“We are working to keep Vila Autodromo’ memory alive” Interview with Maria da Penha

Vila Autodromo was one of the communities threatened the most by the bulldozers’ rage and the privatisation of urban land in Rio. Anyone who visited the community was confronted with the image of a war zone. According to the plans of the public-private-partnership, real estate developments were to be built where people’s houses had once stood.

Only 20 families succeeded in remaining in the area and received houses built by the city. Their homes all fit on one street: Rua Nelson Piquet. The Olympic Park area was home to the old Jacarepaguá racetrack. The original houses were destroyed. Only the St. Joseph, The Worker Chapel was spared.

Maria da Penha Macena became a symbol of the struggle in the Vila when she was photographed bleeding after being attacked by the municipal police. An active witness of this struggle, Penha says that the community’s history was interrupted and that the consequences of the evictions are still being felt today.

texts by Pacs Institute

Translation by Karen Lang

Interview granted to Caio Barbosa, in a special collaboration for Pacs Institute


What is the situation like in Vila Autódromo today, a year after the Olympics?

Now, we are rebuilding our lives, getting back to normal. But it is very difficult to do so because it changed our lives a lot. Our history was interrupted. There are still land issues, which has changed completely. In fact, everything is going through a process of change. These changes – we are still recuperating: recuperating our well-being, our daily routine, our life, our Vila.

All that is left of Vila Autódromo now is a small villa with 20 houses. Its history, the memories are still here. We are working to keep its memory alive. [One of the houses has been turned into the Evictions Museum, which is where this interview was held.]

“When we look at the trees, we still remember the Vila the way it was before. This comforts us. We are moving on here on a day-to-day basis, trying to rebuild, write the story of the Vila in a different way, but it’s not like it was before. Everything changed, but the Vila is still the same.

What is new are the changes: the Vila now, with different houses and structures, urbanised – that was the dream of everyone in the community. We now have a new, small villa, with a completely different terrain. Urbanised, but an urbanisation that came too late. This urbanisation process was very violent. To get as far as we did, our rights were seriously violated many times. There was violence within the community. The people who used to live here come to visit and they are sad when they leave because they wished they were here. This hurts because it was our history that was interrupted.


Photo by Caio Barbosa/Instituto Pacs/Creative Commons 4.0


Are you still in touch with the families who left?

Let’s count the families. There were nearly 700 families here. Now, there are 20. This also changed a lot, but we still keep in touch – with some more than others. There are families that we haven’t seen for a long time. And then there are families that come back every Sunday to the Vila to go to mass, for example. Some families are loyal to the chapel here. So, we see them every Sunday. They come to see the people they miss and the Vila.

So, we continue to keep up these ties. Only a few families; not many of them.

Besides rebuilding your daily lives, what is the main struggle in Vila Autódromo now? What is missing? What are you fighting for?

The second phase of the work that the city should have completed by now. We have an agreement with the city. Actually, it was supposed be done as soon as the Olympics were over, but the previous administration [of former mayor Eduardo Paes] kept stalling because elections were held right after. They lost and obviously, as always happens in our country, when they lose the elections, they fail to deliver on the commitment they made to the people. So, they left it for the new administration to do and until now, the new administration has not met with us. Mayor Crivella has not met with us. We have tried several times to schedule a meeting so he could hear what we have to say about what still needs to be done in Vila Autódromo.

The work for the second phase is at a standstill. It is obvious that they’ll say they don’t have the money. But it has to be done. They made a commitment, even if it takes a while. The struggle continues. We want the entire second part of the work to be done, as was agreed upon in this agreement, which has been put on paper.

And what specifically still has to be done?

They still have to build: 1) The Resident’s Association that we had and they knocked down. We want it back. That is what we agreed on with Eduardo Paes. 2) A sports court; 3) A cultural space, as during the evictions, we discovered that culture is very important to our daily lives; and 4) a park for the children, which has also not been built.

The area around us is a ZEIS [Zona Especial de Interesse Social, Special Zone of Social Interest]. The community is inside it and we can do other things as well, such as grow a garden. A garden is important, as the region we’re in is good for agriculture, growing things. We have room for a space for recycling, which changes our daily routine. So, there are a lot of things to do.

The documentation for the houses is also missing. They [the city] still haven’t given it to us.

It was agreed that we would move in and right away, we would receive the “Habite-se” [a document issued by the city that authorises someone to occupy a recently-built or renovated house, building, etc.], but they still have not given them to us. But, actually, our struggle continues because we know that the governments don’t work for everyone. They work for a minority and the poor has to continue to fight to obtain victories, to ensure that their rights are respected. We must always be fighting.


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