“Welcome to Hell,” reads the makeshift sign, “Police and firefighters don’t get paid; whoever comes to Rio De Janeiro will not be safe.” The words, posted outside of Rio’s central airport, are meant as a warning to tourists, but more so reflect a discontented native populace. It effectively conveys a sentiment of hopelessness, one that the Brazilian government attempted to stifle at least for the duration of the Olympic games.
Why Brazil was even allowed to host the Olympic games after the exceedingly high costs of the 2014 World Cup strained its budget and infuriated its citizens is beyond me. In the latter event, the Brazilian government exposed its own incompetence on the global athletic stage despite its best efforts. The administration prioritized self-image over the population’s happiness and economic well-being, spending tax money beyond the point of excess. The recent Olympics weren’t much better.
Rio De Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, accused the Brazilian government of failing in its obligations to police and protect the people. Rather than improving security in the favelas surrounding the Olympic events, the government got to work silencing their disparaging cries, cracking down in full force on vocal complainants. This kind of iron-fist authority isn’t unfamiliar to impoverished Brazilians. While hosting the World Cup, Brazil saw the number of people killed by state officers increase by 40 percent.
Many officers, in turn, were disillusioned. Underpaid and ill-equipped to combat drug-trafficking violence, they demanded higher pay. The government initiated a 2.9 billion dollar bailout to provide their officers with adequate pay. With this, Olympic spokespersons began to laud the games as an assured success.
It was already too late. Brazilian icons and political leaders had voiced their doubts that the games would not be an embarrassment, and Olympic athletes insisted on conveying their trepidation, covering everything from gun violence to the Zika virus, through social media. Even minor issues, such as the diving pool having turned a contaminated green, earned Brazil international ire.
What is the proper response to the 2016 Olympics? Is it to pack bags and haul ass, as numerous athletes did? Is it to ensure that whatever country is playing host to the games sees the proper amount of financial aid from the participating countries? Perhaps. Maybe more importantly, the international community should take this time to reflect on Brazil’s image in the spotlight, especially on its blemishes.
Any athlete scared to visit Brazil shared only a few days with a populace scared to live there. Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, at an average of 42,000 a year. Currently, the government is short on funds to the point of relying on emergency payments for its civil workers.
Brazil needs financial and humanitarian aid, as well as a level of governmental reform that’s beyond my understanding. Western institutions have long been attempting to enforce regulations such as food safety and water cleanliness. But to act on these improvements, Brazil’s government needs financial support.
The global community has sent its tourists, icons, and athletes to a nation which had been struggling before it had even begun preparing itself for the world stage. Now that community needs to follow up with extensive financial aid, humanitarian efforts, and strategies to improve life in Brazil, not just its image.