HESP October 2, 2017
 Edited by Mary Ann Blackmur

Maracanã, Brazil’s home of football. Was part of a massive government graft scandal that’s responsible for more than R$750 Million being diverted from public coffers into politician’s pockets. 

Rio seemed to be set in the lead-up to the Olympics. Seen as the jewel in the crown of what was being hailed as one of South America’s fastest developing countries, the city had managed to gain control of the violent favelas which had made it infamous. Investment fueled by its rich oil reserves was reshaping the city’s infrastructure. Rio looked set to emerge from its chrysalis as a global capital.

A year on from the games and that is not quite what happened. Many of the much-lauded improvements to the city that were supposed to be part of the legacy of the games simply did not happen. The cleanup of Guanabara Bay, host to many of the aquatic events for the 2016 games, felt unrealistic even before Rio’s bid was accepted. A bike path connecting the neighborhoods of Leblon and Sao Conrado that cost R$ 44.7 Million (USD 14.2M) lasted barely two weeks before it collapsed, killing two pedestrians in the process (it has yet to reopen.) Even Maracanã, the hallowed home of Brazilian football, was left dilapidated; in the wake of the Olympics it was left in such a state of disrepair that it could not be used by local teams. This after what was one of the most expensive stadium renovations ever in the world.

All this pales in comparison to the surge in violence that has taken place in Rio since the start of 2017. The general hospital of Nova Iguaçu, in the north of Rio, has reported a 61% increase in the number of shooting victims since last year. In 2016, the municipal hospital Salgado Filho in the North of Rio attended 504 gunshot victims. So far in 2017, there has already been 409 cases. Causalties from stray bullets during shootouts between the gangs and the police have become to prevalent that an innocent bystander is buried every second day. A quarter of them are under the age of 18.

How did Rio’s high hopes get dashed so quickly? Who could have guessed that the city’s fall from grace would follow so quickly on the heels of the games? And perhaps the most important question, who is responsible?

During the bidding process for the games, its selection was already considered suspect. Complaints of anti-Arab bias were rife when Rio’s Olympic bid was selected over Doha, even though the Arab city scored higher in the majority of categories. In response, Olympic officials claimed that the Doha was not chosen because the planned date in September would be too hot.

Buses burn in downtown Rio De Janeiro after anti-government protests.

This is not to say that Rio’s bid was underwhelming. There was a concentrated effort made on behalf of the Brazilian government to ensure Rio was selected for the games. A delegation numbering over 60, including athletes, representatives of the Brazilian Olympic Commission, and even the then President, (and now defendant in a string of corruption cases) Luiz Inacio “Lula” Da Silva, pleaded for a South American city to be picked for the first time in the history of the games.


In between a film by Academy Award-nominated director Fernando Meirelles, and appeals from the President himself, Governor Sergio Cabral made a presentation on how improvements to the city’s transportation and security infrastructure would help to ensure that the games went off without a hitch. The cost of the games was expected to reach around 14.4 billion dollars, of which the bulk was expected to be paid for utilizing the windfall that was the discovery of oil fields located in the northern area of Rio De Janeiro state. A drop in oil price from $110 a barrel to $30 was unthinkable at the time, and as such, that type of situation was not even planned for. Of course, that hubris would be rewarded when that exact scenario played out, and state coffers started to run dry even before the Olympics arrived in Rio.

With such a shortfall in revenue and with the Brazilian government getting caught up in what was to be the largest corruption scandal ever, Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), it soon became apparent that the accounts for the Olympics did not balance. Rio’s Governor Sergio Cabral had utilized the games, and the institutionally corrupt relationship between the state and businesses like Odebrecht, to engineer a scheme in which vast sums were added to companies bids to provide services for the Olympics. This difference was utilized to provide kickbacks to politicians like Cabral in order to secure the contracts.

But how does this play into the current security situation in Rio?

Part of Cabral’s plan to ensure the safety of the games was to establish a program in the favelas, long seen as hubs to narco-crime, called Pacification. Essentially the program boiled down to the army and special operations police invading the favelas to route out the armed criminals that comprised the various drug gangs that ruled these areas. After the favelas were labeled as cleared, military police units would establish forward operating bases from which they would patrol the communities to ensure that the drug gangs did not regain control of the favelas. The idea was that this would be utilized in combination with improved infrastructure and social programs to bring these once lawless areas under the control of the government.

A School’s window is left shattered after a shootout between gangs and the police in Northern Rio. A 14-year-old girl died, caught in the crossfire.

In reality, the planned social programs were never implemented. The major projects that were designed to improve the infrastructure of the communities were used by Cabral and his cohorts to divert funds from the government into their own pockets. The Controladoria-Geral da União, a government organization whose role is to combat corruption, estimates that projects in 3 favelas, Rocinha, Manguinhos, and Complexo do Alemão, were overcharged 7%, 16.7%, and 24.4% respectively which when included with the overcharges on Maracanã brought the amount stolen from the public to R$715 Million ($226M USD).

Almost as soon as the Olympics were over Rio De Janeiro was forced to reduce its security budget by a third. Today the state is months behind on wages to its public employees, including the police force that is still occupying the favelas. The promised social programs that were supposed to help bring the favelas out of the shadows and under state control failed to materialize. The drug gangs started moving back into the favelas and allegations of corruption on the part of the police officers that occupy the forward operating bases within the communities has led to a deep distrust between the residents and the police. The police, on the other hand, feel as though they’ve been abandoned in hostile terrain. Many refuse to leave the protection of their bases and patrol the communities out of fear of being attacked. Meanwhile, residents see the police as an invading force and the drug gangs as robin hood type characters.

The fiscal cost of the games is in contention, with estimates putting the number at around R$42 Billion ($14B USD.) This is with over R$110 million in debt still being owed on part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Organization. Attempts were made to get the International Olympic Commission to pay a part of this, which they have refused. The International Olympic Commission is entitled to 10% of everything ranging from tv rights to sponsorships.

Meanwhile, the city of Rio has been left in a state of collapse. Projects meant to revitalize the communities of Rio, like the Gôndolas in Complexo de Alemão, have been left to rot without the funding to keep them functioning. Monuments to colossal waste and corruption have become this city’s Olympic legacy.

About the author: C.H. Gardiner is a Canadian photojournalist based out of Rio De Janeiro. His work principally focuses on security issues and social conflict.


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This Article was first published on https://chgardiner.com/theolympiccurse/ 


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