Visiting professor from Brazil discusses favela tourism after Olympics

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Bianca Freire-Medeiros, visiting professor from the University of São Paulo, speaks to an audience at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection on Wednesday.
Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

In 2009, Rio de Janeiro’s municipal government published a list of 119 favelas, or Brazilian slums located in urban areas, to be partially or fully removed before 2016.

Bianca Freire-Medeiros, visiting professor from the University of São Paulo, led a lecture on Wednesday titled “Rise and Fall of the Touristic Favela in the Olympic City.” Freire-Medeiros discussed the consequences of favela tourism in Rio de Janeiro in the context of the 2016
Olympic Games.

In Rio, it’s hardly possible to overlook the poverty and inequality that affect many citizens’ lives. However, tourism was used as social justification by those in charge to redefine favelas in symbolic and physical terms, Freire-Medeiro said.

“Two apparently incompatible logics took place at the same time,” Freire-Madeiros said. “On the one hand, favelas were embraced, not only as
territories of tourist potential and economic opportunity but also as a fundamental part of the Brazilian national myth. But on the other hand, those same territories … were deemed either invisible or disposable.”

Security in and surrounding the city was increased in preparation for the games. In the first week of the Rio Olympics, the metropolitan region of Rio registered 59 armed shootouts, an average of 8.4 per day, or almost double the previous week. Many of the favela residents also reported human rights violations, such as home invasions and threats by the police, according to Amnesty International, a human
rights organization.

The games have a history of leaving cities in debt. According to Fortune Magazine, Sochi, Russia in 2014 and Montreal, Canada in 1976 experienced similar effects.

“I’m interested in economic development, so I often think about city planning and mega events like the Olympics,” said Allison Long, community and regional planning graduate student. “Cities always want the big football stadium or next professional sports team, but who does that actually benefit? Sometimes it’s not good for the economy at all.”

Instead of investing on infrastructure in the favelas, already existing investments were radically downsized in order to help pay for construction. Cheaper short-term measures were preferred such as the demolition of settlements and forced convictions.

Paloma Diaz, scholarly programs director and faculty liaison for the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, helped coordinate the speaker series. Diaz said the Institute’s lectures feature speakers who are using new tools to help with their research. 

“We want to show other scholars that these different tools are emerging every day, and they’re there to enhance their work,” Diaz said.