RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro's mayor went on the offensive to protect his reputation and that of his Olympic city on Tuesday, insisting that the upcoming Summer Games are not responsible for Brazil's current economic debacle.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Eduardo Paes also distinguished between the finances of the city, which he said were "just fine, thank you," and those of Rio state and Brazil's national government, which he acknowledged are in poor shape.
Paes' news conference came on the heels of the declaration Friday of a state of financial disaster by Rio's acting governor, Francisco Dornelles. The state has been particularly hard hit by the recession slamming the country, resulting in draconian spending cuts and delays in paying public servants here.
"People have the impression that the federal government is giving bucketsful of money" to Rio for the Olympics, Paes said, adding that was a "lie."
Paes insisted that the federal and state governments had contributed relatively little of the 7 billion Brazilian real ($2 billion) budget for infrastructure projects for the Aug. 5-21 games. The city was responsible for the lion's share of the infrastructure budget, Paes said.
"It's not true that the Olympics broke the state of Rio. If anyone should have been broken by the Olympics, it's City Hall," he said, insisting that on the contrary, instead of draining public coffers, the games had helped boost investment here.
Asked about the litany of bad news out of the city, including last weekend's armed mugging of two Australian athletes, Paes acknowledged "the city of Rio is a city with problems." He said that Rio, with its endemic violence, extreme inequality and woeful public services, mustn't be compared with former Olympic host cities in developed nations.
He said that instead pre-Olympic Rio should be compared with the city now, and highlighted a few improvements in the seaside metropolis' chronic gridlock. He said much remained to me done, but suggested that the most deficient areas - such as security and the failure to make good on Olympic promises to clean up Rio's human sewage-filled waterways - were those under the state government's responsibility.
"The Olympics were never a panacea for the city of Rio," he said.
Paes, whose Brazilian Democratic Movement Party is ensnared in a sprawling corruption probe, had been rumored to harbor presidential ambitions. But local news reports say his party has ruled out a possible Paes presidential run in 2018 after a series of recent scandals tarnished his reputation.
The deadly collapse in April of an elevated bike path that had been billed as one of the top Olympic legacy projects dented an image already battered by widespread public outrage over Paes' stand in support of the mayoral candidacy of a close collaborator who savagely beat his wife on more than one occasion. Paes has also been caught up in corruption allegations dating back a decade.
Tuesday was not the first time that Paes, who is known for his high energy levels and short fuse, has gone on the offensive with the media.