Emily Zhuo ’19
Award-winning international journalist Juliana Barbassa came to Smith on March 31 to deliver a profound presentation regarding the research and process behind her book “Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink.” Barbassa begins with her own tale and relationship with Brazil. Although she spent much of her life in the United States, Barbassa identifies herself as Brazilian.
Barbassa spoke about her return to Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic bid as a curious Brazilian and journalist. For her and many others the Olympic bid was a symbol of hope for the country.
The events of the World Cup and the Olympics were obvious incentives for the government to take further action to increase the standard of living of all Brazilians. The dictatorships of the ’60s are over and the ’90s brought a period of change; this decade is now waiting to see continuous uplifts. The salient issues in Brazil were summarized by Barbassa into safety, housing, environmental cleanup and transportation.
Safety would be the primary concern in terms of the Olympic Games. There has been increased gang and criminal activity occurring in Rio, but at the same time, the police force is also highly lethal. The Pacifying Police Unit program or “Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora” was novel in idea, focusing energy on 24/7 patrol to take back the favela communities dominated by gangs.
The alliance of the police with the masses seemed apparent; however, since 2014, deadly encounters with the police have increased each year. There was also an unexplainable increase in the number of disappeared community members.
In order to build the Olympic park, the government displaced numerous lower-income families from the prospective locations into further, more remote plots of land with few resources. The communities that were torn down were some of the oldest parts of Rio, and the most developed, acting as the city’s primary hub for education, health access and job opportunities. The relocated zone has poor infrastructure and simply unable to sustain a group of people who don’t have much to begin with.
Transportation is a highlighted issue in Rio de Janeiro as well. The busy roads are some of the most congested in the world. The relocated families must take overly crowded buses for over four hours simply to get to work back where they used to live. The buses run on a highly irregular schedule as there are far too few for the demand and are thus too crammed for any comfort — not to mention the additional risks of bus burning by some gangs.
Environmental care does not bode well either. The Guanabara Bay takes in 2.25 billion liters (480 swimming pools worth) of sewage per day.
With the Olympics as an incentive, the government promised an 80 percent cleanup of the pollution by 2016, but this too ended up to be an unfortunate missed opportunity.
The condition of the government is not stable. Mass protest against the Brazilian president, Dilma Roussef, have led the Congress to favor her impeachment. Recently, the Sports Minister also resigned. In addition, light has been shed on a massive corruption case which drew in many political and economic sector elites and corporations, including the previous Brazilian president.
The political turmoil, coupled with the fact that Brazil has blown past its projected expenditures for the Olympic bid and preparation, adds further pressure on the Brazilian economy.
During the Olympics, the area of the Olympic parks would probably be the safest place in the entirety of the world with heavily armed guards on the lookout for any type of danger. But what will happen with police brutality now that the police are given heavier armaments? With the police force already highly lethal and police shootings unaccounted for, it leaves much room for speculation what will Rio be like under the international spotlight.
Barbassa concluded her presentation with questions not simply for post-Olympics Brazil, but also the Olympic bidding process for future games. Should there be a tighter mold and more strict requirements for an ideal country to host the Olympics? If so, it brings us to a larger question: Do the Games bring more harm than good for their host?