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Rio’s poor bear the brunt of Olympic property bubble

The value of property is rising inexorably in Rio as the Brazilian city prepares to host the 2016 Olympic Games. But some of the city’s poorest residents are paying a heavy price for this enforced metamorphosis.


As the London Games ended with a blaze of British pop, all eyes turned to Brazil. At Sunday’s closing ceremony, London’s larger-than-life Mayor Boris Johnson officially passed the Olympic flag to his Brazilian counterpart Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro, host to the 2016 games.

It’s the first time the games will be held in Latin America. And in Rio, the frenetic organisation for the event is carrying on apace. But the challenges for this multi-faceted city are huge, while the effects on some of its poorest residents have been particularly hard to bear.

Rio’s Olympic organisers have been hard at work since 2009. But behind the facade of this picture-postcard town, with its statue of Christ the Redeemer and world-famous white beaches, there are vast social and economic challenges to overcome.

Rio has major security concerns, public transport is in terrible condition and there are already major delays in construction. Despite assurances from the Brazilian Olympic Committee, some significant problems are beginning to emerge.

Good news for the rich

The chief symptom of these problems is the skyrocketing cost of housing in the city. Brazil has seen sustained economic growth in recent years. House prices in central Rio have gone up by around 16% since 2010, while beachside properties have seen rises of up to 50%.

A luxury two-bedroom apartment (of 100 square metres) near the more fashionable beaches of Leblon or Ipanema might easily sell for more than half a million euros, and the prices are continuing to rise.

But not all Rio’s citizens are wealthy, and a major security clampdown in the city’s “favelas” [shanty towns] has not only helped force real estate prices up, but it has also widened the gap between rich and poor.

Under the city’s “pacification” programme, security forces have been “invading” some of Rio’s more notorious slums with some positive results for residents. In districts where the police have established a firm foothold, prices have gone up by more than 7%.

But while these measures are good news for property owners, a significant proportion of residents – some two million people live in Rio’s shanty towns – are finding it increasingly hard to put a roof over their heads.

Bad news for the poor

In addition, forced expulsions from certain favelas in order to aid the “pacification” process and to improve the city’s infrastructure are being carried out.

According to Yves Prigent, head of Amnesty International’s Fight against Poverty programme, infrastructure and security operations in Rio “are being done at the expense of people living in the city’s slums.”

“They are the primary victims,” he told FRANCE 24. “The city is not holding back from expelling people from their homes in order to make room.”

Hundreds of families have already been made victims of what Amnesty calls “forced expulsions”.

Prigent said that the security forces regularly enforce these expulsions without giving residents time to prepare and without proposing alternative housing.

“Residents in these favelas who have often lived there all their lives, who have strong social bonds in their districts including access to jobs and schools for their children, suddenly find themselves on the edge of the city,” he said. “It is very traumatic for them.”

The violence of the “pacification” programme has shocked many people.

“The city’s security forces are using a military solution to tackle the violence that already exists in the favelas,” said Prigent, who worries that the number of forced expulsions are going to increase in the coming months.

“The joy of having the Olympics should not eclipse the importance of human rights,” he added.

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