Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Thousands of tourists have begun to descend upon Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, notwithstanding the police protest sign saying “Welcome to Hell“.
The list of Olympic failures is legion: a golf course despoiling a nature preserve; the forcible eviction of long-term community residents near the Olympic center in Barra da Tijuca; the abject failure of the UPP program touted as a way to clean up crime-ridden favelas; the murder of at least ten police officers each and every month.
Did we mention sewage? The promise to clean up the sewer that is Guanabara Bay was a lie, as was the promise to clean up the sewage in the Lagoa. Even the Olympic Village complex of multi-story residential buildings designed to be luxury housing after the Olympics, is currently uninhabitable because of blocked toilets.
What’s the “legacy” of Rio 2016? One is supposed to be public transportation, as some long-needed options (such as the VLT) to buses and trains are inaugurated. Metrô Line 4, which was supposed to be fully operationally six months ago, will use the “Olympic Family” as guinea pigs to see whether it works. But the completely mismanaged juggling of public bus routes, with no notice of where they go, will befuddle tourists and Cariocas alike. Just don’t ride your bicycle to São Conrado from Leblon.
The transportation legacy ought to include Rio’s horrendous commuter train service — but it doesn’t. Trains are the principal means for poor people to get themselves from their distant suburban communities to their jobs in Rio de Janeiro. As more and more people are removed from gentrified Zona Sul (South Zone) favelas, their residents head west, so the trains get more and more crowded.
The bankruptcy of the State of Rio means that the public health system and the public safety system are even less able to serve the populace than before. The health authorities have announced that no one with health insurance will be taken to a public hospital in an emergency.
The state police get their salaries two weeks late, and don’t even have money to buy paper to put in their printers, so local merchants have been advancing funds for this purpose. In other words, if you’re held up at gunpoint, don’t bother trying to file an official complaint. The authorities point to importation of some 50,000 “security” agents; hopefully, at least some of them have had training in how to use the weapons they’ll be issued.
Another supposed legacy is the purpose-built sports stadia, all of which cost at least double their original estimates. Just like the white elephant football palaces built for the 2014 World Cup, they too will begin to rot and mould away, as they stand unused.
And, finally, let us consider the worst legacy of Rio 2016 — unemployment. All the infrastructure and habitation created lots of construction jobs; but as of September, those jobs will disappear. Once the Games end and the 50,000 security agents go back to their daytime jobs, street crime will increase and the hotels built in seedy downtown and faraway Recreio will soon be largely empty, with no need for staff.
But during August and September, most Cariocas will be glued to the tube, watching the spectacle and pretending that everything will be all right.
The Curmudgeon really truly thought, back in 2012, that Rio might just become a serious place by 2016, because of Rio 2016; sadly, he was wrong.