The Olympics of Misery
RIO DE JANEIRO – When Rio de Janeiro was chosen as an Olympic city in 2009, nobody foresaw a Brazil in such a decaying state as it is today.
The then President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who celebrated victory effusively, never imagined that the country’s economy could make a turn for the worse.
Back then, and despite the global economic crisis, Brazil saw a GDP growth of over 5%, which kept everyone optimistic.
The crisis came later, under the presidency of president Dilma Rousseff, who has faced the economic crisis plaguing the country; the worst recession since 1990. Rousseff also had to dribble the biggest case of corruption of the democratic history of Brazil, most of which was perpetrated by her Workers Party.
Three months before the Olympic flame arrives in Rio de Janeiro, the South American giant must resolve some issues if it wants to have a memorable event.
It is the first country in three decades that receives the Olympic in a situation of economic recession and the first in South American to host the games.
By now we still do not know who will command the country during the Olympic competitions. Dilma Rousseff is going through its worst political crisis of the six-year term.
A few days ago the Chamber of Deputies approved a petition to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the Republic with 367 votes in favor and 137 against.
At the same time, the popularity level of the Brazilian Congress reaches the minimum of both legislatures and 82% of the country disapproves of the way it manages public affairs, according to the Brazilian Institute of Opinion and Statistics (IBOPE).
Last month the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), allied to the government, decided to definitively break basis and as if it were a domino, the vast majority of parties forming coalition disassociated from the government, leaving Dilma alone to her own luck.
The resulted in the resignation of two key ministers who had been heavily involved in organizing the games. They were Henrique Alves, the Minister of Tourism and George Hilton, the Minister of Sports.
Soon, the Senate will hold another vote and if 41 votes are achieved in favor of the dismissal, Rousseff will be out of politics for 180 days until the end of the political trial.
This political crisis, makes it difficult to spread the positive image of the country as it is living through a horrible period.
Everyone is perplexed. Most people in Brazil still remember the impeachment of former President Fernando Collor, yet that process was not convoluted by the current political and economic crisis.
Brazil is divided and young people increasingly want to be part of political parties tapering to left and right.
One hundred days before the start of the 2014 Brazilian World Cup only five of the twelve stadiums had been opened.
The same concern seems to repeat itself two years later. While the Olympic Park, where competitions like swimming and gymnastics are supposed to be held is practically finished, but the infrastructure where events such as cycling, horse riding and basketball will take place have become one of the nightmares of some politicians.
The new Minister of Sports, Ricardo Leyser, expressed concern about the backlog of works. The same was heard from the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes. ”The hardest thing is to create an artificial river for canoeing competitions,” he admitted.
The endemic problem facing Brazil with the lack of foresight and mismanagement responds in part to cultural issues, but also economic ones.
Last month, Brazil announced a cut of more than 200 million euros in the initial budget for the organization of the Games. One of the most affected works is the new metro line linking -Barrio Ipanema to Barra where several disciplines will be played. This train line is also part of the legacy that the Games would leave to the city.
“If the subway construction is not completed, things will be a nightmare. It is not hard to imagine being stuck in endless traffic during the Olympic Games.
Another legacy that was promised was the new bike path, which opened three months ago. A few days ago two people died and one is missing due to the collapse of a piece of the track that was affected by strong waves.
The section skirted the coast of Rio de Janeiro city along nearly 4 km and joined two very emblematic beaches.
The project, which cost nearly 11 million euros, was built by a company under investigation for money laundering as part of Operation Lava-Jato, the biggest corruption case in the democratic history of Brazil.
Perhaps, the most difficult promise to keep for the local organisation is the official opening of the Guanabara Bay, the largest in the country. It is supposed to be the place where Olympic sailing activities will take place, but athletes do not show great enthusiasm.
And they are entitled to such pessimism, as the Bay has become the dumping ground for more than 50 polluted rivers.
In 2009, when the state capital won the title of Olympic venue, the state said it would try at least 80% of the waters of the bay, but up until today they haven’t even reached 50%.
A part of the bay has been filled by water from the sewer system whose contents have been found to include anything from mattresses, to televisions and human limbs. Not even the traditionally conformed locals escape the Bay’s nauseating effect.
The Bay of Guanabara remains a vast latrine. Brazilian authorities have never intended to recover anything, they just made a commitment to win the Olympic venue. “Now, the Bay is increasingly rotten and contaminated and will thus indeterminately, says biologist Mario Moscatelli.
Although, the organization hopes that in August athletes will have nothing to fear, there have been cases of athletes who have suffered discomfort and diarrhoea after sailing in the waters of Guanabara.
“A place contaminated as this is can cause ear infections, conjunctivitis and even hepatitis. Of course, everything will depend on weather conditions during the races. If it rains and the tide is low, the probability of having health problems is higher,” Moscatelli estimates.
In Brazil, the public health system has been undergoing a period of collapse amid a political and economic crisis.
Doctors not only suffer the consequences of economic asphyxiation, but the increase in cases of dengue, zika, and viral diseases.
Half a million civil servants in the state of Rio de Janeiro do not receive their salary at the end of the month. “I’ve just received the salary that corresponds to February, and I was lucky, because the nurses, psychologists and social services are still waiting for theirs,” says a Carioca.
Despite the massive levels of taxation, the government says that the State’s public coffers are empty as a consequence of a crisis that has left almost 10 million Brazilians unemployed.
Cases of dengue in Brazil have increased by 52% in the first two months of the year compared to 2015, and in the case of Zika they have already reached one million and a half cases.
While the consequences of zika are not as harmful as dengue, they are alarming for pregnant women.
Without scientific confirmation, the authorities consider that zika is the cause of microcephaly and other congenital brain defects in the fetus during the first months of pregnancy.
Although the Brazilian government declared a state of health emergency last November, the director general of the WHO, Margaret Chan, said that zika is not a threat to the Olympics.
In fact, the Spanish windsurfer and Olympic champion Marina Alabau, related that was diagnosed zika before Christmas and that “it was not that bad. It is less than a flu that kept me four days in bed.”
Security has always been a concern in these large sporting events and much more in a country where homicides are the fifth leading cause of death – 50,000 people were murdered in 2015, according to the Ministry of Health-.
During the test events held in the Olympic city, authorities are said to have tested the facilities and have had drills to finalize details before the big event.
Between 5 and 22 August the new security scheme will be the largest in the history of the country: 85,000 military men will attempt to ensure the safety of citizens.
However, in recent days concerns have been raised as it is believed that the city might be the target of terrorist attacks. These concerns are so far unfounded rumours as there is no serious threat that has been made public by authorities.