Nov 15, 2012, 12:37 PM EDT
There’s a huge movement in Brazil to save the endangered golden lion Tamarin monkey — it was, after all, on the short list of animals considered for the mascot of the 2016 Rio Olympics. But for the people who live in and around Rio’s Parque Uniao slum, concern is not as forthcoming.
The drug addicts, homeless children and other folks who have fallen through the cracks of Brazilian society are not fortunate enough to be on the World Endangered Animal List. With preparations for the Summer Games in full swing, authorities began in earnest last month clearing out the city’s notorious Crackland slum. Otherwise known as Jacarezinho shantytown, the area contains many homeless and drug addicted residents of the city of seven million, including hundreds of children who live on the streets, most if them addicted to drugs.
Police in recent months have moved in to reclaim territory in many of Rio’s slum areas that were once controlled by criminal gangs. As a result, drug addicts have formed their own shantytowns, of which Cracktown is one of the largest and most infamous. Brazilian authorities have moved in there to take many of the addicts to drug treatment centers, but some contend that the effort is just an attempt to scrub the city’s image for the upcoming 2014 World Cup and ’16 Olympic Games. In the past week alone, 290 addicts have been taken from the streets and transported to shelters.
It wouldn’t be the first time a government has swept citizens under the rug in advance of an international sports competition. In 2010, the South African government created Blikkiesdorp, a camp of tin-roofed shanties in Cape Town, South Africa, where it relocated residents forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for World Cup construction projects. The government also swept undesirable citizens off the streets before tourists arrived.
But these Getty Images photos from the Rio crackdown are compelling journalism. It’s a reminder, I suppose, that sports can bring about real change. And in this case I hope it does, but I won’t be surprised if, after the crowds have gone home, things return to normal in Rio. There are, after all, no furry endangered monkeys in Crackland.
Photo above: Associated Press. Lead photo: Reuters. All others: Getty Images.
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