The Rio Olympics Haven’t Been Nearly As Safe As Promised

Human right activists protest against violence ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 2, 2016. CREDIT: FELIPE DANA, AP
Human right activists protest against violence ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 2, 2016. CREDIT: FELIPE DANA, AP

While the world is focused on athletes shattering world records and adding to the medal table, those in Rio de Janeiro living outside the confines of the Olympic Village are facing a much harsher reality.

According to NPR, violence in Rio’s slums — or favelas — is surging during the Olympic Games. Despite the addition of 85,000 soldiers and policemen in Rio for the games, this month, an average of 4.8 people per day have been wounded by gunfire in Rio, nearly double July statistics.

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Amnesty International reports that during the first week of the Rio Games, 14 people were killed and 32 were injured, including 11 civilians and three security officers. Overall, there were 8.4 shootings per day between August 5–12, almost twice as many as the previous week.

This month, an average of 4.8 people per day have been wounded by gunfire in Rio, nearly double July statistics.

Robbert Muggah, an expert on violence at the Igarape Institute in Rio, told NPR that this increase is directly related to the Olympic Games. Police officers are conducting “operations” inside the favelas more often this month to prevent gang violence during the games — but the units entering the favelas are much weaker than usual because so many security forces are being used to protect the Olympic venues.

This is causing much more volatility than usual, which is really saying something, considering that Brazil already has an alarmingly high homicide rate with approximately 42,000 gun-related deaths each year. The country has also been reeling from an epidemic of police brutality; police killings have increased 54 percent over the past two years, and between 2008 and 2013, police killed an average of six people a day. Most of the victims are young, black men from the favelas.

Athletes and fans have been concerned over the violence in Rio for months. Just this summer, mutilated body parts washed up on shore near the Olympic volleyball venue, there was a shootout at a prominent Rio hospital, a German broadcasting truck was hijacked, and an Australian Paralympian was robbed at gunpoint.

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In the past couple of weeks alone, a Chinese hurdler was robbed while trying to check into his hotel room, Australian athletes were robbed during a fire alarm evacuation in the Olympic Village, two bullets landed in the equestrian center, and a media bus was reportedly hit by two gunshots.

The most high-profile incidence of violence in Rio occurred Sunday, when decorated U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and three of his teammates were robbed at gunpoint and had their wallets stolen.

https://twitter.com/RyanLochte/status/764944107101978625

Of course, it’s important to note that athletes have brought some violence with them as well. Last week, two boxers were arrested for sexually assaulting housekeepers.

Still, the games will be over soon and the majority of the athletes and tourists will go home. The real concern for Brazilians is what happens to the violence in Rio once they do.

“What people feel today is that the elites benefited at the expense of the poorer segments of society.”

It’s clear the Olympics have not been nearly as safe as promised, for the visitors or the residents of Rio. According to Muggah, the Olympics are leaving behind a very dangerous legacy in the favelas, where Rio’s most vulnerable citizens reside.

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“There are always trade-offs when conducting these kinds of mega-events,” he said. “But I think there was a false promise by the mayor, the governor and the Olympics organizers that the Olympics would contribute to a more inclusive project that would address many of the social and economic challenges of the city. What people feel today is that the elites benefited at the expense of the poorer segments of society.”