Brazil wanted the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to show the world that it was a nation on the rise. But increasingly it looks like the Games might prove just the opposite.
Anything that could go wrong in the lead-up to a stint as the temporary center of the universe has gone wrong in Brazil. Its President was pushed out in what some have called “a coup.” It’s struggling with a major financial crisis. The water that Olympians will compete in has an unsolved sewage problem. Large scale protests for all kinds of things are ongoing. There has been a rise in crime. Oh, and then there’s the Zika virus.
"We can make a great Olympics, but if some steps are not taken, it can be a big failure," acting Rio de Janeiro state Governor Francisco Dornelles recently said.
Now, there's yet another problem to add to that dizzyingly long list. NPR's South America correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro tweeted a troubling image on Tuesday from a protest at the Rio de Janeiro airport:
"Welcome to Hell," reads a sign held by striking city police and firefighters. (The “Hell” is spelled out in dramatic red.) "Police and firefighters don't get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro won't be safe."
Earlier this month, the state of Rio declared a financial emergency, prompting a federal bailout. Budgets for police, health and education have been slashed, but the bailout has yet to come through. The governor has called it a “financial calamity” that could prevent “the fulfillment of the obligations as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016."
The police were among 300 who have protested unpaid wages outside of a state government building this week, according to the AFP.
Among the other setbacks that the local government is dealing with is the completion of a metro line to the Olympic Park that the state says will be completed mere days before the crowds arrive.
With things going the way they are, that project might be in vain. Suddenly watching the Games from home sounds like a luxury in comparison.
At least one Brazilian icon is telling people to do just that, and to give up on the 2016 Games altogether.
“Things are getting uglier here every day,” Rivaldo, considered one of the greatest soccer players ever to have lived, warned in a recent viral Facebook post. “I advise everyone with plans to visit Brazil for the Olympics in Rio — to stay home. You’ll be putting your life at risk here. This is without even speaking about the state of public hospitals and all the Brazilian political mess. Only God can change the situation in our Brazil.”
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.