As Rio prepares for the World Cup and Olympics, communities say they're being forced out to make way.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 - 21:30

Rio de Janeiro is preparing to be the centre of the world's attention; with Brazil hosting both the World Cup and the Olympics.

But Dateline has found that behind the grand plans for stadiums, tourist attractions and new transport links, lie whole communities being forced from their homes.

Yaara Bou Melhem meets people who say they were told to move out in the morning, then by the afternoon their homes had been flattened.

The slum dwellers claim they can't afford to go elsewhere, and the compensation or relocation offered by the government are no replacement for their bulldozed homes.

With protests continuing and a legal challenge looming, will Rio be ready for kick off in just over a year's time?

WATCH - See Dateline's report from Rio's favelas.The report is also available with Portuguese subtitles.

PHOTO GALLERY - Look at some of Yaara's photos from her trip with more details about her story.


Watch With Portuguese Subtitles

Watch Yaara's story with Portuguese subtitles (click on the captions symbol at the bottom right of the video player if they don't appear automatically)



When a city wins the bid for the world's biggest sporting event, you can be sure of one thing, it will never be quite the same again. It's a case of double trouble in Brazil with preparations for the Olympics and the World Cup already in full swing. For residents of Rio de Janeiro's infamous favela's the clean-up of their iconic city has come at a dramatic cost. Here is Yaara Bou Melhem.

REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem

This is the Rio that the government wants you to see, postcard panoramas, lazy days at the beach. And then there's this;.. Across the city there's violence, evictions and demolition as Brazil prepares for the Football World Cup and the Olympics. This is one of the favela's being destroyed.

ANNALUCIA CLAUSSIO (Translation): He didn't even wait, I asked him to wait.

Antonio Claussio and his wife Annalucia have just watched their home being demolished and they are devastated. This was Antonio's home. He was told to vacate just this morning. By the afternoon - this. Until the very moment the bulldozers moved in, Annalucia had been desperately negotiating with the city authorities about their eviction.

ANTONIO CLAUSSIO (Translation): He didn't wait at all, they simply arrived and started taking out the doors.

REPORTER (Translation): Don't you want to give her an interview? No?

ANNALUCIA CLAUSSIO (Translation): I can't talk, it is hard for me

They have been offered the equivalent of $17,000 for their home. But Antonio believes it was worth at least double that amount.

ANTONIO CLAUSSIO (Translation): We get upset because the money they paid us was not what we wanted and we feel sad to see our house being knocked down, everything that we owned, that we built with our sweat.

Their favela is called Tanque, a small close-knit community in an unfortunate location, part of it right in the path of a planned Olympics highway. Now, everywhere I look, there's destruction. 40 families have already had their homes destroyed. For Maria Estele it's already too late. Three generations of her family lived here.

MARIA ESTELE (Translation): Here it was my lounge, here my daughter's bedroom and from here to there was his second hand shop. Here, my daughter's bedroom, here, my lounge. We have been living here for 30 years and now we have nowhere to go because the money I got is not enough to buy a house. Not enough.

Maria says the Rio authorities paid her about $7,000 for her house.

MARIA ESTELE (Translation): I don't know what to do, I don't know, my God; they paid me peanuts, I don't know.

THERESA WILLIAMSON, CATALYTIC COMMUNITIES: We have been following it very closely;

Theresa Williamson is the executive director of Catalytic Communities, an NGO that works closely with the residents of Rio's favela's.

THERESA WILLIAMSON: Right here I think you are being violated primarily in two senses - firstly, they weren't given enough warning, they were not given enough opportunity to negotiate, to participate in the process. They weren't given an opportunity as a community to discuss their rights. They were told outright that if they talked to a lawyer that they would receive less compensation. They were told that if they waited they would receive less compensation. All of these things are pure lies.

The government refutes such claims and points to new public housing projects like this one, as an alternative to the city's slums. Rio housing Secretary, Pierre Batista is happy to show me around.

PIERRE BATISTA (Translation): This housing project is very strong because it brings benefits for families like an excellent location - the train and everything close by. Families who used to live with no utilities, poor construction, today live in a place like this, with a school, health, everything, a gym, a park, all this infrastructure.

The residents certainly seem happy with their new home.

PIERRE BATISTA (Translation): You will be here as well, in this marvellous place. That's it.

WOMAN (Translation): I'm already enjoying it, I want my daughter here.

But not all of those displaced from the slums are able to move here. In order to be eligible, they need to be registered for employment and be in a position to pay back federal loans for the property.

PIERRE BATISTA (Translation): 900 flats, 700 with two bedrooms and 200 with three bedrooms.

At this launch of yet another public housing project, Rio de Janeiro's dynamic mayor Eduardo Paes is touting the benefits of a life beyond the favela's.

EDUARDO PAES, MAYOR (Translation): This is a good development, beautiful, isn't it? We could have taken you far away, but with a quality alternative here;.

But some here have come from areas marked for demolition and they want to stay right where they are.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): They call us invaders, it is not true. We are workers of this city and we should have land rights. Governments elected every four years don't have the right to decide my life, my history.

Altair Guimaraes leads the residents of a well-known favela. Unlike the Tanque, they are well organised and vocal.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): I have tried many times with you to find an alternative that would not mean the removal of the community. What we want to discuss here is our history. Twice I have been removed from places I was living, even though I am 58, I have no rights in this city. I get very upset that you, with a mandate of eight years, have the right to decide my story, my life.

This new Rio for the poor looks impressive. But I wanted to ask the mayor about what had happened to Antonio Claussio and Annalucia and their $17,000 compensation.

EDUARDO PAES: Was it a house or a business? I don't know.

REPORTER: It was a house, it was a two storey house.

EDUARDO PAES: I mean, I don't know this specific case.

REPORTER: I am giving you the specific case, it was 34,000 rials. That is not really enough to buy a new car, let alone a new house.

EDUARDO PAES: Again, again what we always do is try to negotiate, so I don't know this specific case.

REPORTER: But they may not be in a good position to negotiate.

EDUARDO PAES: Every time;. No, I mean, every time;. We started, I mean, almost two years ago, so we have been negotiating this whole time. So; I mean, it has different situations. Obviously, sometimes, not good negotiations might happen and every time I am told, I'm aware of these situations, I always intervene. Let's go with much calm, much talk. Let them scream and we will go ahead. Let's see the decorated flat. Come here woman, let her come. Come here.

The mayor is keen to show his model apartments to the favela residents and the media.

EDUARDO PAES (Translation): This one wants to move in tomorrow.

WOMAN (Translation): Will it really be like this?

EDUARDO PAES (Translation): Yes!

But Altair Guimaraes, a builder by trade, isn't impressed.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): You see? This is all just for show. Everything here, these books. This flat is just to dupe people, to bring them here to be dazzled. Check later, when it has been built, whether all this is still here.

He says he won't be moving in.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): I don't want any of this, this does not fool me. Nothing here fools me.

I'm keen to see where Altair Guimaraes comes from and I start my visit here at Pedro's house. You can see why residents are resisting the removals. It also makes me rethink my notions of a so called slum.

PEDRO (Translation): Every day we have a different view, nature is close by, birds fly over; I'm already saddened just imagining that something could happen, it surely breaks my heart.

Pedro has been living here with his family for 24 years. And he is not about to go.

PEDRO (Translation): We struggled to build it, I can sleep well at night because I didn't steal, I did nothing wrong, I built it with my salary, my sweat;many sacrifices, me and my wife, struggling together. Then someone comes and says that we are invaders, it is impossible to accept this situation.

From his roof garden, you can see just how close the Olympic Games construction is.

PEDRO (Translation): Here's the future Olympic Park where the Arena Theatre is now.

One of the remarkable aspects of this favela, is that the locals actually have a 99-year lease on their properties from the State. At the nearby resident's centre, we are shown the documents.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): Here is "œOur Land, Our State". If we were invaders we would not have these documents to begin with, it is in the constitution. When we occupied it, it was an invasion, but it became legal once the state government recognised our rights and gave us this land.

Altair Guimaraes is not giving up. He and his fellow residents have mobilised mass support.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): The mayor, Eduardo Paes, he wants to destroy our history.

And he is leading a legal challenge to the mayor's plans to demolish the favela.

ALTAIR GUIMARAES (Translation): If the state gave it, why does the city want to take it?

THERESA WILLIAMSON: If Rio hadn't been selected to host the Olympics, and the World Cup, there wouldn't have been enough political clout to, in a democracy as we live here in Brazil, to undergo this kind of eviction process. This can only happen because the Olympics creates a deadline and it forces a set of goals.

And while favela residents struggle to keep their homes, violence continues. Away from the tourists, the reshaping of the city grinds on, raising many questions about the authority's grand vision. Back in Tanque, Antonio is facing a different sort of question. Where to sleep tonight? His stepdaughter may provide a bed for now. But the future looks bleak.

ANTONIO CLAUSSIO (Translation): It is difficult when we see that our house has vanished , there are no words.

ANJALI RAO: We have put together a photograph gallery with images of life in Rio's favela. Take a look at the website.






Original Music Composed by

Additional footage provided by A Nova Democracia

9th April 2013