Every so often, a story will come out in the American or European media about the World Cup and Olympics preparations in Rio. Sometimes, it's about how things aren't going quickly enough and that projects won't be finished in time, and other times it's about how favela residents are being evicted to make way for a new stadium and new infrastructure projects, like this recent story from Reuters. A few weeks ago, Amnesty International joined in, when the secretary general spoke out about concerns for favela residents being evicted. It seems almost cyclical, and it will probably continue all the way to 2014.
But this week, a somewhat unusual story came out. It wasn't from one of the big outlets, and it wasn't inspired by a sound bite from an official. It was a long piece from ESPN, but had almost nothing to do with sports. It was devoted almost entirely to a recent history of violence in one of Zona Norte's favelas, near the city's (and country's) largest stadium. Entitled "Deadly Games," written by Wright Thompson, it featured an image of a BOPE officer and his gun against a background of a favela, and Maracanã smack in the middle. The article aims to shock, especially those who unfamiliar with Rio realities. Here's how it begins:
"A white cross rising above the Macacos slum marks the spot where people are burned alive. A starving horse, his ribs poking out, is hitched close by with a thin rope. A nearby soccer field is dotted with pieces of melted rubber. No games are played here. The Amigos dos Amigos gang that runs this favela has a ritual: Members stack tires around their enemies, pour in gasoline and light the tires on fire. This is called microwaving. Black smoke rises into the air. At a school down the hill, near the famous soccer stadium where the 2016 Olympic opening ceremonies will be held, the students hear the screams and cover their ears. This is Rio in real life." [Read the story in its entirety here]
The article goes on to talk about the war in the Morro dos Macacos favela, as well as touching on the disconnect between the vision of the city marketed for the upcoming Olympics and World Cup and the violence in the city's slums. While it's on the sensationalist side, and pretty pessimistic to boot, it's really well written and largely sticks to the facts. If it weren't for the great writing, it would almost feel like the script for a violent video game or a bad action movie.
Since the article criticized Brazil, the repercussions were quick, and much to be expected. The article generated hundreds of comments, and several dozen articles in the Brazilian media were dedicated to it, including the major outlets like Globo, Folha, and EXAME.
Still, Rio's violence is hardly a secret, and the government's efforts to combat drug trafficking and organized crime have made international headlines in the last year or so. While I tend to agree that things may go back to the way they were after the Olympics are over, I disagree that there's so much concern for security during the actual games. It's likely the city will be safest during the World Cup and Olympics, when the government will mobilize its resources to ensure the safety of visitors. It's possible the army or military police may even occupy some of the favelas during the games, like they've done in the past. It doesn't seem fair, but it's happened before: peace in Rio in 2014 and 2016 will be para inglês ver, and it's very likely that like during past events, including the 2007 Pan Am Games, everything will go smoothly and everyone will go home happy. Cariocas are hoping the changes made in preparation for the games will remain past 2016, but like Mr. Thompson, plenty are skeptical. I'm all in favor of being realistic, but it never hurts to have a little optimism.