Brazil Tramples Poor Citizens In Its Rush To Glory

Brazil wanted this to be their moment in the sun — hosting the World Cup and the Olympics was meant to show the country at its best. Instead, the spotlight is being shone on glaring inequality and a culture that invests in glossy stadiums while displacing its poor.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This Sunday, Brazil will be the home team in the Confederations Cup final. It's a soccer tournament that's seen as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, coming up next year in Brazil. Normally, in that soccer-mad country, this weekend's game would be an occasion to celebrate. But the final is expected to draw massive crowds of protesters. Many of Brazil's demonstrations over the past few weeks have been about soccer or, more specifically, about the cost of hosting the upcoming World Cup.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro sent this story from Sao Paulo, about how Brazil's rush to World Cup glory has affected some of its most vulnerable citizens.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The brand new stadium being built here for the World Cup will have an a capacity of up to 68,000, a huge LED screen covering its eastern wall, which will make it the biggest stadium screen in the world, and will cost some $400 million to complete. Right now, the work is feverishly continuing as Brazil struggles to meet its FIFA-imposed deadline. And that's just Sao Paulo.

There are 12 cities hosting the tournament and the refurbishment, or new construction, of the stadiums is costing some $14 billion in total, 80 percent of which is coming out of public coffers.

You don't have to walk very far, though, to see the other side of Brazil, far away from the glitzy stadium, a side that activists here allege the government is trying to cover up, in secret and by force.

So I'm now walking down the streets of Villa Da Paz. This is a shantytown, a favela, that's just near the stadium that's being built for the World Cup. This is an extremely poor community. The houses all around me are made of disjointed wooden planks, cinderblocks, the roofs are made of tin. The people here say they had hoped the World Cup was going to bring much needed prosperity, infrastructure and jobs to the community. But what's happened has been exactly the opposite, they say.

Drancy Silva is a short man wearing a jaunty, wool cap who walks with crutches. He takes us into his house - a shack, really, with enough room for a single bed and his pet birds.

DRANCY SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He explains his community is under threat of a forcible eviction. The government, he says, without warning, told them they would have to leave the area in a matter of months. The government says they will eventually build the displaced families an apartment block and, in the meantime, give them $200 a months for rent, he says.

But that will leave us homeless, he says. We can't find a place to rent for that amount of money.

SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: From our house we can see the stadium, he says. And then we ask ourselves: Is it because this place is ugly? Is it because it will give a bad impression to foreigners that they are making us leave?

In a statement, the municipal government denies that it's making the families in Villa Da Paz move because of the World Cup works.

Raquel Rolnik is a professor at the University of Sao Paulo, who has studied the issue of Brazil's forcible evictions.

RAQUEL ROLNIK: We simply don't know how many, where and how.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some organizations say that up to 170,000 people are at risk or have already have been evicted in Brazil because of construction for the World Cup and the Olympics to be hosted in Rio in 2016. But that's only an estimate. Rolnik says there are laws against these things but they are being ignored.

ROLNIK: With this new wave of economic growth and under the pressure of economic and corporate interests, Brazil is going backwards and not complying again, including with the Brazilian legislation.

MARIA JOSE VIEIRA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at Villa Da Paz, Maria Jose Vieira's says her husband is actually working on the new stadium, so it's clear it's brought some jobs to the community. She says the stadium is providing our family our everyday bread, but we don't knew where we are going. No one tells us anything. We may lose our home so that stadium is also putting us as great risk.

The games will be beautiful for the people who love football, she says. For us, only God knows what will happen.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.

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