity, most people living in the favelas do not have the same perspective or hope of economic gain from these events. As time gets closer to the World Cup, the international community should do its best to hold the government of Rio accountable for its dealings with people living in the favelas. Undoubtedly 2014 will be a great time to show the rest of the world the beauty and rich culture Brazil has to offer, but it should be a time as well to help—not a time to hide the Brazilians living so close yet worlds away to where the events will be taking place.

Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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