Rio has been the scene the dominance of Simone Biles in gymnastics and the first female African American Simone Manuel to win gold in swimming and even Brazil rejoiced in having an Afro Brazilian, Rafaela Silva from the infamous Favela “The City of God” win gold in Judo, but the games have covered over a crime scene, great crimes against humanity both past and present.
The games to borrow a famous Brazilian expression are “for the English to see.” The hidden Rio is quite ugly.
Rio is the site where the greatest number of Africans debarked after being stolen from Africa. According to historians over two million Africans debarked in Rio ports from the 1500’s to
Between 1500 and 1856, one of every five enslaved people in the world was brought to Rio de Janeiro, or nearly two million. It was the Port region, today the location around Venezuela and Barão de Tefé avenues, that received the bulk of slave ships coming from Africa, carrying even the bodies of those who couldn’t survive the voyage. Brazil imported over 9 million slaves approximately 10 times the number of Africans imported by North America including the US. The vast majority of these Africans were drawn from Angola and the Congo. Brazilian slavers imported slaves to work the gold mines, sugar and coffee plantations. Slavery did not end in Brazil until 1988.
Because of this legacy it is home to the largest population of the African diaspora.
And to prepare for the games another set of crimes were committed. According to human rights activists thousands were displaced that is forcibly removed from the poor areas near the Rio beaches. The state did relocate these families and compensated many but of course home is still home. Brazil used its version of eminent domain to eliminate several favelas in and near coveted real estate close to the beaches. Favela is the term for poor housing or shantytowns built by poor urban dwellers who could not afford housing in the city, thus most are located on the edge of Rio in the hills. The residents are poor and predominantly, Afro Brazilian.
And police have been used to pacify the poorer areas. Police violence is as much if not more of a problem for poor and Black people in Brazil.
Human Rights Watch reported that 6,000 people have been killed by police in Rio over the past decade, 645 in 2015 alone. After 40 people primarily Blacks were killed in May in Rio alone (that’s right in one city in one month) Amnesty International protested by displaying 40 body bags in front of the offices of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee. According to Amnesty, of the 1,275 people killed by on-duty police between 2010 and 2013, 79 percent were black men.
Brazil struggles with the legacy of slavery and dispossession just like the US., incidentally another country that shares Brazil’s social/political economic system (capitalism )which is based on the profit motive, money making above all else. Like the US where the fact of slavery is acknowledged its legacy and the resulting residue from having viewed and treated humans as livestock is denied.
The resulting racism, both institutional and personal is not admitted to. Brazilian’s like to say there is no race problem in Brazil, but Brazil is a majority Black and mixed race country but its politicians, civic leaders and business execs are predominantly white. But while the legacy was acknowledged the residue from those days has not been fully addressed.
The residue of that history just as in North America and especially the US remains to this day, though Brazillian society is dishonest about it. It pretends to not have issues of color or race but as a friend of mine says a language that has dozens of descriptions of race and dozens of variations of color is clearly concerned about race.
As one Favela dweller put it, ”we don’t want to ruin anyone’s party, but we cannot celebrate while the main legacy of the Olympic Games,… is above all the violation of human rights. In the favela we want more gold and less lead.”