Corruption behind the Rio Olympics: the fight for the favelas

Feature: written by Maria Gonçalves. 

Residents of Rio’s poorest communities are becoming increasingly frustrated as the government continues to heavily invest in tourist attractions and neglect the city’s underprivileged communities.

Brazil is facing one of its toughest periods in history. The country is in the middle of huge financial recession, political instability and a viral outbreak that has affected millions of people.

According to Amnesty International, 42,000 people are killed every year by gun crime in Brazil –and to worsen the situation the authorities’ incentive to break down levels is reportedly increasing police brutality.

Nevertheless, Rio continues to prepare for the 2016 Olympic games, which are due to start on the August 5. Most of the country’s senior politicians, such as Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes, insist that Rio will be safe and that visitors have nothing to worry about.

However, locals would disagree. “Rio de Janeiro is broken. The whole of Brazil is under pressure but Rio in particular,” says Rafael Laudisio, 30.

“Police staff aren’t being paid, hospitals are closing, people are being removed from their home, and it’s utter chaos. Brazil isn’t in the mood for the Olympics. Quite the contrary.”

It appears Brazilians are becoming desensitized to the chaos. Rafael says that the situation in Rio might seem impressive from the outside, but it is the norm for citizens – many predicted delays in construction work, strikes from public workers and cuts to the salaries of police forces would happen pre-Olympics.

The Brazilian government has invested $11bn in the games, and had to pour in an extra £5bn so public employees could be paid and the Olympics could go ahead. However, the funding is yet to be exposed successful, as it becomes less and less obvious were the huge sums were injected.

Rio as a divided city

At the core of the issue is the fact that Rio is an incredibly divided city. In the north side, where the airport is, the hilltops are crowded with favelas and shantytowns – populated with poor communities and heavily armed drug traffickers.

In order to travel from the airport to the south area, where all the attractions and beaches are located, like Copacabana and Ipanema, tourists will have to inevitably pass by the favelas.

This risks becoming a discouraging factor for tourists, therefore the state government decided to intervene – by tightening security in the streets and building fences all around the favelas, so that tourists won’t be disturbed by sights of poorer communities.

“Unlike other cities in which the poorest communities are relatively distant from the city centre, in Rio the favelas are inserted even in the middle of noble neighbourhoods,” explains Rio citizen Cristiane Ramires, 34. “It’s unlikely you go to Rio and don’t see these communities.

“The citizens of Rio think the Olympics will be a risky time for tourists and this is why the town hall and the state government are doing everything to cover it up. Everyone here can see what they’re doing.”

In order to keep the city safe, extra police and military forces are being deployed to the tourist areas, which opens the way for crime to flourish in the favelas. Inevitably, drug lords and gangs will take advantage of this, in a bid to push the authorities away from their territories.

Ruben Honrado, a 26-year-old Portuguese national, studied in Rio de Janeiro for a year in 2014 and will return this August as a volunteer for the Games.

“I think there will be lots of theft because tourists don’t know how to behave in Rio, however I also know there are loads of police in the streets which means the city is a lot safer, just like it was during the World Cup,” he said.

Ruben says the richer and poorer communities “never mingle” – unless they all go to the same beach – highlighting the risks the games will impose if the citizens are forced to temporarily live in the same neighbourhoods.

Moreover, in order to build infrastructure to accommodate for the influx of tourists, the government has been sending eviction orders to lower class societies living near the Olympic Park grounds and moving them to public houses in remote areas.

“The problem is that the town hall cannot afford this – it’s entering a state of calamity, just so it can cope until the end of the Games,” says Cristiane. “What the Rio citizens talk about is the ‘after’. It’s obvious this model won’t sustain for long and they fear what comes after the Olympics.”

Rafael agrees: “What matters to the government is the image we put out to potential visitors during the Games.”

Rio’s government has cut 11 bus lines that used to run from the north to the south of the city, making it more difficult for residents of the favelas to descend and mix with visitors. The city already struggles with traffic, so in order for the transportation system not to crash, the city has called for national holidays during the Olympics.

Cristiane points out that, if the city hall and the state government do manage to cover up all these negative aspects for as long as the Games last, “the tourists will love Rio as they always have.”

“The Olympics’ structure is reasonable and for a short period of time, it can actually work,” she says. “There’s no concrete solution at the moment, or at least none that actually concerns the communities in Rio de Janeiro.”

The future is not looking bright for the people of Rio, who will end up dealing with poorly organised infrastructure and transportation services, public employees refusing to work until they get paid and a rise in crime inside and outside the favelas – all so that a handful of investors can have their profit.

Sadly, corruption is no stranger to Brazilians, and the Rio Olympics are emphasising this. In fact, they are so used to it, they have given it a nickname: “In Brazil, but especially in Rio, we have the ‘jeitinho’ culture, which is basically another way of saying corruption,” explains Rafael.

“Jeitinho is when you bribe the policeman so he won’t fine your car, when you use your neighbour’s cable instead of getting your own, when you get in the bus through the back so you won’t have to buy the ticket.”

It seems this is how the Olympics are functioning – under the ‘Jeitinho’ culture.




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