Fear in Brazil over World Cup homeless “cleansing”

Human rights groups protest hidden agenda against street dwellers

The National Human Rights Defense Center, an agency that is backed by the Brazilian Catholic Church, has expressed concern over a potential “social cleansing” of homeless people on the occasion of next year’s soccer World Cup, which will be hosted in the country.

It is not the only association to think so. The National Council of Attorneys-General has expressed similar fears. Representatives of both bodies have met with Gilberto Carvalho, secretary general of the presidency, to convey their concerns. Special attention is being devoted to the cities that will host matches during the tournament.

These organizations fear that city “cleanups” is really a euphemism for the elimination of defenseless people who live on the street for one reason or another, and who would otherwise be seen by the millions of tourists set to arrive in Brazil next year. Before that, Pope Francis will be visiting Rio three months from now, bringing over two million people to the city on occasion of World Youth Day.

In São Paulo alone, an estimated 15,000 people lack a home

In the last 15 months, 195 homeless people have been assassinated, mostly burned to death by anonymous individuals. The last victim was Jorge Affonso, 49, who was killed on Sunday in Jacupiranga, 280 kilometers from São Paulo.

A delegation from the Human Rights Ministry was sent to Goiânia, capital of the state of Goiás, some 200 kilometers from Brazilia, to investigate the last 29 murders of homeless people.

According to official figures from the IBGE (Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics), there are no fewer than 1.8 million people living on the streets, yet fewer than 25 percent of Brazil’s cities have any kind of policy on the issue.

In São Paulo alone, an estimated 15,000 people lack a home, 5,000 more than a decade ago. And that is despite a program launched in 2009 by then-President Lula da Silva to assist the homeless.

And while authorities tend to look the other way, Mauricio Botrel, a sociologist at the National Human Rights Defense Center, says that it is essential to develop local policies to help these people and avoid the kind of “social cleansing” that typically takes place in the dead of night and is secretly applauded by righteous folks. The state attorney of Río Grande do Sul, Eduardo Veiga, who is also president of the National Human Rights Group, has stated that attorney’s offices in all states are being asked to keep a watch on the creation of local committees to aid the homeless.

That the fears of church officials and attorneys are not unfounded is revealed by the Rio precedent: in 2009, reporters for Folha de São Paulo discovered Rio City Hall workers hurriedly picking up homeless people along the scheduled path of the Olympic Committee Commission in charge of drafting a report on the presence of the World Cup in that city.

María Cristina Bore, national president of Street Policies, has stated that a social cleansing operation against the homeless is “on the current agenda” owing to the hosting of the World Cup.

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