Rio ‘has never felt so safe’

Lesotho Times - - International -

RIO DE JANEIRO — Por­tu­gal’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter was robbed at knife point. So was the chief of security for the open­ing cer­e­mony as he left Olympic Sta­dium. A po­lice of­fi­cer was killed when his ve­hi­cle was sprayed with gun­fire, and an Olympics bus car­ry­ing jour­nal­ists was at­tacked by peo­ple throw­ing rocks.

Even be­fore the armed rob­bery this week­end of four Amer­i­can swim­mers, in­clud­ing the gold medal­ist Ryan Lochte, a se­ries of crimes had drawn at­ten­tion to Brazil’s short­com­ings in pro­vid­ing security for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But for many in this crime-weary city, a big­ger ques­tion re­mains: What will hap­pen af­ter the Games?

To thwart crime around the Olympics, Brazil has mo­bi­lized a security jug­ger­naut in Rio twice the size of the one used for the London Games in 2012.

Mind­ful of Rio’s rep­u­ta­tion for vi­o­lent crime, the Brazil­ians have de­ployed 85,000 security per­son­nel. This show of force in­cludes 23,000 soldiers pa­trolling the city, some in mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, along with he­li­copters and war­ships loom­ing around the city’s most pop­u­lar beaches.

“The city has never felt so safe,” said Gil­berto Dias, 50, a hot dog ven­dor who de­scribed how plain­clothes of­fi­cers had sprung to ac­tion one morn­ing last week af­ter two mug­gers ac­costed a tourist in the up­scale Copaca­bana neigh­bor­hood.

“They just ma­te­ri­al­ized out of nowhere, which is some­thing I’ve never seen be­fore.”

But even be­fore the Games be­gan, Rio was fac­ing a surge in law­less­ness in re­cent months that had rat­tled res­i­dents and alarmed the au­thor­i­ties.

With the econ­omy in tur­moil, as­saults and rob­beries on the street jumped by 42 per­cent in May, with 10,000 rob­beries that month. And af­ter years of de­clin­ing homi­cides, the num­ber of mur­ders in­creased by more than 7 per­cent dur­ing the first half of the year, with over 1,500 peo­ple killed.

As dread per­sists over street vi­o­lence and gun bat­tles rage in Rio’s fave­las, some Brazil­ians worry about what will hap­pen in the af­ter­math of the Games, when the soldiers are with­drawn and the city is left on its own to grap­ple with a financial cri­sis.

“The as­sault on the Amer­i­can ath­lete is what hap­pens to us in Rio ev­ery day,” said Mar­cello Brito, 51, an ar­chi­tect, re­fer­ring to Mr. Lochte.

Rio’s fi­nances were so bad be­fore the Games that it had de­clared a “state of calamity.” Bud­gets had been gut­ted, with po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers protest­ing de­lays in re­ceiv­ing pay by hold­ing signs at the air­port telling visi­tors, “Wel­come to hell.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­sponded with an $850 mil­lion bailout pack­age to help the state of Rio de Janeiro stay afloat, pay salaries and keep es­sen­tial ser­vices run­ning dur­ing the Olympics.

But the cri­sis in Rio’s fi­nances, which are heav­ily de­pen­dent on global oil prices, re­mains, and the security lapses threaten to un­der­mine am­bi­tions for a resur­gence in the city’s for­tunes.

The au­thor­i­ties in­vested bil­lions of dol­lars in sports venues, tran­sit sys­tems and so-called paci­fi­ca­tion projects in poor ur­ban ar­eas, ar­gu­ing that the Olympics would serve as a linch­pin in over­haul­ing the city. In the weeks be­fore the Games, Mayor Ed­uardo Paes even con­tended that Rio would be “the safest city in the world.”

Many res­i­dents have wel­comed the in­creased security.

“It’s nice to see soldiers pa­trolling the streets, at least where I live,” said Cas­sius Al­mada, 39, a high school math teacher who lives in Copaca­bana. “It could be a lot worse.”

But those liv­ing beyond the neck­lace of up­scale seafront neigh­bor­hoods say the in­creased security has had lit­tle ef­fect in com­mu­ni­ties that have long been trou­bled by vi­o­lence.

Maria do Rosário Silva San­tos, 54, who was vis­it­ing Rio from Brasília, the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, said she had been stunned to see young men — not po­lice of­fi­cers — tot­ing guns ca­su­ally in Acari, a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood in north Rio, where she was stay­ing dur­ing the Games.

“It was shock­ing to see,” she said. “As far as I can tell, noth­ing has changed.”

Some security ex­perts em­pha­sized that con­sid­er­able risks per­sisted around the city, es­pe­cially in fave­las, the poor ar­eas that gen­er­ally emerged as squat­ter set­tle­ments and that are still con­trolled by drug gangs. Be­cause of Rio’s financial cri­sis, plans fell apart to es­tab­lish a net­work of polic­ing out­posts in Maré, one large area of fave­las.

Julita Lem­gru­ber, the di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Stud­ies on Pub­lic Security and Cit­i­zen­ship at Can­dido Men­des Univer­sity in Rio, said it was naïve to ex­pect a dras­tic drop in crime dur­ing the Games.

“The gov­ern­ment thought a snap of their fin­gers would bring peace to a city that has lived through so much vi­o­lence in the past few years,” she said.

“It doesn’t do any good to have this show of thou­sands of ex­tra po­lice un­less you tell ev­ery Olympic ath­lete to walk the street with a po­lice­man by his side.”

The Olympics, she said, had ac­tu­ally in­creased blood­shed — but only in the vast fave­las, where the po­lice have been bat­tling mili­tias and drug gangs.

In Com­plexo do Alemão, a large group of fave­las, a flare-up of gun bat­tles since the start of the Olympics has left at least two res­i­dents dead and two po­lice of­fi­cials wounded. — NY Times

A po­lice op­er­a­tion last week in Vila do João, part of Maré, a large area of fave­las, dur­ing the olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.