Wrecking Homes For An Olympic Highway

A young resident looks inside her family's home in Largo do Tanque, a favela in Rio de Jainero. Photo by Lianne Milton

A young resident looks inside her family’s home in Largo do Tanque, a favela in Rio de Jainero. Photo by Lianne Milton

For tourists, Rio de Janeiro conjures images of panoramic views, stunning beaches and the famous Carnival celebration. What tourists won’t see is the swift demolition of homes in Rio’s favelas as the government pushes through a major highway project.

Photojournalist Lianne Milton got a firsthand look at one of the neighborhoods being cleared for construction. She and activist Theresa Williamson toured the area together and captured the devastation of the people who lived there.

“Favelas are not shanty towns,” Milton said. “They have kitchens, water, tiled floors. The people there have spent years there building community. It was very traumatic watching people lose their homes.”

Largo do Tanque is one of many neighborhoods being torn down to build the Transcarioca highway, which will facilitate traffic flowing to Olympic sites for the 2016 Summer Games.

The Brazilian government says while the Olympics and the 2014 World Cup are the catalyst, the demolitions will bring needed improvements and have a long-term beneficial effect on the city.

Residents who are asked to leave are offered varying amounts of money, and in many cases they say it is not enough to buy a comparable home.

“The government is forcing residents from their homes with very little compensation,” said Williamson, director of Catalytic Communities, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to de-stigmatizing Rio’s favela communities.

As a result, some will move in with relatives; others will try to save up to buy another home. A small number of them receive higher-quality compensation housing, but they complain because these homes are far from health and educational facilities.

Despite their indignation, Williamson says people in the community are remarkably resilient.

“The general spirit of the people is to accept what has happened and rebuild elsewhere the best they can, avoiding looking back too much,” she said. “This is a coping mechanism that’s vital for people who feel powerless in the face of authority.”

Meanwhile, Milton says she worries about what the future holds for the residents of Largo do Tanque. She hopes her images help bring more awareness about their plight.

“They’ll survive, of course, but it will take a long time to settle into a new community again,” she said. “Imagine yourself being forced from your home and community of many years.”

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