After the Olympics, 'Brazil has to stand up to its problems'
Rio got subways and a new port area, but no solution for sanitation and crime in its poor neighbourhoods
In one moment Saturday night, a collective cheer thundered up from Maracana Stadium, echoing around Rio's hills and back down to Copacabana's bars, as Brazil won the gold medal in men's Olympic soccer. Fans pounded their chests with pride; suddenly the Rio Olympics seemed worth it.
- 'Everybody robs in this country': Olympics a big opportunity for thieves to steal from tourists
- 'Guardians of the River' make tiny dent in Rio's unrelenting pollution
But come Monday, as some venues are torn down and others scaled back for the financially hobbled Paralympics in September, the bills will be tallied and the legacies measured.
"My biggest concern is what is going to happen the day after the Olympics, because for now, we had two weeks of a very beautiful party, but we know that all the serious problems of Rio will remain and perhaps no one will pay attention to us anymore," says Mauricio Santoro, professor of political science at Rio State University.
"There is always a hangover when you throw a party, when you throw a celebration. But I mean this is a country full of challenges that I hope is getting out of a political and economic crisis. I hope things will get better now," says Eduardo Paes, Rio's mayor.
In spite of mosquitoes, muggings and smelly bays, he says, Rio pulled off a spectacular party.
The Games were "much better" than expected, better than "even in my sweetest dreams when we campaigned for the bid," he told CBC News.
But the reality for many in Brazil is more nuanced.
'The host usually pays'
A block from the marathon finish line Sunday, a Brazilian street artist sprays the finishing touches on a mural. It shows a long dinner table, wine glasses upended, chairs overturned and a metre-long bill with the Olympic rings.
"It says who's going to pay the bill after all the party," says Paulo Ito, a street artist.
"The host usually pays; maybe it wasn't really a good time for Olympics."
Rio won the Olympics promising improved infrastructure. It got that — a subway extension, and a new bus rapid transit line. A complete overhaul of the port area created a lively, enticing new public space, crowded daily for the Olympics.
But two of Rio's biggest problems, security and sanitation, did not benefit from any Olympic glow, leaving disappointment and skepticism.
"The Olympics for me is lack of sanitation in the favelas," says Jose Martins de Oliveira, part of a residents' activist group Rocinha without Borders.
- Residents of Rio's favelas decry exclusion from Olympics
- 'Favela chic': Foreigners flock to lodgings in Rio's slums
He's standing at what the locals call the "sewage waterfalls," in Rocinha, Rio's largest favela, climbing up a hill between the Olympic Park and Ipanema.
At the top end of a small gully between rickety houses, raw sewage streams unimpeded down to the ground, its flow slight or heavy depending on how many are flushing their toilets or sinks.
"Without piping we have big cases of tuberculosis, stomach worms and skin problems," says de Oliveira.
"The Olympics for me is also the Guanabara Bay, promised to have been cleaned up, with the financial resources to do it, and it was not done."
"Obviously, Rio is not a perfect place," counters Mayor Paes. "Rio has a lot of problems. And the Olympics were not about solving all those problems of the city. It was about getting people's lives better.
"This is a country with a lot of inequality. Countries like Brazil, continents like South America, they have the right to get the Olympics. It doesn't have to be only in developed countries — always North America or always Europe or some dictatorship."
Final price tag unknown
The actual cost of these Olympics has not been transparent. Projections run close to $12 billion US. The mayor says for the venues and the organization, 80 per cent is being paid from the private sector, "it's a cheap bill."
High above Guanabara Bay, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Santa Theresa, Mauricio Santaro says his biggest worry was a terrorism attack. That didn't happen.
But a steady beat of robberies, and street crime, the odd stray bullet in venues, and stone-throwing vandals from favelas, kept organizers on the defensive, while state security forces held running battles in some favelas trying to contain the violence within.
"During the Olympics we had massive shootings in the biggest slums in Rio," says Santoro. "It didn't make the headlines as much, but it was much more serious than some American swimmers making bad things in Rio."
Still, "I'm relieved," says Mayor Paes, "I am very proud of my country, very proud of my city and excited about what can come after."
Sunday night, he was centre stage as the Olympic torch passed to Tokyo and Brazil went back to its everyday crises.
- Ryan Lochte says 'immature behaviour' got him into a mess
- 'Not acceptable': Ryan Lochte accused of lying about robbery after gas station vandalization
The Olympics exposed Brazil's problems, now Brazilians need to have courage to fix them, says Santoro.
"OK, it was not a tragedy, but there were many serious problems and we have to address those problems, not just because of the Olympics, not just because of the foreign tourists, but because of the lives of the people who actually inhabit Rio and we have to stand up to these problems after the Olympic circus is gone."