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With much thanks to the massive resistance that has been taking place in Brazil for well over a year now, people around the world have become much more aware of the impacts of gentrification. We have seen protests against everything from transit fare hikes, to forced evacuation of favelas and the seizure of an indigenous museum full of artifacts; all this destruction to make way and increase capital for the #WorldCup and the Olympics. But truth be told, this has been happening for generations, everywhere; every time a city hosts one of these major events, it’s under the auspices of “improving economy” with promises of increased revenues for all, which always equates to decimating the lives of poorer populations, most often by framing communities as some sort of blight on society. This tactic is also validating and reinforcing narratives suggesting need for police force to implement the gentrification process, at the behest of the state, which has its fair share of self-interested “representatives” who are collaborating and receiving payoffs too.

This journalist describes these capitalist pursuits quite well:

"The word ‘slums’ conjures images of places that demand this kind of militarized presence, often in the minds of people who have never actually spent time in these communities. Yet, again, favelas are not slums. As written on the website of the Rio-based NGO Catalytic Communities:

According to the UN-HABITAT definition, a slum is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing, squalor and lacking in tenure security. This description doesn’t apply to the vast majority of favelas in Rio: the primarily brick and cement houses are built well and to last; conditions are not squalid, with running water, electricity, garbage collection and Internet access, though of low quality, reaching the majority of homes… The word ‘slum’ originated from the Irish phrase ‘S lom é’ meaning ‘it is a bleak or destitute place,’ and it is this meaning that it carries forth until today. Anyone who has visited a favela can attest that they are for the most part vibrant places that buzz with life and activity.

When I was in Brazil, speaking with residents in the favelas as well as community organizations, they convinced me that the World Cup and Olympics were being used as a pretext to depopulate and then develop the valuable land where the favelas sit. There is a real estate speculative boom taking place in Rio, and only so much land. Once unheard of, Rio’s wealthy are now looking at the hillside favelas and see the future of residential and commercial development. This is particularly true of areas that could be parking lots, athletic facilities or security zones for 2016 Olympic construction. The problem is the pesky people who happen to live there. Characterizing favelas as slums aids the depopulation effort. Characterizing them as festering dens of criminality aids that effort as well. Raising concerns about the World Cup provides the final justification.

None of this is to romanticize the very real poverty, crime and challenges that do exist in the favelas. Yet it is difficult to grasp how military occupation helps improve these problems or further stabilize these communities. In other words, we have another war on poverty that looks more like a war on the poor.”


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