By Elise Vaux
As Rio de Janiero feverishly continues preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, the world is anxiously watching the nail-bitingly controversial effort unfold. The international events are not only causing panic attacks for the hundreds of thousands of tourists in search of housing and accommodations while attending the events. Brazilians from all walks of life are watching their tax dollars spent on modernized “sustainable” transportation and the construction of five lavish stadiums while many residents of the city’s famed informal hillside settlements called favelas say the Brazilian government is running roughsod over their culture and rights in its rush to clean up and build. Can this emerging world power satisfy expectations of sports fans and the outside world without creating social turmoil?
The Brazilian Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) constructed a 6 station network of gondolas known as the Teléferico do Complexo do Alemão connecting residents of the favela to downtown Rio. Although this form of transportation offers residents two free rides a day and a shorter commute, locals view the amenity as “transportation for tourists.” In the meantime, tourists are flocking to the gondolas for the breathtaking views and an aerial perspective of Rio de Janiero and the surrounding communities.
The push to clean up the favelas is in some places displacing whole neighborhoods and communities. As the government prepares for the construction of roads, hotels, airports and sports venues, residents evicted from homes say the payments are grossly insufficient. Theresa Williamson, a city planner focused on community rights in Rio, has written forcefully in The New York Times on Brazil’s “lost opportunity” in its approach to preparing for the games. We’ll be interviewing her for our upcoming film.
Currently, Brazil is investing $52 billion in infrastructure by the first kick of the World Cup in June and an additional $11 billion before the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics — and costs continue to rise. This tremendous economic commitment doesn’t even take into account the intangible impact on the 1.5 million Brazilians whose lives and neighborhoods have been disrupted so the games can be staged. The glitz and the glamor of the new stadiums, hotels and airports are undoubtedly appealing for the sports-loving tourists and hundreds of millions of TV viewers. But all of the “improvements” could backfire if there are big impacts on the economy, environment and spirit of Rio’s poorer residents.