Corruption and calamity in Rio's Games of exclusion

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The Rio 2016 Olympics has already earned a well-deserved label — the jogos da excludad, the games of exclusion. It is a label — carved in banners and street graffiti — that shames a ruling class that got its priorities wrong.

Favela residents watch opening ceremony from behind an Olympic Rings barricade. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonIn the name of the Games, 77,000 residents of Rio's favelas have been evicted and hundreds of these settlements where the poor live have been bulldozed. Those favelas that avoided the blades of the bulldozers have been hidden behind concrete walls approximately 10km long and 3m high, built at a cost of US $17.6 million.

In front of a global audience the poor are hidden behind walls; walls that epitomise what theologian Leonardo Boff has called the 'lack of shame' living deep in the Brazilian soul.

When Rio was awarded the Games in 2009 Brazil, the world's fifth-largest country, was in economic recovery. It was a time when the country was heading to become, as the World Bank erroneously forecasted, the world's fifth economy.

It was a good time in Brazil. From 2006 to 2010 the Brazilian economy, the largest in Latin America, was growing annually at an average of more than 4 per cent. The swelling prices for exported commodities were heralding a time of abundance.

But as happens too often in Latin America, the economy went into free fall when the price of commodities dropped. So all hopes of an economic recovery rested on Rio 2016.

You don't need to be an economist to know that such hopes can often be false. Perhaps Rio 2016 should have looked back to Athens 2004, whose games ended up costing Greece $16 billion and sent the whole country into a hellish economic tragedy.

And Rio 2016 could well follow Brazil to a similar tragedy; after all this city of 6.3 million was financially broke even before the Games started. Only three months ago, in June, the government of Rio declared a 'state of public calamity'.

 

"It is a police force armed to the teeth with a single-minded mission to repress just about anybody that embarrasses the Games."

 

That the Games will bring more complications than benefits is a conjecture that at least 60 per cent of Brazilians agree with. It is a conjecture underpinned by pretty good evidence. The 2007 Brazil Pan-American Games and the 2014 Football World Cup left behind extravagant infrastructure that became white elephants and sources of corruption. It is true that construction of Rio 2016's infrastructure has generated new employment; but they are not permanent jobs and won't resolve the double digit (11 per cent) unemployment.

The Games are celebrated against the backdrop of one of the worst political crises Brazil has experience since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. They were awarded at a time when Brazil was a democracy: left wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in power. Seven years on, Brazil is not a democracy. It is instead an illegitimate regime arising from last May's 'parliamentary coup', which tumbled the left wing rule of Dilma Rousseff and installed in power the de facto regime of Michelle Temer.

The Games are to be celebrated not only against the backdrop of a non-democratic system, but also against the backdrop of a troubling police and militarised state. Jules Boykoff, author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics was onto something when he told the independent news program Democracy Now that '85,000 security officials will descend on Rio. That's double the number of the London Olympics just four years ago.'

It is a police force armed to the teeth with a single-minded mission to repress just about anybody that embarrasses the Games, be they the thousands of teachers, doctors, firefighters and public servants demanding unpaid salaries; the poor coming down from the favelas, the beggars, the homeless; or the street sellers and the sex workers that have descended into Rio en masse in pursuit of the much needed Brazilian Real.

This is a police state where cops' killings have risen between 2015 and 2016 by 103 per cent, according to Amnesty International. Since Rio was awarded the Olympic Games in 2009, the police have killed more than 2600. In 2015 alone Human Rights Watch reported that Rio's state police had murdered 645 and was responsible for 20 per cent of the homicides committed in city.

In 2009, following the announcement that Rio had been awarded the 2016 Games, the former president Lula — who last July was charged in a corruption inquiry — faced the television cameras and told Brazilians: 'Rio has lost many things, it used to be the capital of the country and it was once the crown of the Portuguese Empire. This Games is a small reward to Rio.' What reward?

 


Antonio CastilloAntonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and Director of the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, CPC, RMIT University, Melbourne-Australia.

Topic tags: Antonio Castillo, Rio, Olympics


 

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Existing comments

Makes it easy to understand Pope Francis' take on the world. Hopefully he realises that the free world is not all like South America - thank God!
john frawley | 08 August 2016


In the light of this report I ask where is the voice of the "church of the poor" that Pope Francis extols. It would seem tge dream of tge Pontifical Council for the Laity has become a nightmare: " The Catholic Church and the Olympics have been closely connected since the creation of the modern Olympic Games, not only through the particular relationship between their founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and Pope St. Pius X at the start of the 20th century, but also because the Pope was well aware of the social and formative benefits of sports in society, and in particular to the younger generations."
Tony Robertson | 08 August 2016


The Olympics should be taken back to Greece, all Nations participating should contribute to funding each Olympics with Greece as the home base that would mean upgrading facilities every 4 years certainly not as expensive as it is now and it would be a shared process
Nic Hastings-James | 09 August 2016


Hello John Frawley, it is pelucid that you have not idea at all about South America/Brasil. I cannot blame you for that, as most Australians likewise have no idea and no real interest, except to contrast Brasil with 'civilised' democracies such as Australia. John, you should weep for Brasil, which was embracing democracy, lifting up the poor and forging a new polity (in South America) until harsher economic times and venal/corrupt oligarchy, facing prison on corruption charges bought the judges and the Parliaments of Brasil to bring down those who were leading a fantastic transition to genuine democracy - Lula and Dilma - who are now hoist high over the altar of a totally corrupt oligarchy whose fiat stretches back 350 years. We should all cry for Brasil - such a hope dashed by corrupt power.
Mike Nelson | 14 August 2016


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