'Everybody robs in this country': Olympics a big opportunity for thieves to steal from tourists

A confessed robber says the Summer Olympics were an opportunity for thieves on Rio's beaches and claims security in the Brazilian city is a mirage, the CBC's Susan Ormiston writes.

Drinks server from favela says Summer Games in Rio offered chance to take belongings, money from foreigners

Robson, a drinks waiter on Rio's Copacabana beach, says he also steals from foreign tourists distracted by the sun and the surf. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Officially, Robson sells Caipirinha drinks to tourists on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach.

But his more lucrative livelihood, he says, is stealing from foreign tourists distracted by the sun and surf.

Robson says he and his friends rob tourists for cash and valuable belongings. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"Pickpockets are around, tourists are here, they don't pay attention to their belongings, cellphone, money, all that, so we steal them," he says.

Robson, a 32-year-old who calls himself a robber and wouldn't give his last name, says he's been working Copacabana beach for the last three years.

He comes from Mangueira, one of Rio's poor favelas, "a very poor community, and the state doesn't offer job opportunities," he says.

"Tourists come to the beach with a lot of money and I just steal from them."

Does he feel any responsibility for the unwary people who lose their wallets, their phones?

Clip: 'Everybody robs in this country'

6 years ago
Duration 0:11
Clip: 'Everybody robs in this country'

"No, I don't. Everybody robs in this country. The mayor robs, the governor robs, the president robs. Everybody robs. I`m just one more."

Robson says the Summer Olympics in Rio presented a big opportunity for him and his friends. He claims he's made 20,000 reais, or about $7,600 Cdn, from thefts since the Olympics began two weeks ago.

"In one day, we have from 50 to 100 people robbed here on this beach. I don't mean Brazilians, but foreigners, the gringos. We don't steal from Brazilians." 

Clip: Robson brags about the number of people robbed in one day

6 years ago
Duration 0:17
Clip: Robson brags about the number of people robbed in one day

Crime is a constant drumbeat in Rio de Janeiro. Violence in Rio's favelas has ratcheted up this year, with a reported 756 shootings and 50 deaths in the month just before the Olympics. 

At the beginning of August, Mayor Eduardo Paes promised that Rio would be the safest place in the world to visit. Brazil installed up to 85,000 security officials for the Olympics.

According to Crossfire, an Amnesty International project, 15 people have been killed and 33 injured in shootings since the Olympics began. Shootings are reportedly double the average in the last few weeks. 

In an interview with CBC Thursday, Paes discounted the reported threats and robberies of athletes, delegates and visitors to the city.

"The problem of Rio is violence but it's not as people say. The fears have gotten much less and these are safe Olympics."

Mayor Eduardo Paes defends the safety and security of the Rio Games. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

He dismissed some Olympic teams' advisories to athletes advising them not to go into Rio after dark.

"Come on, you are here, go around, people are enjoying the city, the streets are packed with people having fun."

Robson counters that version, saying the mayor's efforts are a show — police lined up patrolling the street, but ignoring the beach. 

"The security you see today in Rio de Janeiro is concentrated in the venues, where the Olympic events are taking place. And all you see around here now is just to fabricate a sense of security....

"The drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro ... is more powerful than the state."

Clip: Robson says the state is 'bankrupt'

6 years ago
Duration 0:27
Clip: Robson says the state is 'bankrupt'

As he ends our interview and goes back to selling drinks, he gives us a parting tip.

"When you go to the beach, don't walk around like that texting on your phone. We'll steal it without you knowing." 


Susan Ormiston

Senior correspondent

Susan Ormiston's career spans more than 25 years reporting from hot spots such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Lebanon and South Africa.


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