The following guest post was written by Derek Poppert, former Global Exchange Latin America Reality Tours Director.

Last week, 24-year old Brazilian judo player Rafaela Silva won Brazil’s first gold medal of the 2016 Olympic games. Her accomplishment is both inspiring and symbolic.

It is inspiring because she hails from a particularly notorious favela in Rio de Janeiro, having faced steep odds to rise to the top of her sport as a black woman in a poor and highly-marginalized community, the same favela depicted in the famous Brazilian movie named after the favela itself: The City of God.

It is symbolic because it is this exact type of community – the many favelas spread out across Rio de Janeiro – that have paid the highest price to host the 2016 Olympic games. And yet it is a young black woman from a favela in Rio de Janeiro who won Brazil’s first gold: a symbol of triumph, redemption and hope for those who daily feel the effects of the Olympics on their lives in Rio’s favelas: the police incursions, the bulldozing of their homes, the racial targeting, the stigmatization of their communities in the media.

Lost in NBC’s nightly primetime coverage is the reality that the highest cost of hosting these Olympics is not even the $11.9 billion price tag in the face of economic contraction, poverty, political crisis and vast inequality: it is the displacement and repression of Brazil’s most vulnerable communities.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

What most people tuning into NBC might not know is that over 60,000 people have been forcefully displaced from their homes in Rio de Janeiro to make way for Olympic-related construction. The vast majority of those displaced live in favelas: low-income communities (incorrectly referred to as “slums” in most western media) that informally established themselves on city outskirts decades ago but have since become high-functioning communities and sustainable forms of low-income, close-quarter urban living.

Whole neighborhoods have been clear cut to make room for construction projects mainly geared towards foreigners and the Brazilian elite: the Olympic village, new bus and metro lines, luxury condominiums. The Olympics were perfect justification for real estate developers to do what they have long wanted to do near the current Olympics venues in the south of Rio: get rid of the poorer communities that keep real estate values from ballooning like they do all along the waterfront of other parts of Rio.

Favelas are often stigmatized in Brazil as “lesser” than other communities and have a reputation of drugs and violence – stereotypes perpetuated by portrayals such as that in the movie The City of God, which for most westerners is perhaps the only experience they will ever have with a Brazilian favela. Violence and the drug trade certainly do exist in favelas, but much of the violence occurs at the hands of the state. The Olympics were used as justification not only for mass displacement and eviction, but for an enormous police-military buildup and a swift crackdown on basic civil liberties, particularly in poor areas. The Olympics called for “security”, and this allowed the heavy hand of the Brazilian police further power to do what it has long done to fight the drug trade: home incursions without legal process, arbitrary search and seizures, kidnapping, torture, racial profiling and homicides with near impunity.

A security force of 85,000 has arrived in Rio to “keep the peace” during the Olympics. But while a military build-up along Rio’s tourist areas in Copacabana and Ipanema gives the impression of security, repression meanwhile occurs in the city’s poor areas that tourists will never see.

If this all sounds familiar, you’d be right – the World Cup two years ago highlighted the exact same issues. Profit and sport at the expense of people and human rights. Displacement in the name of preparation and police violence in the name of security. Then it was FIFA that was co-responsible, now it’s the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

As Amnesty International Brazil puts it:

We’ve seen this before. In 2014 – the year that Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup – police killings in Rio de Janeiro state shot up by 40%. Police and military forces were deployed as part of ‘public security’ plans. As tensions rose, they repressed protestors with brutality and unleashed lethal violence in favelas. ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’. No one was held to account; security forces got away with murder. Right now, these same kinds of ‘public security’ plans are being put in place for the 2016 Games.

Getty Images

Getty Images

The IOC should be ashamed it has allowed the preparations for the 2016 Olympics to proceed in the manner it has, in the face of such tragedies over the past 7 years since Rio won the Olympic bid. It should be ashamed it did not demand a better way to go forward with Olympic preparations. The IOC’s claim that they and the Olympics are “a-political” is an illusion: nothing in this world is a-political, and certainly nothing as massive, global and cash-infused as the Olympics. The Olympics are intrinsically and inevitably connected to enormous political, social and economic ramifications, and the IOC should have the backbone to stand up for what is right while it makes its plans for the bi-annual event with the host country.

We take this opportunity to lend a voice of solidarity to the groups on the ground in Rio and across Brazil opposing these tremendous forces of money and power: the organizers, the community groups, the peaceful protestors. Olympic competition is an incredible sight to behold, but it should never come at the price of people, communities and human rights.

Picturesque Hawaii

Global Exchange recently announced Hawaii as its newest destination for socially responsible travel. The trip is called Aloha ‘Aina: Militarization, Ecology and Hawaiian Self-Determination.

In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state, but to many native Hawaiians, the islands’ annexation and statehood violated both international law and their right to self-determination.

From December 16 – 23, 2011, Global Exchange’s Reality Tours program expands our socially responsible, educational adventures to Hawaii to explore the issues rarely mentioned by the media, the travel industry, or the local government itself.

The islands’ tropical climate and natural beauty make them a popular destination for tourists, sportspersons, and scientists from around the world, but visitors seldom hear about real issues affecting the island’s fragile ecology and native people.

Makua Beach in Hawaii

This Reality Tour will reveal the history and struggles of the native Hawaiians, the impact of the heavy U.S. military presence on their daily lives and fragile island ecosystems, and the vibrant indigenous culture of a people who never had a voice in becoming part of the United States.

Global Exchange Reality Tours are based on the idea that travel can be educational, fun, and positively influence international affairs. Our trips provide individuals the opportunity to understand issues beyond what is communicated by the mass media and gain a new vantage point from which to view and affect US foreign policy.

Hawaii Trip Itinerary
Here is a rundown of the tentative itinerary for this new and exciting trip:

The trip begins with an “alternative” tour of Honolulu, including a visit to ‘Iolani Palace and other important cultural sites, an appreciation of the natural beauty that the island’s tourism industry is built upon, and a discussion of Hawaii’s history, resistance, and militarization. The latter is highlighted in an alternative tour of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.

The program further diverges from the usual tourist clichés with a visit to Hanakehau Learning Farm, a project that offers a model for converting former military zones to peaceful and productive uses by restoring farming in the wetlands on the shores of Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor). The tour then travels to Ma ka hana ka ike to help restore traditional agri- and aquaculture, and to Wai’ahole to meet representatives of local environmental organizations.

The next day focuses on traditional Hawaiian culture and cosmology, with a visit to Lihu’e and the Kukaniloko Birthstones, one of the most significant cultural sites on O’ahu, to learn about the area’s historic and religious importance. From there participants travel to Mt. Ka`ala, the highest peak on the island of O`ahu, whose flat-top is a familiar sight to island residents.

A hike through the forest ends with a visit to an organic farm project to learn how it is improving food security and the economic and social realities of marginalized communities by “growing food and empowering youth”. The day concludes with a visit to Makua Beach and a briefing by locals on how Hawaiian culture and the role of nature in their cosmology and day to day lives.

The ecological theme continues with a visit to Paepae o He’eia, a non-profit group started by a group of young Hawaiians dedicated to preserving the ancient He’eia Fishpond located in He’eia, Ko’olaupoko, O’ahu, for the community. Participants then learn how the revival of traditional canoe voyaging helped spark a Hawaiian cultural renaissance, and experience it first-hand by paddling before meeting with community activists dedicated to ocean stewardship through education and advocacy.



Aloha Aina!




For Veteran’s Day, we reflect on the day’s origins as Armistice Day, which signified an end to the hostilities of World War I and made a path toward peace. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the world signed an agreement and put the ‘war to end all wars’ behind them.

But what if we used the day, now dedicated to veterans who have served in subsequent wars, to remember that the point is not send more people off to war but to honor our veterans by bringing them home and spending our war dollars on real peace?

Global Exchange member, Iara Lee and her organization Cultures of Resistance created a video showing just how much money we could redirect. As she explains in her recent Huffington Post article:

In 2009, the United States government spent some $650 billion on its military. This is more than the next 46 highest-spending countries combined. Much of this treasure ended up in the hands of profit-driven weapons manufacturers. In the following short film, I take a brief look at the current state of what President Eisenhower famously called the “military industrial complex.” With the U.S. waging two wars overseas at the same time that millions of people are out of work at home, those pushing to reel in government spending and balance the budget would be wise to look carefully at bloated and unchecked military spending.

Cultures of Resistance: A Look at Global Militarization from Cultures of Resistance on Vimeo.

It’s time to start questioning the motives behind war and keep pushing for peace. Let’s honor our veterans today by keeping our troops out of war tomorrow.

For information on how to promote peace and bring our war dollars home, see CODEPINK’s campaign to redirect war funding to public education, job creation, and rebuilding our economy at home.

You can also find out more about Global Exchange member, Iara Lee and Cultures of Resistance in her Global Exchange member profile.