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Rio's Olympic land grab

From environmental hazards to highway expansion: Residents of Rio's Vila Autódromo slum have heard a slew of reasons why they must move off their land, as Olympic developers move in.

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Even though the winning design plan for the Olympic park promotes mixed economic use of the area, and would keep the community where it is, the Rio city government has led the call for eviction.

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“What they [the Rio city government] want to do is create an environment for the upper middle class,” says Mr. Coelho.

The government wants to assure public-private partnership (PPP) investors that the area will be a wealthy neighborhood once the Olympic games are complete, Coelho says, reserved for shopping malls and condos.

The government created a PPP to develop the Olympic park in order to minimize how much the government has to invest in the Olympic infrastructure. It also allows private developers to build commercial and residential units after the games.

Rio officials argue they can offer residents a better relocation option (remember those barbecue pits and leisure areas?) than their current neighborhood. But a recent local media report showed that the land promised for the new housing project was going to be purchased from two of Mayor Eduardo Paes’ campaign donors, for an elevated price and without public bidding.

The city quickly suspended the purchase after this news broke, but the government is still pushing to relocate residents to this new land. 

In another dramatic turn, Councilman Coelho’s office filed a petition arguing that the new resettlement plot is an area of environmental hazard itself already condemned by the government's geography service as a risk area for mudslides (link in Portuguese). 

The city government came to Vila Autódromo with a table of prices they would offer to homeowners, and characterized the buyout as a "friendly" one in which both sides were willing and could negotiate the price. In an "unfriendly" buyout, the city government would be legally obliged to have an independent consultant determine the house's price, which critics say would be higher than the ones currently offered by the government.

The president of Carvalho Hosken Construction, one of three companies that were chosen for the PPP, said after the Monday bid that Vila Autódromo’s home titles may not be respected.

“Everything was done in an environmental protection area,” says Carlos Fernando de Carvalho, discrediting the validity of the home titles granted by the state government about two decades ago and echoing the city government's arguments that the titles were awarded by a "squatter-friendly" administration. In its petition to overturn the judge's barring of the bid, the city government alleged the state government had granted those titles in a "pro-invader" political climate that gave squatters a sense of impunity and false entitlement to the land.

“It was all done in an unregulated way," said Mr. de Carvalho.

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