Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Every four years, Brazilians decorate their streets in green and yellow, celebrating the arrival of the most anticipated sports tournament in the country.
With the kick-off for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil less than one month away, the country’s passion for football should be pulsating more than ever.
But there are some signs to the contrary. “World Cup for whom?” read the words painted on a wall on a street in Sao Paulo.
Many in Brazil’s middle class are unhappy with the effects the World Cup has already had on their lives. The cost of living has risen in the cities hosting the games, traffic jams have worsened, and a construction boom aimed at improving urban mobility has only compounded problems, they say.
But it is the poorest Brazilians who have borne the brunt of the World Cup preparations. According to the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, a group opposed to how the games’ preparations have been handled, 250,000 people across Brazil have been forcefully removed from their houses or are being threatened with eviction. Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre are the most affected cities, it says.
Marli Nascimento’s family and 117 others had been living in the low-income Parque Sao Francisco area in the town of Camaragibe, just outside of Recife, for more than 60 years. Between February 2013 and March 2014, her whole community was levelled to make room for a highway leading to Arena Pernambuco stadium, where Germany, Italy, Mexico, Japan and the US teams will play.
‘Some people didn’t have a place to go’
The government didn't want to negotiate. There was one public meeting and then the official said we had five days to leave.
In a firm tone, Marli, 61, told Al Jazeera that her sister-in-law has developed depression brought on by the first eviction notice in 2011. The stress of the process, she said, has been too much for her.
“The government didn’t want to negotiate. There was one public meeting and then the official said we had five days to leave. We were a community of mostly elderly people, and were afraid they would send the police in. Some people didn’t have a place to go.”
Henrique Frota, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Institute for Urbanistic Law, based in Fortaleza, told Al Jazeera that although Brazil has some of the most advanced urban policy legislation in the world, and is signatory to many international treaties protecting the right to adequate housing, there have been violations in every eviction case he’s been following in the World Cup’s host cities.
Similarly, Raquel Rolnik, the UN rapporteur on adequate housing, told Al Jazeera: “According to international norms about the right to housing, when an eviction occurs, the housing condition for the [affected] people needs to improve or at least remain the same. What we have been seeing in Brazil, in general, is conditions getting worse.”
Demian Castro, an urban planning researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, added that even families that agreed to move to other areas, hoping for an improvement in their precarious life conditions, have had their rights violated at some point.
“Authorities are required to present and previously discuss alternatives with affected families to the projects justifying their forced displacements, which didn’t happen. The right to stay should have been respected, like the right to leave was in some cases,” Castro told Al Jazeera.
He also criticised the fact that families are being resettled in faraway areas, with worse access to services and infrastructure than they had previously had, or receiving indemnities lower than the market price for their property.
“We’ve also received countless reports of physical aggression, psychological pressures and blackmailing by public and private agents involved in the projects,” added Frota.
Marli was compensated with an amount equivalent to just half the value of her old home. She has now bought another piece of land and is building a smaller house.
Other residents have been less fortunate: Marli said some people received only 20-40 percent of the value of their former houses, or have not been granted anything yet.
Pernambuco state prosecutor Francisco Nogueira said he guaranteed that all of the affected families would be granted indemnities, but did not clarify how those values are being calculated.
The governments are expelling vulnerable and poor populations to make room for new real estate frontiers.
“The amount provided by the state of Pernambuco has been fully deposited. The delivery of [individual] amounts depends only on legal procedures. It is important to note that a work force has been formed to help overcome legal obstacles that families might face,” Nogueira told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Marli’s relatives have been paying high rents or living with other family members. “We won’t celebrate this World Cup that only came to harm poor people’s lives. I worked 27 years at a hospital and built my old house with a lot of sacrifice. I couldn’t even watch the machines destroying it,” said Marli.
Frota told Al Jazeera that evicted families are victims of a city model that the Brazilian government is selling to business interests. “Under the pretext that life will be better after World Cup urban mobility projects are finalised, for example, the governments are expelling vulnerable and poor populations to make room for new real estate frontiers.”
‘My roots are here’
Maria do Socorro is a 47-year-old resident of Indiana, a small slum located in Tijuca, a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. Real estate prices have risen in the last few years following the renovation of the Maracana stadium and the installation of police units in many of the favelas here. She says no money in the world would make her want to leave the favela she’s been living in for over 40 years.
According to Rio’s Housing Office, 110 of Indiana’s 443 registered families have already been displaced. Of those, 107 were relocated to federal government housing facilities in an area 10kms away. Three others chose to receive indemnities.
Another 78 families have agreed to be relocated, and Socorro fears that these houses might be demolished as soon as their residents move away, leaving construction and piles of rubble that would make life impossible in Indiana, and force her to move. “My roots are here. I have built my life around my community. I wish the mayor would come to discuss improvements for our favela, not remove us.”
Celia Abend, the press agent for Rio de Janeiro’s housing office, told Al Jazeera that the government has been holding meetings with Indiana residents and representatives of the public defender to ensure that people who want to stay will have their rights respected, according to a commitment signed by Mayor Eduardo Paes last August.
Castro agrees that there are areas in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas built irregularly or precariously. He questions, however, the motive behind using this argument to justify mass evictions.
“Why is this justification suddenly used for areas in which there are strong real estate interests and not for other areas? If the risks are real, they can be minimised and measures can be taken to prevent mudslides,” he said, adding that the government should rename “areas at risk” to “areas for the rich”.
Socorro likely speaks for many when she says she wishes the World Cup wasn’t taking place in Brazil.
“If Brazil wins, I won’t even be happy, only sad, fighting not to be removed from where I live.”