Rio Olympics Already Suffering From Violence, Larceny, Petty Theft

Joffre Swait comments
| World

Note: most of the links in this story are to news items written in Portuguese. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Twenty-nine days before the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, police, government workers, and city dwellers are suffering a crisis of confidence. The state and city governments of Rio de Janeiro appear to be unable to provide basic security in the city, and the hope is that the federal government and the army will be able to at least provide basic security for athletes.

Violent crime is surging, and murders in 2016 are up 16% over the same period in 2015, despite increased security as Brazil attempts to get Rio de Janeiro up to a "for Englishmen to see" (pra inglês ver, a Brazilian expression meaning "window dressing") level of safety. Over fifty military police officers have been killed this year, and the number of those killed by police this year has increased as security operations increase in city's infamous favelas or slums.

A recent protest by police officers at the Rio airport made news all over the world. The officers were protesting late pay, and declared that they could not guarantee the public's safety during the Olympics. Stephen Colbert's monolog riffed off the event, and on Monday Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, granted CNN an interview in which he blamed the state government for the failures leading to the lack of security during such a crucial time. The federal government this week bailed out the state to the tune of $850,000,000 (that's U.S. dollars), and police should be paid all back-pay by July 10.

Early in June the athlete Anna Paula Cotta, a psychologist and sergeant in the Brazilian navy who is competing for a spot on Brazil's competitive shooting team, was wounded by a shot to the head during a robbery. The robbery occurred at a fake police roadblock, from which she fled. The ambush was set up 300 yards from a police station.

Violent crime is not all that athletes, tourists, and Olympic infrastructure providers will have to deal with during the games. According to Globo News, three private securities guards and a fireman stole nine laptops, which were later recovered, from a team at the Olympic shooting center. When asked to comment, the Rio Olympic Committee said the theft was petty theft, and emphasized that Federal forces would be providing security during the Games. Two days later, two shipping containers belonging to German TV stations ARD and ZDF were hijacked on a main city road. The TV equipment, worth about $450,000, was later recovered at a warehouse in the nearby town of Magé.

This is to say nothing of the dead jaguar, international fears of Zika, or of the fact that the Olympic Park and many Olympic facilities remain unfinished less than a month before the beginning of the event. Two years after hosting a World Cup that cost nearly ten times what was forecast, infrastructure meant for the Cup is still unfinished, and expressions like "it's for the Cup" are being used to refer to unfinished construction projects while "seven to one" refers to any lopsided defeat. Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, has refused to resign amid scandal and is suspended, awaiting an impeachment trial. A huge corruption dragnet is beginning to stall out, but has already brought down many politicians while proving that billions of dollars have been misused, misappropriated, stolen, or vanished. Given the atmosphere, Brazilians are struggling to be optimistic or proud of their role as Olympic hosts. Many are simply hoping not to be embarrassed by the time all is said and done.


Joffre Swait

Joffre Swait grew up in three countries, for no particular reason beyond his dad's wanderlust. He blogs and vlogs as Joffre The Giant, but when writing about serious times in serious places he uses his real name. Like here, for example. Joffre Swait really is his real name, because this is a serious website. He and his wife Kimberly used to own a used bookshop in upcountry South Carolina, but now they live as missionaries in Porto Alegre, the capital city of south Brazil's gauchos, with their five kids (Renata, Joffre, George, Ward, and Mara).