Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Olympic Games Back-lash

The 2016 Rio Olympics were sold as a transformative event that would make Rio safer and cleaner, leaving world class sporting facilities and a modern, integrated public transport system as a parting gift. A year on, violent crime is surging, Guanabara Bay is as polluted as ever, the new transport networks are too expensive for the majority of residents, and favelas remain neglected by the state, lacking the most basic conveniences. Instead, the TRio Olympics were a breeding ground for corruption that left behind crumbling mega-projects. An emboldened, organized resistance to Brazil's plutocracy may turn out to be the most significant legacy of the Games.

"When people talk about the Olympic legacy, I think about my neighbor with blood running down her face, or my friend on the floor with his head bashed in, houses being demolished, families split up," says community leader Sandra Maria de Souza. "The only people who did well out of it are the construction companies who built the Olympic Park … The only legacy was for the rich."

"What was the true legacy? Lots of money for developers and construction companies, and for their colonels, the politicians," says Roberto Marinho, a community leader in Morro da Providencia, Rio's oldest favela. "Where are the basic services in this city? Security is in chaos, the idea of social development has been abandoned … The only legacy is the millions that were pocketed."

The aquatic center has only stagnant puddles in the pools,while the Arena Carioca that was supposed to be converted into school is padlocked five days a week.  A street of white, box-shaped bungalows, protected by a high metal fence is all that remains of Vila Autodromo, a favela that was once home to 700 families.  The mayor's office could have paved the streets, dug sewers and built new houses for everyone instead of forcing them out, she says: "They would have spent much less, and this would have been a great social legacy, and an example to the world."

"The number one request from residents in Alemao was sewage: They got a cable car," says Theresa Williamson, of pressure group Rio On Watch. "The number one request in Manguinhos was sewage: They got a library and public housing. Rochina, same thing: sewage. They got a sports complex, a pedestrian bridge, and some public housing. The real need from residents was clear."

The corruption probe into Operation Car Wash has revealed a political system rotten to the core. Prosecutors allege former mayor of Rio Eduardo Paes received 4 million euros for "facilitating contracts related to the Olympic Games". Former governor Sergio Cabral has been sentenced to 14 years in jail for taking millions in kickbacks, including bribes connected to the renovation of the Maracana stadium and the metro extension west towards Olympic Park.  In January, Rio's billing tribunal accused the construction companies responsible for the work of overcharging by 59 million euros. The cable in car Alemao has been out of service for 10 months and may never restart because the state cannot afford the 700,000 euro monthly operating costs.

Operation Car Wash exposed how much the ruling class kept for themselves in times of plenty, now ordinary people are being asked to tighten their belts.  In Rio, teachers and hospital staff and civil police officers have been without pay for months. People in favelas are angry. In April, a wave of demonstrations against austerity measures passed by President Michel Temer's government culminated in a one-day general strike. On May 24, tens of thousands marched in Brasilia to demand Temer's ouster, and a minority invaded and trashed government ministries.  

There are certain to be further flashpoints. "It's building," says Julia Michaels, an American journalist who has lived in Rio for 35 years,. "I have a feeling that anything could trigger it."

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