Last Rio Olympic site dwellers dreams of staying

Javier Tovar

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Marcia Lemos's address is still 68 de la Avenida Autodromo, but not for long: the final resident of a neighborhood razed to make way for Rio's Olympic Park knows the bulldozers are coming.

The little green house is the only survivor in the neighborhood being transformed into the site of the Olympic Park, one of the main hubs of the Summer Games which will take place in the city August 5-21. A carpark is due to be built on the same spot.

"I'm the only resident of the Olympic Park. Do you think they'll let me stay?" Lemos, 59, asked in desperation. "If there was even the tiniest chance that they let me stay, I'd take it."

Surrounded by construction, cut off from electricity and gas supplies, and no longer served by the postman, Lemos has packed her bags and taken refuge with her 82-year-old mother in another part of Rio.

But Lemos still comes back every couple days to check on what has been home for the past 15 years.

Just to get there, she must now pass through the huge building site, swarming with workers who greet her in a friendly way and are now her only neighbors.

After passing a checkpoint, a security representative escorts her right to her door. When she steps out, the guard is still waiting.

"I don't want my house to become a parking lot," she told AFP.

- No deal -

Lemos inherited the house from her godfather when the area, known as Vila Autodromo, was an informal working class neighborhood known as a favela -- but without the crime and drug problems that ravage many other slums.

Built alongside a picturesque lagoon, Vila Autodromo, with about 600 residences, was considered a good place for families.

But it lay in the path of project to build the Olympic Park and nearby Olympic Village and after decades of tranquil existence, the community was forced into an emotionally wrenching breakup.

Most residents accepted substantial compensation from the mayor's office, either cash for their houses or apartments in a new, specially built complex.

Lemos was one of a handful of residents who said they were so attached that they could not and would not leave, fighting the city in court and in some cases facing off against riot police as the bulldozers came to claim their houses.

"They offered me 900,000 reais (approximately $225,000), but they can go to hell," she said, claiming that the government had not given her the option of an apartment and that other neighbors had been offered far more money.

"The truth is I don't want to go, I am happy here," she added.

Lemos watched the neighborhood vanish. Her neighbor Pedro Berto's house was knocked down last week and her house is next -- and last -- on the list.

- Olympic destiny -

From the moment Rio was awarded this year's Summer Games back in 2009, Lemos was aware that her fate was probably sealed.

"We were all hoping the city would lose (the bid) because we knew what would happen," she said.

She's ready for the end. She has emptied the swimming pool and there is little furniture left inside. "It's so, so sad to see it reduced to this," she said angrily.

Her three sons, who grew up there, have moved in with friends. Only the chicken Tiriri and the tortoise Fusca remain.

"I wouldn't go to see the Olympics even if they handed me every ticket, I'd rip them up," she said.

"What I really want is to put my house back together. Come back here. Live, die and be buried here."