Well, we’ve seen the stories, some of which are ghastly, about the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and it looks like we're heading for a complete and unmitigated disaster. Besides the threats of the Zika virus and the fact that there’s fecal matter pretty much everywhere, we now have body parts washing up near the venues. On June 30, ESPN reported that this comes after a week of intense gun battles in the slums as police tried to recapture a drug trafficker who escaped a local hospital. Australian paralympian Liesl Tesch was robbed at gunpoint in the city. The 2016 Paralympics in Rio don’t begin until September 7.
The Summer Olympics are set to start on August 5, but as The Daily Mail reported, most of the venues for the games are barely built. On top of that, the publication’s online team was able to gain access inside and wander about the Olympic village for hours without being stopped or asked for identification by security forces, despite heightened threats due to ISIS. They reported that they weren’t even asked to produce their press credentials and their bags were never searched.
Over at The New York Times, Vanessa Barbara, a columnist with the O Estado de São Paulo, wrote an op-ed that also touched upon the semi-constructed Olympic venues, but also the atrocious economic and security conditions as well. People are getting stabbed near the venues. The news outlet added that shootouts near the site of the games, and on the routes to them, are common—with 76 people being shot by stray bullets this year. Now, on a lighter side, Barbara did put to rest some fears about Zika. August is Brazil’s winter, which is drier and cooler, so less mosquitos. The flip side: women are ten times more likely to be raped than contract Zika, men are more likely to be shot and killed:
The United Nations has said it’s concerned about violence by the military police and the officers in the favelas, notably against children living on the streets. Everybody fears an increase in police violence during the Games. The country will deploy 85,000 soldiers and police officers, about twice the number used in the London 2012 Olympics.
Frequent shootouts near the Olympic arenas and on routes to them are also a concern: 76 people have been hit by stray bullets in Rio so far this year; 21 of them have died. On June 19, more than 20 men carrying assault rifles and hand grenades stormed the city’s largest public hospital to free an alleged drug kingpin in police custody, leaving one person dead and two hurt.
And the 500,000 people expected to visit for the Games should be worried about how easily they could wander into dangerous areas: There’s a dearth of signs and tourist information on the streets and on public transportation. A native Brazilian, I spent half an hour at the central train station just trying to figure out where to catch a bus to the Olympic Park — and I’d looked it up beforehand. The information booth inside the station was empty. Outside, few of the bus stops displayed information about which lines went where. I resorted to asking popcorn vendors and passers-by for directions. I’m glad I speak Portuguese.
The incumbent governor, who has lymphoma, is on sick leave. Just before Christmas, he declared a “health system emergency” as hospitals closed units and money ran out for equipment, supplies and salaries. Months later, the state started delaying civil servants’ salaries and pension checks. Teachers have gone on strike and students have occupied dozens of schools in protest. The state already owes $21 billion to Brazil’s federal government and $10 billion to public banks and international lenders. A budget shortfall of $5.5 billion is projected for this year. An $860 million loan has already been granted to help cover the cost of security at the Games.
The fiscal disaster could be attributed to many factors, including a national economic crisis — but the huge expansion of the government payroll and reckless spending for the Olympics are likely causes.
So if it’s not only money, maybe the problem is also politics. Brazil is, of course, having a major political crisis. The president, Dilma Rousseff, was forced to step aside on May 12 because of allegations that she manipulated the state budget. The political turmoil has paralyzed the country and frozen the economy. Decisions on important reforms and infrastructure projects are being delayed, and the uncertainty has discouraged investment. But Leonardo Picciani, who took over as sports minister after Ms. Rousseff’s suspension, asserts that the Games will be “fantastic.” Almost everything was ready by the time he took up his post, he claims.
Don’t count on it. Of course, one of her criticism is that the ordinary people weren’t involved in the decision making process regarding the games, and that only the rich and connected will profit when the Olympics are over. Nevertheless, that may seem like an issue on the periphery considered that D-Day is approaching for Rio, which hasn’t completed its game sites, has body parts washing ashore, deplorable health conditions, and lackadaisical security.