Fighting for the Favelas

It’s a whole lot of confrontation, lots of head-on fighting, out in the open. Threats and lots of things they do. They throw garbage on your doorstep. They climb up the lamppost and cut the electricity while demolishing houses, and they don’t bother to replace it when they’re done. Or the sewage [that surfaces] when they break down someone else’s property—they leave it out in the open. They do everything in their power to pressure you so you hand over your house. Eleven families still live here. More than 100 left. The first land the state offered, they took off.

Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro share how they have been affected by the World Cup

“[As a tour guide] I show Brazil literally as it really is, Rio de Janeiro in the flesh. There are so many other more profound things than just the Sugarloaf Mountain, Corcovado, Copacabana, butts, the mulata Sargentelli, carnival, and soccer. I think Brazil is a lot more than that,” Victor Lira says.

Lira’s family has lived in the hilltop community of Santa Marta for many decades, but he fears that a rise in speculation brought on by the World Cup will push them out and turn his favela into prime real estate. Several urbanization projects are underway in Rio de Janeiro, including a $3 billion infrastructure initiative called Morar Carioca, intended to urbanize all of the city’s favelas by 2020. It has been the premise for widespread evictions. According to the People’s Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, some 16,700 people from 29 communities in Rio de Janeiro have already been evicted from their homes. Another 4,900 families are still threatened with eviction.

The World Cup has also created economic disruptions for Brazilians looking to profit from the event. In an attempt to “clean up” the city for incoming tourists, FIFA created Law 12.663/13, known as the “World Cup General Law.” Among other things, the law prohibits vendors from selling goods around the stadiums and any FIFA-sponsored venues, including hotels. The law went into effect in 2009, when just 18,000 permits were made available to the more than 60,000 vendors who roam the city. The government also put a “Shock Order” into effect, which increased police crackdowns on vendors working without a license.

While these statistics help expose some of the grievances brought on by the World Cup, it is the experiences of the people targeted by these laws and programs that truly contextualize the events taking place in Brazil. Here, Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro share their life stories and describe how they have been affected by the World Cup.

–Mariana Simoes and Elisa Bonaccorsi

Edilson Lopes Abreu is a former professional soccer player. He now works as a security guard at a public school. He has lived his entire life in the community of Salgueiro.

I dreamed of being a soccer player, and I got to live that dream in the six months that I stayed in Uruguay, where I played for Huracán, in the second division. Then I hurt my knee, a very bad injury, and it just would never have been the same way again, so I came back to Rio.

My grandfather always took me to soccer practice. Then he had a bad accident and had to have his leg amputated. When I went to Uruguay we said our goodbyes, but on that day . . .  you know when you feel like you’re never going to see that person again? So I left for Uruguay, and in a few months my mom called me and said he’d passed away. My grandfather was the one who always took me to play.

My grandfather had a dream: to see his grandson on television. He died, but I was able to make his dream come true, and for me that was a great fulfillment. Before I went to Uruguay, the team I was going to play for over there came here. We played against Flamengo. That game was aired on TV, and my grandfather saw it. When I came back from the game, he talked to me and cried. I had never seen my grandfather cry. I saw him cry while he talked to me. I cried too.

Nowadays, if you have a good agent, you don’t have to play great soccer. He’ll put you on any team. Sometimes, and this has happened to me, I went to play, and I knew, I won’t say I’m better than that guy, but I was in a better moment than him. But because he had better connections, I had to play as his substitute. That discouraged me. Brazilians will always have soccer running through their veins, but with agents getting in the way, the quality of the game in Brazil is getting lower.

I won’t go to the stadium. If I had tickets I’d go, but I don’t. It’s very expensive now. Before, you would pay R$10, R$15. Now, to go to Maracanã to watch a team play you have to pay R$80 to R$100. For people who live here it’s hard. That’s why the stadiums these days are so empty.

As for the World Cup, I hope that everything is wonderful, with no violence and no problems.

Juliana Kazan is a law student and researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro fighting against forced evictions. She worked for the Nucleus for Land and Housing (NUTH) and is involved in social justice groups, including the People’s Committee for the World Cup and Olympics.

My grandfather Ibrahim would take his post as the patriarch of the table and would sit there like a little camel. If you provoked him by bringing something up, he would say, “Oh Mirna, this girl is a communist, Mirna, how dangerous!” Everything was  “dangerous.” My grandmother would appear dragging her gold slippers: “What is it, Ibrahim?” We nicknamed him “grandpa danger.” But I think he enjoyed the fact that his grandchildren had strong opinions.

The People’s Committee for the World Cup and Olympics isn’t a social movement, but it’s a space for political discussion and a space that fights for the city, for the right to live in the city. It situates this political strategy of evictions in Rio where, as of 2009, with the arrival of Paes [the governor], more than 66,000 people have been removed from their homes, to situate that in the scope of the impending sporting events.

There is an issue in all this that really shocks me, which is the issue of memory. There are people who have been living on a hill for 60 years. The history and culture created in these places isn’t recognized. They remove houses and say, “This isn’t appropriate housing.” They give a different excuse every time. They have claimed that [the houses are] a health hazard, but they don’t present an inspection report. Or they say it’s because of the “100 Quota,” which is an urban legislation that says you can’t build a structure over a quota of 100 meters, which is obviously only applied to the favelas when it’s convenient.

They condemn the stories of those families, of those people who are there. The public sectors want to use their power to wipe all of that out. Why did I say that it’s a question of memory? The favela and it’s residents are treated like an urban anomaly. None of it is taken into consideration. None of the history of the families who migrated from the Northeast, from Minas, who came to establish themselves and have to work in Rio and construct their homes. Without romanticizing, [the favelas] have their problems, of course. But either way there is a story and memory there that is made invisible all the time.

Maria do Socorro has lived in the favela Indiana for forty-one years. She is an active community voice against the relocation and eviction of its residents.

I’m rich because I live in Tijuca, in a beautiful house in the favela Indiana, where everything is close by. The government arrived in 2010 to say they were just coming to make improvements. They went inside the houses, took photos. They didn’t mention any evictions. But as soon as Rio de Janeiro was chosen [to host the World Cup], they came to evict us.

I wasn’t born here, I came from the north, from Paraíba. When I arrived here my father lived in the entrance of the favela, inside a bus that was built into a home. You could tell from the front of the house that it was a bus. So he had my mom sent over with the four kids from Paraíba.

Later, my dad left and abandoned my mom. My mom didn’t have a house, and she asked my grandma if she could stay here because she thought there was no better place than the favela Indiana. But when we arrived, my grandma put us in a little room that was a bathroom. My mom would spend the whole night sitting so we could sleep, because there was only one bed and it didn’t fit all four kids and her.

So my mom worked really hard with her four children to have a house, and we built our house here in Indiana. She would always say, “I won’t leave here, this is where we are going to live, here everything is close by. Our house, no money in the world can buy.” That’s what my mom would say.

And now I use the same phrase as my mom: I’m never going to leave. My mom passed away in 2009, and I have something to say that I say everywhere I go. When my mom saw on television that Rio de Janeiro was chosen [to host the World Cup], she called me crying, saying that she was going to die because she had renal problems. She said she was going to die and that she wasn’t going to see Rio de Janeiro host the World Cup. I told her that I was going over there to talk to her. So I hung up the phone and went there, and I told her not to cry, that she was going to live to see it, and she would say, “No my daughter, I won’t see it because I’m going to die, and what’s going to happen here is going to be very good for Rio de Janeiro, this World Cup and the Olympics.” Since [the evictions began], I use the same phrase: I’m not well, my mom is the one who is doing well, because she is up there.

I have a daughter who is 21 and is studying chemical engineering. She is going to France in June, and she is a resident of the favela Indiana. It’s a great happiness for her, she fought a lot alongside me [against the eviction process in Indiana].

My struggle has forced me to do lots of things, including showing up at other communities that I’d never been to and standing up to the local government along with the other residents. City Hall definitely won’t win, we are going to win, all the poor people. We are going to stay in our favelas.

Maria de Lurdes do Carmo is a street vendor turned activist who rights for the rights of workers in Rio de Janeiro. She is known as Maria dos Camelôs [Maria of the Vendors].

Before I became an activist, I worked as a maid. I was separated from my ex-husband, the father of my children, and had to find work somewhere else to make more money. So I started working on the streets as a vendor.

I became pregnant, spent nine months working on the streets, and defended myself with my belly. When the police attacked the street vendors, me being pregnant, the police couldn’t beat me. And I was able to get the street vendors out of there. I think things are going to get worse now with the World Cup because they want to see the city “clean.”

So anyway, I had my son. Seven days after he was born, I went back to work. I put him in a stroller and went to work. That day a huge fight broke out; my mom saw me on TV running towards a McDonalds with him. After that she wouldn’t let me take him to work anymore, so I went alone. Fifteen days after giving birth, the police got me and beat the shit out of me. They beat me to a pulp. I had a caesarean and the stitches opened up, so I spent some time in the hospital, but I came back.

I would be in favor of the World Cup if the city was in good shape, if we had better education, if people weren’t kicked out of their homes. If the plans had been discussed with us. But instead FIFA imposed their rules on us. We won’t be able to sell anything that has the World Cup logo.

I’m going to tell you something: I really liked watching the games. When it happened in South Africa, I was taking night classes to finish up my high school degree, and the teacher would read lots of articles about what was going on in Africa: the right to work, to housing, people being removed from their homes. So I was looking at this shit, and I thought to myself, “Damn, that crap is coming here, to our city.”

I won’t sit and watch the games. I don’t want to have anything to do with the Cup. I don’t just want a “cup”, I want the whole dinner set. I want a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and the World Cup too!

Vanderson de Guimarães is a resident of the favela Manguinhos, a community bordering Maracanã, the stadium that will host the World Cup finals. Guimarães is struggling to keep his property after 100 other families accepted nominal reparations from the government to have their houses demolished.

I’ve lived here for 14 years. The little bit of money I had could only get me a property here.

I identify with [my zodiac sign], Cancer. Romantic, extremely nostalgic—I’m almost excessively sweet. But lately, touch me and I’ll go, “Argh!”  I’m talking about the dispossession. That really messes with a person’s psyche. A person’s health becomes limited. It has been a little less than five years. It’s a whole lot of confrontation, lots of head-on fighting, out in the open. Threats and lots of things they do. They throw garbage on your doorstep. They climb up the lamppost and cut the electricity while demolishing houses, and they don’t bother to replace it when they’re done. Or the sewage [that surfaces] when they break down someone else’s property—they leave it out in the open. They do everything in their power to pressure you so you hand over your house. Eleven families still live here. More than 100 left. The first land the state offered, they took off.

Some of the people here were not prepared to deal with, let’s say, R$1,000 in their pockets. The majority of them had never had R$20,000 in their pockets, so if someone shows up offering R$30,000 for their house, they will kiss their feet! But people forget what our President Lula said when he was in office: that he would send money to Manguinhos, that every property had the right to collect R$90,000. If you show me twenty families that made it out with that kind of money, I’d say it’s a real miracle.

My education helped, and because of my friendships I had access to judges, prosecutors, childhood friends who became lawyers. The first thing I did when I realized what could happen down the road was call up some lawyer friends and set up an appointment.

I intend to take this opportunity to leave [Manguinhos], but I want to make it worth my while, to leave with dignity. I’m not going to give up my house for just any price so that I have to run to the bank and take out a loan and on top of that purchase a house that’s worse than mine. I hope that doesn’t happen.

Victor Lira is a tour guide and landscaper. A fifth-generation resident of the hilltop of Santa Marta, he is fighting for the preservation of his community.

Part of the summit of Santa Marta is being threatened with eviction. Why? It has a breathtaking, magnificent, cinematographic, nearly 180 degree view that encompasses the “Finger of God”, Corcovado mountain, the Sugar Loaf, the Lagoon, Ipanema, Leblon, Urca, Leme, without any interruption. There is a tourist attraction at the top of the favela, which is the Dona Marta lookout, a helicopter pad that offers breathtaking helicopter flights.

“Ahhhh! Let’s get these poor people out of the way, and let’s sell this for someone to exploit!”

How much would a hotel room cost with all the perks that I just told you about? How much would a meal at a restaurant up there cost with all the perks that I just told you about? There are fifty to sixty thousand tourists roaming Santa Marta every month, both Brazilian and foreign. You have the dollar, the yen, the peso, the euro—every type of currency comes through your door. In other words, any possibility [of investment] will generate profit and fast, especially with Brazil hosting these sporting events. That is the main reason: greed. Before, it was a place that was forgotten, marginalized, that no one ever wanted to look at, no one wanted to pay any attention to, no one wanted to intervene in any way. So why wouldn’t we defend our rights and our territory in a place where no one ever cared about us?

Born and raised in Santa Marta for 32 years. My family arrived in the ’30s, and they were some of the first people to occupy the favela. Five generations. They arrived where the occupation first started, at the highest point of the peak. And today they are being threatened with eviction.

The way we’ve been treated has definitely changed [since Brazil was selected to host the Cup]. First there is the issue of social repression with the arrival of the UPP [Pacifying Police Unit]. We are seeing that in order to follow through with this urban project, there has to be repression, there has to be oppression, they have to keep the poor people under control. And how do you go about doing that? With police brutality.

Inside the favela we have to be really smart about how we walk through such a turbulent territory with all these different tempting offers. In fact, being able to cross this tumultuous path and make it to the other side . . . It’s not about feeling pride, it’s about feeling happy to at least be alive, man. Waking up the next day is the most important thing to me. Because tomorrow is elusive in Rio de Janeiro. I live for today. Tomorrow, I don’t know. Because of the activism I do and how involved we are, and we impact a lot of powerful spheres, a lot of hidden billionaire agendas, millionaires and lots of other people. Yeah, I don’t know. Tomorrow is elusive.

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