Interview with author Alex Cuadros, broadcast on CBC Radio One’s The Current, August 8, 2016
On August 5, the Rio 2016 Olympics Games officially began with celebration, but not all of the city’s citizens were excited about the event. The cariocas — as the citizens of Rio de Janeiro are known — have expressed resentment for the international sporting event, a far cry from the unity between rich and poor that Mayor Eduardo Paes imagined for the games in a TED Talk from 2012.
Alex Cuadros is the author of Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country, published in July 2016. He says that Mayor Paes’ vision of unity has not panned out and it has been the wealthy who benefit with regards to many of the projects leading up to the Rio Olympics.
“It seemed like a win-win, that they could build useful infrastructure for the citizens of Rio, better public transportation and so on … but the reality turned out a bit different. It wasn’t a win for everyone. Projects were built that weren’t really so useful for the population as a whole and an inordinate proportion of the money was poured into a wealthy suburb of Rio, where just a fraction of the population lives.”
Cuadros says most of the projects Rio undertook for the Olympic Games were “built by a handful of companies that are owned by billionaire families.”
A specific example Cuadros provides has to do with the fate of the athletes’ village, which was constructed with subsidies from the government, and is in a wealthy suburb of Rio. While cities like London turned their athlete accommodations into affordable housing after the games, in Rio, the village will become luxury condos.
“There was an idea that part of the Olympic legacy would be extending vital basic services to the favelas of Rio.”
Favelas — which Cuadros says are often described as slums, but are more so informally-built, working-class neighbourhoods — house a large part of the population, with one in seven out of a metropolitan population of 12 million living in one. Basic services, like garbage pickup, were promised to be instated into Rio’s approximately 1,000 favelas by 2020. However, Cuadros says funding has been scaled back.
‘When you look at the numbers and when you look at the maps, [Mayor Eduardo Paes’] marketing version of what’s happening in Rio just really doesn’t match up with the facts. The fact is that most of the money has been poured into this wealthy suburb, while the vast working class … has been mostly neglected.”
The Current reached out to Mayor Eduardo Paes for comment on whether the wealthy in Rio have benefited more than the poor from the Olympics, but did not hear back. The Rio mayor told The Guardian, “There has never been so much transformation for poor people … It’s crazy to say there is no investment in poor areas.”
Listen to the interview with Alex Cuadros here or at the weblink above.
The broken promise of the Rio Olympics, by Alex Cuadros, The Atlantic, Aug 1, 2016
The Olympics won’t help Rio – London is still reeling from the damage four years on, by Kirsty Major, The Independent, Aug 8, 2016
Vancouver Winter Olympics: A festival of corporate greed, by Roger Annis, Jan 13, 2010