This column article was published on the Neon Tommy website in March 2014.
As the World Cup approaches, the Brazilian government tries to solve its favela, or slum, problem by sweeping it under the rug.
It aims to reduce the numbers of favelas by evicting residents from their homes and, when they do not obey, by cutting municipal services like lighting and trash collection for the neighborhood.
In Rio de Janeiro, 1.4 million people live in favelas. According to government officials, residents of favelas must move out for “safety” reasons, when in fact the public knows that the evictions are a part of preparations for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
Because favelas are very visible in Rio de Janeiro and because some of them are in prime locations, the city plans on gentrifying some and depopulating others.
The government is correct in recognizing the lack of safety in favelas and attempting to reduce crime, address the risks of landslides and unsustainable infrastructure and combat the spread of diseases like tuberculosis. However, the government’s disregard for the difficulties favela residents have endured up to now only proves that authorities are solely interested in clearing areas for the construction of roads, stadiums and Olympic villas.
Favelas would not exist in the first place if the socioeconomic gaps were not so wide, and if lower and middle class Brazilians did not suffer so greatly from unemployment, skyrocketing real estate prices, lack of effective public transportation and many other problems.
According to a study conducted by the Popular Data Institute, 65 percent of favela residents have been searched by the police; more than one third of them do not have any books at home; and residents have, on average, only six years of education. Residents also complained about unreliable and poor public services, scarce access to culture, and lack of proper water, lighting and sewage infrastructure in their neighborhoods.
Brazil does not have the money needed to solve all of these problems, but it can afford to start solving a few of them. Instead of evicting favela residents and forcing them to move to Rio’s peripheries, the city should be investing in better infrastructure to accommodate these people’s needs.
Providing basic sanitation, implementing better housing projects and, most importantly, investing in education for all of Brazil’s children, including those who live in favelas, can be done with the same money and dedication given to the World Cup and Olympics preparations.
If Brazilian authorities were actually interested in the well being of their people, they would spend the money that is being wasted on hastily constructed stadiums on education and decent living conditions for Brazilians instead.
With the pressure from recent protests and foreign attention, authorities have started to be more proactive about the problems, but the question remains of whether or not these “changes” are fleeting impressions for the World Cup and the Olympics.