An increased awareness of favelas in Rio de Janeiro may be one informational legacy of the Olympic Games. A website called RioonWatch.org is continuing to keep track of favela issues after the departure of visitors.
One persistent issue is the relationship between favela residents and government officials. The research director of Rio on Watch, Cerianne Robertson, discussed this relationship in a conference at the Rio Media Center during the Olympic Games. She said the clash of failed Olympic promises is creating a toxic environment for the citizens of Rio — especially the residents of favelas.
Host cities of the Olympic Games typically make commitments to residents to improve infrastructure and quality of life. In Rio, one of these commitments also focused on security. What happens when these promises are broken, Robertson asks, and residents are left without the improvements they were expecting?
“In about 2010 the mayor of Rio announced this incredible policy called morar corioca,” Robertson said. “Urbanists, architects, urban planners were incredibly excited about it. Favela residents were also excited about it because it proposed to upgrade — so that sanitation investments, road pavings, other kind of infrastructure works to all of Rio’s favelas by 2020. It was framed as one of the key social Olympic legacy projects” said Robertson. The plan to improve the city’s favelas was received well. Unfortunately, she said, little has been done since to maintain the proposed timeline.
Failing on promises of improvement is not the only issue that exists between favela residents and government, she said. A history of brutal mistreatment by police is another. “In Brazil, 2,000 people were killed across the country [due to police brutality],” Robertson said. “In Rio, the state, the number was about 600 last year, and about 300 in the city. It’s predominantly focused in favelas, in communities where the population is largely black and largely poor,” she said. “People have called it a ‘genocide against black people’ or a ‘deliberate cleansing of the city’ especially in light of mega events” such as the Olympic Games.
Favela residents have a strong history of organizing within their communities in response to injustices. “One really cool initiative that I have been following is a series of meetings with the idea of planning a favela conference that would bring people from various different favelas and zones of the city together,” Robertson said. They would discuss the terms of a conference, the issues to be discussed, the issues, and ways to involve as many communities as possible.