Sun, Aug 06, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Violence, chaos plague Rio one year after Olympics

AFP, RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil

The Velodrome, which was used in last year’s Rio Olympics and had its roof partially burnt after a fire at the Olympic park, is pictured on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Plagued by violence, white elephant sports facilities and corruption scandals, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is unrecognizable from the feelgood city greeting the world at the Olympics exactly a year ago.

As soon as the athletes packed their bags and cameras stopped rolling, barely hidden problems erupted.

Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio during the Olympics, said he had made the city, boosted by the temporary deployment of 50,000 troops, “the safest place in the world.”

Last month, the army had to return, sending about 8,500 soldiers to support Rio’s cash-strapped police in their brutal fight against narcotics gangs ruling with near impunity in swaths of the city’s favelas.

Muggings have rocketed in richer neighborhoods, parts of the favelas are like war zones and stray bullets fired from high powered rifles mean that no one is safe.

Roberto Alzir, head of security strategy for the state of Rio, said the city wished it still had that Olympic-level support from the military.

“Today those reinforcements have left and we have trouble paying our police,” he said.

Despite promising there would be no white elephants, authorities have struggled to find uses for the facilities built for the two week Olympics.

Parts of the Olympic Park are now open to public events, but much of the complex is eerily vacant. Last weekend the state-of-the-art velodrome with its wooden track caught fire and was heavily damaged.

The Arena of the Future, where handball games were played, was planned to be dismantled and recycled for three schools in poor neighborhoods. However, budget shortages mean that project has yet to get off the ground.

Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada insists that the legacy “is just taking time to put in place.”

A metro line extension and a new rapid bus network are among the tangible benefits for ordinary Rio residents from the Games. However, with hotel occupancy plummeting, unemployment soaring and ever more homeless in the streets, the widespread feeling is of an economy in free fall.

According to the National Business Confederation, 5,000 people got tourism jobs as a result of the Games. However, just in the first five months of this year the sector shed 9,000 jobs.

There’s particular bitterness from the approximately 3,000 former inhabitants of a favela that was razed to make way for the Olympic Park.

After a high profile fight against eviction, nearly all the inhabitants of Vila Autodromo accepted apparently generous compensation packages and alternative housing, leaving only a handful of holdouts.

However, those who moved out to the newly built project, named Parque Carioca, say their new homes are not fit for habitation.

Taxi driver Iran Oliveira, 41, pointed to cracks and damp in the walls and a bathroom where nearly all the tiling has come off.

“We didn’t have much choice because the mayor was putting so much pressure, even threatening to destroy our houses without compensation if we didn’t leave,” the father of four said.

He was assured that he would have title to the new apartment. However, under the details that he only understood later, he would not have the right to sell the property until the city has finished making payments on the property of 90,000 Brazilian reals (US$28,738).

That is meant to be complete in 10 years, but due to the economic crisis payments are already in arrears.

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