by Jim White, The Telegraph:
Brazil is in crisis. The government of President Dilma Rousseff is teetering on the brink of collapse, barely mourned by a population who equate her term in office with widespread corruption and economic mismanagement. Rousseff’s coalition partners recently pulled out of the government, pushing her ruling party closer to the exit door. Ministerial resignations have become commonplace: last week the Brazilian Sports Minister, George Hilton, departed. Suddenly the preparedness of Rio for the opening of the Olympic Games on Aug 5 has been put into stark perspective. The country appears to be in chaos.
But in a briefing given by members of the Games Organising Committee to the British media last week, the mood remained strikingly bullish. “Everything will be ready on time,” insisted Mario Andrade, the director of communications for Rio 2016.
The Games are being sold on the premise that they will represent “the greatest party in the history of sport”. And talking to a couple of locals who auditioned for roles in an opening ceremony that is being directed by Fernando Mereilles, the man behind the brilliant Rio movie City of God, the suggestion is that from the off the city may well sing. But just over four months from the grand opening junket in the Maracana stadium, there remain several significant issues that could yet compromise such bold intention.
When the Games begin, Brazil’s last two presidents could be facing criminal charges. Three million people took to the streets last month to demand the impeachment of Rousseff over her involvement in a corruption scandal involving the Petrobras oil company.
The demonstration against her rule filling Rio’s Copacabana Beach was the largest in Brazilian history, with hundreds of thousands marching to show their anger at graft in high places. The sense of crisis has not been eased by Rousseff’s decision to appoint former president, Lula da Silva, as her chief of staff, a move characterised as a flagrant attempt to gift him the immunity from prosecution that comes with high office. The appointment was quashed by Brazil’s supreme court, a decision against which Rousseff is appealing.
As yet there has been no connection made between the Olympics and the wider corruption issues, but Rio’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes – the Games’ chief architect – has been linked to ex-President Lula. And a recently leaked recording of a telephone conversation between the two men exposed how much the mayor is banking on the event for personal advancement: he had hoped a successful staging would propel him into the presidency. More significantly, the crisis has meant a temporary freeze on new government spending, thus curtailing the emergency central funding Paes was hoping to call on for last-minute infrastructure improvements.
Rio’s Achilles heel. The city’s metro system is decades behind that in London. On the roads the rocky spine of hills that splits downtown from the Barra area, where the Olympic Park is sited, creates a natural bottleneck; last week it took 90 minutes to drive from the athletes’ village to the Joao Havelange athletics stadium. Since the road link is in places single carriageway, even Olympic lanes are unlikely to speed the flow.
But the worst news involves the new subway line, which was intended to whisk spectators to and from the park. The deadline for completion is July 1; test trains were due to be running on the track late last month. But since the rails have not yet been laid along much of the route, and several bridges remain in a state of half-completion, that seems unfeasible. More than 10,000 workers are engaged on the project. Pictures posted on social media of a group of them having a mid-morning nap under an as-yet unfinished viaduct, however, did not communicate a gathering sense of urgency.
For the past 150 years much of Rio’s sewage – and a good proportion of its rubbish – has been daily dumped into Guanabara Bay. The first initiative to clean up the mess dates from 1866. But it was the decision to site the Olympic sailing in the Bay, with its photogenic backdrop of Sugar Loaf mountain, that finally concentrated minds.
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