As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup (in 2014) and the Olympics (in 2016) and, I have written before, the favelas are standing in the way. The organizers are hellbent on converting the parking lots for the poor into sports venues and parking lots for sports fans—and nothing is going to get in their way.
Including, as Theresa Williamson and Maurício Hora explain, Morro da Providência—Rio de Janeiro’s first and historically most significant favela.
Providência was formed in 1897 when veterans of the bloody Canudos war in Brazil’s northeast were promised land in Rio de Janeiro, which was then the federal capital. Upon arriving, they found no such land available. After squatting in front of the Ministry of War, the soldiers were moved to a nearby hill belonging to a colonel, though they were given no title to the land. Originally named “Morro da Favela” after the spiny favela plant typical of the Canudos hills where soldiers had spent many nights, Providência grew during the early 20th century as freed slaves joined the soldiers. New European migrants came as well, as it was the only affordable way to live near work in the city’s center and port.
Overlooking the site where hundreds of thousands of African slaves first entered Brazil, Providência is part of one of the most important cultural sites in Afro-Brazilian history, where the first commercial sambas were composed, traditions like capoeira and candomblé flourished and Rio’s Quilombo Pedra do Sal was founded. Today 60 percent of its residents are Afro-Brazilian.
In all honesty, I’m not much enamored of the argument that Providência should be protected because of its historical significance. Williamson and Hora’s worry is a bit too close to the concerns expressed during the Iraq War about the looting of the museums while a government was overthrown and hundreds were dying in the streets.
But Williamson and Hora do make another argument, which does raise alarms.
If Rio succeeds in disfiguring and dismantling its most historic favela, the path will be open to further destruction throughout the city’s hundreds of others. The economic, social and psychological impacts of evictions are dire: families moved into isolated units where they lose access to the enormous economic and social benefits of community cooperation, proximity to work and existing social networks — not to mention generations’ worth of investments made in their homes.
Rio is becoming a playground for the rich.
That’s the ugly side of the preparations for the World Cup and the Olympics. The poorest residents of Rio de Janeiro are being pushed aside—by bulldozers and militarized operations—in order to pave the way for investments only a few Brazilian and foreigners at the top will benefit from.
They are the ones being provided for.