Clouds Reform as Olympic Crowds Disperse

 
 

After the conclusion of the Rio Olympics, Brían Donnelly examines the political and economic fallout for Brazil after a turbulent year in the spotlight


Since the slump in commodity prices in 2014, Brazil has suffered political and economic crises which have dampened growth and corroded the fourth wall of Brazilian politics, exposing deep levels of corruption. The international attention afforded to Brazil’s instability by the Olympic Games has depressed confidence over the last 2 years. Thirty-six days before the Games, the Federal Government released $5.6 billion to Rio de Janeiro after acting state governor Francisco Dornelles declared a financial “calamity”. Rio’s morgue had begun diverting corpses to other cities because it couldn’t afford cleaning. Police officers — whose salaries were in arrears — stood at the international airport with placards reading “Welcome to Hell.”

For the citizens who were promised increased investment, and better quality employment and services, many view the Games as lavish, unaffordable and environmentally damaging. A disconcerting practice over recent years is the alleged removal of thousands of people from their homes. Providencia Hill, a favela, had residents evicted and their homes destroyed in order to build a cable car. Residents of favelas claimed the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games were a pretext for the “social cleansing” of Rio.

As residents were relocated, reportedly up to 40km from their original homes, Amnesty International alleged that a process of gentrification was underway. In 2013, a health worker in the Indiana favela said the government were placing residents under “relentless pressure” to relocate. While many favelas are prone to flooding and poor sanitation, residents claimed these problems were exaggerated in order to force people from their homes.  Analysis by journalists Lena Azevedo and Lucas Faulhaber in their book, Removals in the Olympic City, estimated that 71,500 families were evicted from their homes by authorities, while city officials claim the number is actually in the hundreds.

“Improvements in water treatment and the quality of bodies of water, such as Guanabara Bay, were a high priority.”

A Sustainability Management Plan published by the Organising Committee in 2013 indicated that improvements in water treatment and the quality of bodies of water, such as Guanabara Bay, were a high priority. These works included basic sanitation for favelas, replacement of sewer networks, and the expansion of water treatment facilities. Officials stated in January 2015 that the goal of reducing untreated sewage by 80%, a cornerstone of Brazil’s bid for the Games, would not be reached. By the time the Games began, the UN had advised athletes to spend as little time in Guanabara Bay as possible, citing concerns over untreated sewage and viruses.

Increased tourism is an oft-cited benefit to the host nation, but this may fail to materialise due to Brazil’s poor international image post-Games. During the games, a target of 500,000 foreign attendees was well surpassed, but many tickets were left unsold, seats at many events were left empty, and there are already concerns that the Paralympics will fall short of its own attendance targets. Subjected to global media scrutiny over the years, Brazil’s issues with crime are likely to be a bulwark for further growth in tourism.

After Brazil was awarded the bid, violent crime had halved by 2012, yet Brazil is the most violent host country ever. In Alemão, gunshots were recorded on 25 days over a 2 month period in 2016. Police are responsible for a fifth of violent deaths in Brazil, and are often targeted themselves; 132 officers died in 2014. Human Rights Watch, a NGO, claims many police killings resemble executions.

Since the Games, there have been few internationally identified cases of the Zika virus. The virus loomed threateningly for months before the Games as a group of 150 physicians and scientists, concerned over a potential outbreak, called for the Games to be cancelled or moved. Visits to Rio may increase if authorities continue cautionary measures and a spread is avoided in the short-term.

Over two weeks ago, Michel Temer, of the Brazillian Democratic Movement Party, was formally sworn in as President after his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff (Brazil’s Workers’ Party), was impeached by the Senate on charges of distorting the federal budget deficit. The state’s strong judicial foundations have enabled in-depth investigations into Petrobras, the state oil company, which fuelled the political motive for Rousseff’s impeachment. President Temer will now see out the rest of Rousseff’s term unless the Electoral Commission finds that Petrobras funds were used to finance his and Rousseff’s re-election campaign in 2014.

Since becoming interim-president in April, Michel Temer has vowed to cut the budget deficit through austerity measures and by liberalising the economy. Reforms are underway, as a 10% tariff on imports was lifted to combat the rising cost of beans — a staple food — and tentative signs of a recovery are emerging.  In manufacturing, production has increased for four consecutive months, while firms have steadily reduced their stock of unsold goods. An OECD report in June doubted any political momentum existed for reform, but few see reason to believe Temer will do a worse job than his predecessor.

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