Editorial, by Stone Korshak
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It is amazing to be so close to the Olympics after all these years of build-up, only to have the last year be such a let-down. The mood before the 2014 World Cup was much different, there were concerns about public spending and potential mass-protests, but those were the good times – before a crippling economic recession, all-ensnaring corruption scandal, political upheaval with a presidential impeachment, and a zika scare.
Here is how it feels ‘on the ground’ today, we’ll go reverse order. The zika virus is scary, but really pretty unknown in terms of connection to birth defects, and it is not just in Brazil. The good news is, it is ‘winter’ in Rio so mosquitoes aren’t a major concern. Also, for better or worse, statistically I’ve read that someone has a better chance of being shot in Rio than getting zika.
Next, is the political upheaval, and the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and ousting of the PT (Workers’ Party). This is very controversial as many countries are seeing highly polarized populations. From the Trump run in the U.S. to the Brexit in the UK, moderate socialism is being confronted by unadulterated capitalism (at all costs).
Will Rousseff fight off the impeachment? Not likely. Will the new government backslide on all the social programs helping lift the majority of Brazilians out of extreme poverty and pocket the nations proceeds into their ‘old-money’ bank accounts? Very likely. That’s democracy in action for us in modern times.
Next topic, related to the above, is the Lava Jato (Carwash) corruption scandal, and where will it end. As Rousseff argued, her impeachment very well may have been an effort to shut the investigation down, and there were plenty of recorded phone calls that confirm it. Even though the Lava Jato seems to be party agnostic, there were enough of the political elite in the cross-hairs to form an alliance against it.
The case is still moving along, but seems to occupy less of the news headlines and I don’t think anyone will be surprised if it quietly fades into the past with minimal heads rolling. But, the Mensalão case did send some people to prison, and there does seem to be an appetite in this young democracy to see the corruption curbed… we’ll see.
As far as the economic recession, the halving of oil prices, added to the general “Brazil Cost,” has driven most foreign business out and the GDP and national deficit and unemployment rates are all in grim shape. Yet life continues, and local businesses are surviving despite there being more shuttered store windows and ‘for rent’ signs. Luckily for those looking to live here, real estate prices have also been falling slowly, returning back to reality.
Without a doubt, Rio’s financial crisis is making for difficult times, and Governor Francisco Dornelles declared a financial emergency – stating that without federal aid Rio would not be able to meet its obligations during the Olympic and Paralympic events. Schools, hospitals and police are among the government jobs that cannot be paid without a federal bailout, which has been granted.
So all-in-all, with 25 days left until the Olympics, there may be some issues with polluted waters, and maybe some transportation disappointments (the Barra Metro subway extension opening in time is dubious at best), but Rio will host an amazing event. As far as the rest of life in Rio, if one changes their expectations, the forecast looks pretty good for winter (for the next five days at least).