Amnesty International reported on 2 August that a sharp increase in police killings has effectively cast “a shadow of death” over Rio de Janeiro as the city and country prepares to host the Olympic Games, which are due to begin on 5 August.
The rights group has reported that the number of people killed by police in the crime-plagued Brazilian city has more than doubled between April and June 2016 from a year ago. Citing state security figures, Amnesty disclosed that police in Rio de Janeiro killed 49 people 25 people in April; 40 in May and 49 in June, adding that since 2009, when Rio won the bid to host the Summer Olympic Games, police have killed more than 2,600 people in the city.
In a statement, Atila Roque, director at Amnesty International Brazil, disclosed that “just when we thought the levels of police brutality could not get any more shocking, they do,” adding that “a shadow of death has set over Rio de Janeiro and it seems the authorities only car about how pretty the Olympic Part looks.”
Recent attacks claimed by extremists groups in Europe, coupled with the arrest of a cell with purported links to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Brazil in late July, have added to security concerns during the Olympics. While organizers have responded to these concerns by increasing the number of soldiers and police patrolling the event to nearly 90,000, Amnesty has disclosed that poor training and excessive use of lethal force by police are pat of a misguided approach to public security in the South American country.
Speaking recently at a news conference, Renata Neder, a human rights adviser for Amnesty, disclosed that “the authorities are not looking into preventive measures to tackle and to curb the executions by police,” adding that “there are specific cases of people bing killed in operations for the Games.”
06The governor of Rio de Janeiro has declared a state of financial emergency ahead of the Olympics, which are set to begin in August, stating that emergency measures are needed in order to avoid “a total collapse in public security, health, education, transport and environmental management.”
The acting governor, Francisco Dornelles, has classified the situation in the Official Gazette as a “financial calamity” that could prevent “the fulfilment of the obligations as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016.” This however is in part a political tactics as by declaring a state of financial emergency, the government is able to borrow funds without approval from the state legislature. The interim president, Michel Temer, has reportedly already agreed to disburse federal funds to cover Rio’s shortfall and to ensure that the Olympics go ahead as planned.
The impact however remains to be seen. Most of the Olympic projects are funded by private companies or Rio City, which is in a stronger financial position, as opposed to Rio state. With the exception of the velodrome, the main sporting venues are either already completed or are on schedule for completion. However Rio State is responsible for the MetroRio extension, which is already very late and which is now due for completion just days before the start of the Games, when it will be needed to alleviate the usually dire traffic to Bara de Tijuca, the site of the athletes village and Olympic park. Rio State was also supposed to clean up the sewage and other pollution in Guanabara Bay, which will stage the yachting events. However officials have stated that this is now impossible due to a lack of funds, which effectively means that Olympic sailors may have to dodge plastic bags, human excrement and other waste. Also of great concern for the 500,000 visitors who are expected for th Games is the cut in the public security budget, which has added to the problems faced by the favela “pacification” programme and contributed to a resurgence in violent crime. I also comes amidst warnings that terrorists could target the event.
City Mayor Eduardo Paes however has insisted that the state of emergency would in no way impede Rio’s ability to meet its Olympic commitments and stage an “exceptional Games.” He stressed that the bulk of the bill for the event was being paid by the municipality and not the state, adding, “the city of Rio is in good shape financially…Even in a time of crisis, we keep pushing. We inaugurate things almost every week.”
The plea for additional funds, which comes 49 days before the official start of the games, is an embarrassment for the host of South America’s first Games and adds to a long list of issues, which include the impeachment of the president, the deepest recession in decades, the biggest corruption scandal in memory, the Zika virus epidemic and a wave of strikes and occupations of government buildings.
Analysts have reported that Brazil’s economy this year is expected to shrink by about 4%. This is due to weak commodity prices, low demand from China, political paralysis and the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation, which forced the suspension of many construction contracts and which led to the arrest of dozens of senior executives. Rio de Janeiro has particularly been hard hit because it is the headquarters of the state-run oil company Petrobas, which is at the centre of the investigation. Faced by falling tax revenues, the state government has slashed health, police and education budgets. Teachers and doctors have faced lengthy delays in receiving their salaries, which has prompted strikes and occupations of schools and hospitals.
A World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman has disclosed that the WHO’s Emergency Committee on Zika will meet in the coming weeks in order to evaluate the risks tied to going on with the Olympic Games in Brazil in August. The meeting comes as the debate grows over the safety of holding the Olympics in the South American country amidst the ongoing Zika virus outbreak.
According to WHO spokesman Nyka Alexander, “the Emergency Committee meeting will consider the situation in Brazil, including the question of the Olympics,” noting that while the WHO will make risk assessments of a public health issue, it will ultimately be up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to decide on holding the event in Rio de Janeiro, which is due to begin on 5 August. A spokesman for Rio 2016 has disclosed that officials are continuing to follow WHO recommendations on Zika.
Dr David Heymann, chairman of the WHO committee of independent experts, has disclosed that postponing the Rio Olympics over fears that it could speed the spread of the Zika virus would give a “false” sense of security because travellers are constantly going in and out of Brazil. WHO experts have also indicated that because it will be winter in Brazil when the Olympics begin, mosquitoes that carry the virus will be less abundant.
At the beginning of June, a public letter was signed by 150 public health experts and scientists calling for the Olympics to be delayed or moved over concerns that the Games could speed up the global spread of the Zika virus. However top US officials agreed with WHO experts that Zika did not pose enough of a risk to postpone or move the Olympics. According to Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, travel to the Olympics would represent less than one quarter of 1 percent of all travel to Zika-affected areas, adding that the risk was low except for pregnant women.
While athletes will have to make their own decisions as to whether to risk Zika for the potential globally of Olympic gold, some athletes have already withdrawn from the competition.
One-hundred-and-fifty-two health experts have signed a letter calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to either halt the upcoming Olympic games in Brazil or move it elsewhere.
The letter warns that some 500,000 foreign tourists are expected to travel to Rio de Janeiro, which would lead to the virus being spread to countries where it may not have reached. It further states that the Zika virus has more serious medical consequences than first through and claims that the health emergency contains “many uncertainties.” One of the authors of the letter, Professor Amir Attaran, has stated that the games risk becoming the “Olympics of brain damage.” He believes that allowing the Olympics to go ahead would lead to the birth of more brain damaged children.
The letter also calls into question the relationship between the UN health agency and the IOC, which entered an official partnership in 2010. Professor Attaran states that the partnership between the WHO and the IOC was “beyond the pale” and calls the independence of the WHO into questions. He states that “it is ignorant and arrogant for the WHO to march hand-in-hand with the IOC,” adding, “how can it be ethical to increase the risk of spreading the virus? Just because a fire has begun doesn’t mean you need to pour gasoline on it.”
The WHO however has rejected the call, stating that suspending or moving the event would “not significantly alter” the spread of the virus. A statement released by the WHO indicates that “based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” adding, “Brazil is one of almost 60 countries and territories which to-date reporting continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes…People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons…The best way to reduce the risk of disease is to follow public health travel advise.”
The Zika virus has been linked to serious birth defects including microcephaly-where babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. It has also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, which affect the nervous system. Nearly 1,300 babies have been born in Brazil with microphaly since the mosquito-borne Zika began circulating last year. The majority of those infected with the virus have no symptoms, however it can cause mild illness with symptoms that include rashes, fever and headaches. Pregnant women have already been advised not to travel to Rio de Janeiro, however the WHO has indicated that the risk of Zika will lessen in August because it is winter in Brazil.
While no Olympic Games has been moved because of health concerns, in 2003, FIFA moved the Women’s World Cup from China over fears of the respiratory virus SARS.
The Rio games are due to begin on 5 August.
The Olympic flame has arrived in Brazil for the start of a torch relay that will culminate with the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio in August.
The flame was flown inside a small lantern on a special flight from the Swiss city of Geneva to Brasilia. President Dilma Rousseff lit the Olympic torch, which will be carried around Brazil by 12,000 runners. The act could be one of President Rousseff’s last public acts ahead of a possible impeachment trial. Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on whether proceedings against her should go ahead. If a simple majority votes in favour, then Ms Rousseff will be suspended from office for up to 180 days and Vice President Michel Temer will take over. Ms Rousseff has been accused of manipulating government accounts ahead of her re-election in 2014. She has denied the charges and has stated that the impeachment proceedings are a “coup d’état” designed to remove her Workers’ Party from office.
Aside from the ongoing political crisis, Brazil’s economy has also slumped, with sources reporting that generating public support for the Olympic Games will be one of the main challenges during the torch’s 95 day journey around the country. The torch will pass through more than 300 towns and cities from the Amazon to Brazil’s southern border. It will arrive at the Maracana Stadium in Rio on 5 August. Amongst the first torchbearers will be a Syrian refugee who now lives in Brazil.