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Dwellers in neighbourhood slum curse lavish Olympics infrastructure

The rumblings of traffic and the construction of the overpass is what slum residents blame for ever-growing cracks in walls and ceilings tumbling down in the homes that did not succumb to a bulldozer for the highway. Photograph: (Reuters)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Aug 14, 2016, 02.06 PM (IST)
Maria do Socorro curses the Olympic Games as another bus rumbles over a new elevated highway that passes by her slum in Rio de Janeiro, sending a tremor through her brittle brick house and slowly tears apart her home and community.

She is a resident in the small Vila Uniao shantytown of 900 homes, just 2 kilometres north of the Olympic Village, where 368 families were removed to make way for the Transolimpica BRT bus route linking two main zones for the Games.

Silva's home sits in the shadow of the massive BRT overpass, and it, like the brittle brick houses next to it, rattles ever so slightly each time an Olympic bus carrying athletes, fans and media rumbles overhead.

Maria do Socorro, a 45-year-old beautician in the Favela, said the invasive construction works are another problem on a list of worsening issues.

"We used to live calmly. Now, we are constantly tensed. Nobody can sleep. There are lots of killings, death, shootings, things we didn't see before, and now with these works going on, things are very tense. It used to be a pleasure living here, everyone knew each other, we had parties, we did everything here inside the community, but nobody wants to do anything anymore because we don't know how things are going to be, what it is going to be like here inside," said Socorro.

The rumblings of traffic and the construction of the overpass is what Silva and others blame for ever-growing cracks in walls and ceilings tumbling down in the homes that did not succumb to a bulldozer for the highway.

The residents who were not transferred to government housing to make way for the BRT said what they are now demanding is city help with their homes that are crumbling because of the heavy construction just metres away from their front doors.


BRTs were constructed to benefit the poorest populations: Mayor 

The mayor's office strongly defends the BRT that cuts through Vila Uniao, and two other similar bus lines as creating desperately needed public transport.

The BRTs "were constructed to benefit, above all, the poorest populations in western Rio. It's an important legacy for those who use buses daily," the mayor's office said in an emailed statement.

Critics decry the BRTs as inefficient modes of transport and point out all of them run to the newer and wealthy Barra neighbourhood. It is the main Olympic zone that has seen billions in reais in real estate development built for the Games, and is the home turf of Mayor Eduardo Paes, who began his political career there.

Christopher Gaffney, with the University of Zurich's geography department and whose research has specialised on the impact the World Cup and Olympics have had on Brazil, labelled the BRTs as "retrograde transport modes through dense neighbourhoods and ecological reserves" that are not even considered mass transport.

He and others argue the far better plan would have been to expand Rio's existing metro system to the densely populated areas that most need it - not extending it from the rich Ipanema neighbourhood to Barra, the main Olympic transport legacy project.

That would have eliminated much of the need for what watchdog groups say are the 20,000 families forced to relocate since late 2009 for Olympic and World Cup works and legacy projects. The mayor's office has argued that 15,000 of those families were moved because they lived in "high risk" areas mostly in danger of mudslides and floods.

"They convinced us that we would have to leave, alleging that we were living in a risk area, that we had to move to a legal property, but when the location of the works moved, all of that disappeared, we are no longer in a risk area, we no longer need to live in a legal property. It is complicated, it is a real issue for lots of us here, me included," said resident Janaina Assis, 39.

"I think that after the Olympics, (the authorities) might just give us a little bit of attention, tricking us, because of the elections coming up, but after that I think they will abandon us. So many favelas in Rio are abandoned, I think they are just sweeping the rubbish under the rug," she added.

They also want the city to make good on a promise to provide basic sanitation to the community, where all household waste flows into a putrid stream running along the slum. It regularly overflows during Rio's rainy season, sending raw sewage into homes and streets.

Anger is palatable in Vila Uniao and it is near the shantytown that at least three Olympic buses have been hit by projectiles while speeding down the road, according to a high-level security source who spoke to Reuters on condition his name not be used because he was not authorised to discuss the matter.

One of those buses carried journalists earlier this week when two of its windows were shattered by what some on board swear was gunfire, but authorities say was stones, likely shot at the bus by slingshots.

In interviews with more than 15 residents and community leaders of Vila Uniao, none said they heard any gunfire when the media bus was hit on Tuesday night. But all said they would not be surprised if the buses were targeted by rocks slung by young men in the community, acts all the residents roundly denounced.

(Reuters)
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