RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Thursday June 30, 2016 – With just over a month to go before the start of the Olympic Games, visitors arriving at Rio’s international airport this week were greeted by striking police bearing a sign reading: “Welcome to Hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid; Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.”
The protest came amidst Brazil’s worst recession in decades, with Rio’s acting governor declaring a state of financial disaster earlier this month, largely to bolster spending on security as the eyes of the world focus on the city.
“How are people going to feel protected in a city without security?” Governor Francisco Dornelles asked Rio’s O Globo newspaper. “We can have a great Olympics, but if some steps aren’t taken, it can be a big failure.”
Rio has slashed budgets across the board, including that of the police. Helicopters are grounded, patrol cars are parked to save on gas, officer’s salaries have been delayed, and Rio’s security forces are so pressed for funds that some have to beg for donations of stationery, cleaning supplies and even toilet paper.
Olympic officials nevertheless insist that Rio’s fiscal problems won’t affect security for the games.
Some 85,000 police and soldiers – or about twice the security contingent at the London Olympics – are reportedly to be deployed during the August 5-21 games, which are expected to draw an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 foreigners to a city of 12 million, where armed muggings, stray bullets and turf wars between drug gangs are routine.
Rio’s civil police, who oversee investigations while the military police handle patrols, nevertheless acknowledged in a statement that “some stations” are receiving donated office supplies.
Civil police chief Fernando Veloso was quoted in a recent interview in O Globo as saying: “We’re at the limit of our operational capacity, and I can’t discard the possibility of a collapse.
“There’s no way to avoid thinking about more cuts, and these cuts will impact our final product, which is serving the population,” he said, adding, “We’ve had to revise everything, even our operations during the Olympic Games.”
Governor Dornelles last week declared a state of financial disaster that paved the way for 2.9bn Brazilian real (US$860m) in emergency aid from the federal government.
The funds are earmarked for Olympic security, sparking hope that the circumstances of Rio’s beleaguered police may improve.