RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — The summer Olympics in Rio are less than a year away, and the city still has plenty of preparing to do. One big obstacle: the ramshackle settlements that sit in the exact spots the city wants to use for Olympics infrastructure.
Rio started evicting people from these settlements years ago, but the process isn’t yet complete.
Vila Autodromo, a neighbourhood that once housed 700 families, is emblematic of the evictions. Sitting right behind the Olympics media center and other half-built structures for the games, Vila Autodromo now has just 87 families left.
Many of them are defiant, refusing to leave for any price.
Below, the story of what’s left in this ghost settlement.
Vila Autodromo, located behind a former racetrack ('autodromo' means 'autodrome' in English), is on its way to being replaced by a new road for the Olympics.
The settlement looks like a ghost town. Buildings are half torn down, and construction machinery lingers near the entrance to the neighbourhood.
Paulo Roberto (right) is a fisherman who has lived in Vila Autodromo for 20 years. He says that he's been offered $200,000 by the city to leave, in addition to two apartments in a nearby neighbourhood called Parque Carioca.
That price: $1 million. Nothing less. 'The city asked me to negotiate, but I refused,' he says. 'I like the quality of life here. Many people who left regret it. They aren't happy.'
Maria Docarmo, a widow who owns a convenience store in Vila Autodromo. Her shop is one of the last remaining stores in the neighbourhood. But she desperately wants to leave.
'Everybody left and the electricity keeps going out. I can't live in this way,' she says. 'Now because it's so empty, there are dangerous people hiding in the community. It's a kind of no-man's-land.'
She shares a building with her upstairs neighbour, and according to Docarmo, he refuses to take money in exchange for ditching his home. But if the neighbour ever agrees to go, there is a $200,000 payday waiting for her.
Dalva de Oliveiro, an elderly Vila Autodromo resident who lives with multiple generations of family, is one of the holdouts who won't leave for any price.
'Everybody knows I don't want to leave here,' she says. 'I don't want the money. It doesn't matter what they offer me. I don't even know what I'd buy with the money.'
Rio officials have reportedly talked about building new homes and revitalizing the parts of Vila Autodromo that don't need to be destroyed to make room for the Olympics road. At the rate people are leaving, though, there might be little left post-Olympics.
Once the Olympics are over, the infrastructure surrounding Vila Autodromo will be converted into commercial developments.
Some residents and activists suspect that the city wants to push Vila Autodromo residents out not just for the road, but also to drive up nearby building values.
Whatever the real reasons behind the evictions, it's irrelevant to the families left in Vila Autodromo, who are part of a disappearing neighbourhood.
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