01 December 2009

The Battle for the Vila Autódromo






Rio de Janeiro
December 1, 2009

Not everyone in Rio de Janeiro is excited about the 2016 Olympic Games.

Residents of the Vila Autódromo, on the shores of Lake Jacarepaguá, gathered on a recent Sunday afternoon to launch an international campaign to save their community. They are mobilizing against the forced removal of their homes in the face of development projects for the 2016 Olympic Games. The Resident’s Association of Vila Autódromo is sending a petition to President da Silva and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanding that their constitutional and human rights be respected.

Within 24 hours of Rio’s conquest of the 2016 bid, mayor Eduardo Paes made quite clear that the Vila Autódromo would be demolished to make way for the Olympic Media Center. Since then, the city council has enacted several zoning laws making exceptions to city law in order to stimulate real-estate investment in this booming region of the city. The Vila Autódromo has long been a target of developers and their resistance to forced relocation has been a particular annoyance to the mayor.

The community meeting gained a national profile through the presence of Edson Santos, Special Secretary of Politics for the Promotion of Racial Equality. Secretary Santos, previously a Rio city council member and federal deputy, was surprisingly sharp in his criticisms of the 2016 Organizing Committee noting that the promise of the Olympics had set off a boom in real estate speculation that was destined to turn the Barra de Tijuca region into a new Copacabana. That is, a formerly bucolic setting with disperse settlements of fishermen is designed, in accordance with new zoning laws, to become congested with condominiums and shopping malls in anticipation of the Olympic Games.

Inalva Mendes Brito has always been at the forefront of the community’s struggle to secure their constitutional rights. She penned a letter of protest outlining the resistance of the Vila Autódromo against forced relocation, a battle the community has been fighting since the 1990s. It was her invitation that brought Secretary Santos from Brasilia to Jacarepaguá where he encouraged the community to “create a restrictive environment” for the municipal government to act through protest, occupations, and organized resistance. “Rio can’t pay the bills for the kind of speculation that brings profit to the few,” the Secretary continued, “to what city does the Olympics belong?”

The forty residents attending the meeting enthusiastically received the Secretary’s comments, while organizers circulated through the crowd making sure that everyone had signed the petition.  Children ran about in the playground where a high wall marks the edge of the Autódromo Nelson Piquet.



Once the Secretary had signed the petition, Sra. Brito and Altair Antunes Guimarães, president of the Residents Association of Vila Autódromo, took turns invoking their constituency to action. “Without the constant force of the community, we will lose this battle,” intoned Guimarães. This echoed Secretary Santos’ thoughts, “This is not going to be easy, the forces aligned against you are powerful. However, it is not acceptable to forcibly remove a community of peaceful, working people.”

The battle for the Vila was nearly lost in 2006 when the Secretary of Housing marked all of the community’s homes for demolition. The community lived on because of political pressure from a minority of council members and a supposed lack of funding. The majority of the residents have legal land title and a community history that extends back to the mid 1970s when the Autódromo was constructed.

The project to remove the Vila Autódromo is but one of several forced removals underway in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. In addition to the Vila, the communities of Canal do Anil, Gardênia Azul, Parque da Panela, Metrô-Mangueira (near the Maracanã) e Belém-Belém (near the Engenhão) are also under threat of forced relocation. The city government has made critical (and unconstitutional) changes to the plano director (master plan) of the city, allowing gross exceptions to zoning laws that have set off a real estate frenzy in the Jacarepaguá and Port regions.

The city has also begun the process of occupying strategic favelas with shock troops. This is causing other kinds of problems, such as gun battles in the streets, burning buses, and the closing of commercial zones.

There are 6 years until the Rio Olympics. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are myriad problems with hosting a mega-event, the majority of which the city, state, and national governments appear to be content to ignore in favor of advancing private interests, city marketing, and imposing temporary solutions to Rio’s grave problems with physical, economic, political, and social infrastructures.

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