The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio promise visibility, more fame, and some fortune for the people of Brazil. By the end of these games in fact, Latin America as a whole will simply become a more noticed and viable brand – for expansion.
At the end of this article, any real investor or person interested in a sustainable future should ask the question; “What’s really best for us all.” And while this may ring of pure altruism and ideological naivety, thinking costs so little and can bring so much.
The Cost of a Kinder, More Gentle Rio
News from the BBC this morning tells of the march of progress, and the oft-time bulldozing of dreams too. As Rio 2016 draws nearer, developers and especially the administration of President Dilma Vana Rousseff (above in an interview) have to quicken the pace of progress. Let’s not forget FIFA is coming to town ahead of the IOC cavalcade for soccer’s super bowl, the World Cup. And with the “quickening”, as has been the case always, the poor and influential often suffer. Robin Lustig’s BBC story unveils speaks the names of a few who did live in the once destitute slums overlooking the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
Berenice Maria das Neves, the heroin of Lustig’s version of “imminent domain” 21st Century style, resided with her children for 8 years on the muddy hillsides surrounding Rio. Then she was called to the hallowed steps of City Hall, presented with a check for $5000 (US), only to return to find her meager home leveled by bulldozer. If I am reading the story correctly, Rio decision makers got residents out of their homes just long enough to make them homeless in one fell swoop.
She is not alone, the government says they intend to level 3000 homes in the area, while “treating people as fairly as possible”, according to the BBC report. I’m sorry, but for this writer fair is fair – unfair is unfair. The actual number of homes to be leveled is reportedly much higher. Fairness for this whole gentrification process seems to equal building some classy shacks an hour and a half away from the city center, where most of the poor work in Rio. In the most publicized move preceding these sporting events, security forces essentially occupied the notorious Rocinha slum back in 2011. Real estate prices climbed by 50% by the next morning.
The neighborhood, once a haven for squatters, is situated on a hill between two rich areas of Rio’s richest zone. Now, former residents can no longer even afford their own neighborhood. And that $5000 handout to Berenice? Clearly someone will make many times that just from her tiny speck of a home.
Beneath the Human Factor, Another Humanity Factor
But this is only the tip of a restructuring iceberg for Rousseff’s administration. Getting the drug lords out of Rio’s hills, building on a massive scale including infrastructure projects of monumental scale, Rio is the latest in a line of Olympic transformations. The nightmares of environmental calamity and displacement from Sochi, Russia still echo – and Vancouver’s Native Americans having only just now been shut up. “Nothing stands in the way of progress” is today, and even more powerful sentiment than before the Robber Barons and manifest destiny.
One does not have to work for Greenpeace or a humanitarian organization to understand the poor have nothing to gain from real estate booms like the one beginning in Rio. As is always the case, the best Berenice Maria das Neves and her children can hope for will likely be the crumbs from beneath the proverbial tables of the rich. Ah, but Bernice got hers in advance. Tickets to the events may have proved more useful.
My final note is actually a recurring sort of environmental and bad business nightmarish one. You see, the Olympics and other business operations are really about making money for a relative few companies and individuals. There’s not sense mixing metaphors and beating about the bushes. What is left of the great Atlantic Forest (above)that once surrounded Rio, all Brazil in fact, will certainly disappear from the Earth once the new roads and infrastructure is cut out there. Of course every expert (PDF from MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference) is being beaten from the woodwork to justify these games. But despite all the rabble rousing of profiteers, housing and other economic problems of Brazil will cease to worry investors once these games move elsewhere. Capetown should be a fine example here.
Vancouver, Sochi, even the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are in part the result of what you might call “classical profiteering selection”, or sites chosen largely because of a natural resource. Timber (think of this as you watch the video below), of rare and unique quality and value if it were weighed properly. But the machinations of the IOC’s ruling members and the companies behind them is fodder for an upcoming piece. Suffice it to say the poor of the world are once again being transplanted to serve the rich. Ironically though, the bigger cost in terms of what we all lose environmentally, is a veritable gentrification of Earth, with only one tenant on prime real estate.
To be continued….