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Night fell on the sewage-clogged streets of Vila Mimosa, Rio's largest open-air red-light district, and the area's jukeboxes erupted into a cacophony of Abba, Lady Gaga and pounding Brazilian funk music. Outside, an autumn chill descended on Vila Mimosa's main street — Rua Sotero dos Reis — and rain hammered down onto a sign promising "streeptease".
Inside, hundreds of drunken men packed this sprawling warren of brothels and bars for another evening of shouted conversations and fleeting encounters with the 3, or so local prostitutes. But the rowdy hour parties that have made this labyrinth of excess notorious across Brazil may soon fall silent, as Rio de Janeiro prepares for a multi-billion dollar facelift in the run up to the World Cup and Olympics.
While most are celebrating the city's regeneration, Vila Mimosa's prostitutes and their employers are growing increasingly nervous that the city's makeover may see them driven out by mooted plans to bulldoze the area and replace it with a platform for a high-speed rail-link between Rio and Brazil's economic capital Sao Paulo. Uncertainty surrounds the precise nature of plans for the area surrounding Vila Mimosa.
Almeida said she believed the government intended to destroy part of the area to make way for the so-called "bullet-train" between Rio and Sao Paulo, while other projects involved "a ring road, a shopping centre [and] parking facilities. We just know that they have us in their sights," she said. Known to its overwhelmingly male clientele as 'VM', Vila Mimosa is a place where money talks. The residents' association claims the red-light district, which is open around the clock, receives around 4, "guests" each day.
For those who run the local clubs — sweaty bars with names such as "Queen 46" and 'Men's 44' — it is a lucrative business. Prostitution is not a crime in Brazil and for tens of thousands impoverished women — from the wealthy south-eastern metropolises to the isolated frontier towns of the Amazon — it represents a viable if often dangerous means of survival.