Blame it on Rio

Thu, Oct 8, 2009


Why did the 100+ members of the International Olympic Committee blow off Chicago, Tokyo, and Madrid in favor of Rio de Janeiro?

We think we know the answers.

They nixed Chicago because they were mad at the USOC, didn’t much like Stephanie Streeter, and thought that Obama should have spent a week in Copenhagen buttering them up instead of a mere five hours.

Madrid didn’t make the cut because Barcelona got the Games during 1992, and former IOC boss Juan Antonio Samaranch no longer controls his once-loyal minions on the Committee.

And Tokyo? Beijing just hosted the games-and Japan and China may be regarded by the IOC as essentially the same country, just as Canada and the U.S. are often lumped together.

So that left Rio. And although Rio may have a very small, very insignificant crime problem, it’s one of the most beautiful and glamorous cities in the world, isn’t it? No terrorists, no Al Qaeda, just Copacabana beach, Carnavale and sleek, beautiful friendly people in skimpy clothes, right?

Maybe not.

In fact, as Jon Lee Anderson reports in this week’s New Yorker, Rio de Janeiro more closely resembles Baghdad, Mogadishu, or Port Au Prince than it does any of its three erstwhile competitors.

Here are some statistics.

Of Rio’s 14 million inhabitants, three million live in one of nearly a thousand favelas, shantytowns which receive few municipal services, and are ruled by gangster-headed militias. Thanks to an extensive black market in guns, the militias are well-armed, with arsenals that include hand grenades, assault rifles, machine guns, and anti-aircraft weapons. The militias deal drugs, collect taxes, and impose their version of law and order upon their hapless subjects.

Rio leads the world’s cities in “violent intentional deaths,” with five thousand murders last year. The category doesn’t include “rape resulting in death,” nor “riots resulting in death.” 22 cops were killed, and 1,188 cariocas met their maker at the hands of the police. Anderson quotes Alfredo Sirkis, a prominent local elected official in Rio, who told him that “Rio is one of the very few cities in the world where you have whole areas controlled by armed forces that are not of the state.”

The police are widely perceived as just another militia, albeit more brutal and less well-armed than their unofficial counterparts. Nowadays, the dividing lines between the favelas and what we think of as Rio, the affluent Zona Sul, are more and more fluid. The city becomes more violent and more dangerous every year-so the IOC had better hope that the Brazilian government finds a way to seal off most of the city from the Olympics.

Let’s see: a city controlled by armed, disaffected militias headed by youthful nihilists who, as Anderson notes, routinely deal with enemies by torturing them, dismembering the bodies, and leaving the remains on the street-perfect for the Olympics, right? No way they’d make common cause with Al Qaeda … we all know that terrorists hate the Samba!

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Michael Shandrick Says:

    I read your article with some interest and decided to ask someone I trust implicitly about Rio. Here is her comment about your article. For various reasons I will not use her name. She is a grandmother and a well respected artist. (Her native language is Portugese and she speaks Spanish and French. I will leave her English un-edited.)

    The article is certain in several aspects. Really, Rio is a fascinating city, since it has a natural beauty that no another city has – urbane, virgin forest, lovely clean beaches and lakes easily within reach of the citizens.

    Rio is also a city divided between the peace and the violence.There is an agreement of sorts between the inhabitants of the asphalt and those dominated by the drug traffickers. Nobody enters in the so-called territories, where there is a war yes, hidden by the
    authorities, for they do not want the population to panic. There is also a great wish among all to end the violence, the result of several dictatorships that have governed Brazil for most of the last century. These governments cut all assistance to the poor while supporting corruption for the rich. It was in this time that drug traffic began.

    Brazil has only had a democratic government the past 20 years. The current government must now un-do the work of the previous military governments, which sold a good part of the Amazonia to several countries. They exploited the resources and the people of the Northeast. As a result, there was a great emigration to the cities, where the people were housed without the proper government support for health and education.

    Most of the residents of the slums are hard-working and must endure the violence of the traffickers and the police. Much of this is covered up by the government-controlled media.

    Many countries know that Brazil is a mineral, territorial and aquatic reserve and perhaps this is why they choose Rio for the Olympic Games. We hope the government will now create more laws to preserve the fragile ecological reserves.

    In this moment, the Brazilian people are in an euphoric state over the choice of the Olympic Games. They know the Olympics will bring many changes, including construction of the urban transport systems, putting an end to drug traffic, building more parks and stadiums and increasing tourist hotels.

    My basic question would be this one: How will all these changes that should have been done fifty years ago be done in the next five years?

    But, like most Brazilians who live in Rio de Janeiro, I learned to be an optimist. I believe that now, under international pressure, the government will have to
    to invest in the fulfillment of these promises.

    Another thing, the Brazilian people are hard-working and long-suffering so they realize this is a great opportunity.

    Oh! Here it is easy to forget the cares of the world, drinking cacha├ža and dancing the samba! In Rio, everything finishes in a samba. Thank goodness we can still enjoy the life! beijos.