Earlier this year, an unknown figure leaked a police recording of a conversation between former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes. The candid banter between the two political powerbrokers included a profanity-laced back-and-forth about the upcoming Summer Olympics. Fully enmeshed in Olympic preparations, Paes griped, “You have no idea how I’m suffering, sir. It’s fucked!” Lula replied, “But with all the trouble, dear, you’re still blessed by God with these Olympics, you see, because others…” Paes interjected, “It’s true! True.”Lula continued, “The other mayors I talk to are fucked.”
Five months later, and on the eve of the Games’ opening ceremony, Paes may be feeling a lot like those other mayors. Despite his dedication to pre-cooked talking points about how the Rio Olympics will be “a success for everyone,” the Games hardly look like a blessing. The Olympics have been a budget-buster, with costs catapulting 51 percent over initial estimates. Rio’s waterways, which were supposed to be cleaned before August, remain a toxic cocktail of viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Body parts washed ashore at Copacabana in the shadow of the beach volleyball arena. During the torch relay, a soldier shot and killed Juma, a jaguar that Olympic organizers had crassly commandeered as a prop.
The problems extend well beyond the Olympics, though. Brazil is mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with unemployment over 11 percent and inflation on the rise. President Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s handpicked successor from the Workers’ Party, is a Senate vote away from being booted from office. Olympic organizers beseeched the Senate to not hold the vote during the Games, for fear of the countrywide demonstrations that would likely ensue. Despite the apparent assurances of key senators that they’d postpone a vote until after the crowds of athletes, tourists, and journalists left town, anything is possible when it comes to Brazilian politics.
Yet Rio is not the first host city