Rio de Janeiro Overview - July 2016

Security

Rio's security situation took a turn for the worse this year as the state government’s funding ran out. However, the situation improved visibly in July, as federal forces began to enter the city and state coffers got an infusion of federal funds. The money temporarily saved the state government, which used it to pay police salaries. From Marines to Federal Highway Police, patrols and reconnaissance began around 15 July 2016. Additionally, the Military Police and organized criminal groups arrived at an unspoken agreement to stop violence in return for allowing drugs sales to go unmolested by law enforcement. As it is, the city will never be as safe as it will be in the next month and a half during the Olympic Games. The city and country will likely surprise observers with how well they pull off the high profile event.

However, even those high up in police hierarchy admit they do not know what is going to happen in the state and city after September, when the Paralympics end and so does federal funding. The cut off date is likely to be 2 October, when municipal elections are scheduled. State level financial problems and political dysfunction mean increased security challenges are likely after most of the world is no longer watching.

Chances for a high profile terrorist attack during the Olympics are low. The city is a huge soft target with major open events (such as live fest sites) and Olympic competitions, as well as the natural agglomeration of Cariocas on the streets. Yet while it is easy to point out Rio’s vulnerabilities to an ISIS-style attack, the fact remains that Rio is on high security alert, and ISIS does not have the same presence in Brazil that it has in Europe or the United States. Only Hezbollah has a network in Brazil capable of putting together an attack, but it has zero interest in doing so.

Furthermore, Jogo do Bicho gamblers, organized crime, and police control all the underground logistics to import and distribute guns and ammunition. None of those three groups would play ball with an outside actor. Attacks would have to be makeshift and use material at hand (such as in Nice, France). However, security forces will be extremely vigilant.

 

Protests

During the Olympics, there will likely be both anti-Olympic protests and anti-impeachment demonstrations. The anti-impeachment movements are not expected to be large (the impeachment vote is expected on 22 August, but can be move up or pushed back); still, authorities and organizers all agree these protests are the most likely threat to the Olympics.

Since there are multiple Olympic venue areas, protestors will be dispersed throughout the city, avoiding a critical mass of people. Public transportation bottlenecks will help police stop the flow of protestors from place A to place B, and reduce their concentration. Police will also very likely employ the same tactics from the end of the World Cup in Rio, such as kettling (holding protesters in a cordoned off area without entry or exit). Thus, authorities can avoid the spectacle of running street battles and the negative PR associated with them.

Another concern will be striking civil servants, as these demonstrations can easily gather between 2 to 3,000 people. The police will likely treat them with similar tenderness as other protesters.

 

Big Events

During the Olympics, the city will be chaos for local citizens, but the Games will be a success. Unless you are part of the Olympic family, use public transportation, taxis, and transportation apps (uber, lyft, etc). Avoid driving unless you are from the city and are accustomed to its already chaotic traffic.

The past two months was nothing but bad news for Rio, with the media confusing state woes with city problems. However, it is important not to forget every Olympic city since Atlanta has experienced concerns regarding security, the completion of venues, and traffic. London saw a police strike and a walkout by private security, resulting in the armed forces taking over security. Athens almost did not finish critical infrastructure and venues. Atlanta had major traffic issues that forced the organization to rearrange game times, disrupting the TV broadcast of major events.

Once the cameras start rolling, and editors use city views alongside gold medal competitions, most of Rio’s problems will be forgotten.

 

Rio Elections

Rio’s municipal elections are coming up in October, and the top candidate is Pedro Paulo, because the PMDB political machine can turn out votes (mainly based on militias who drive voter turnout in the city's west zone).

The second most likely candidate is Bishop Marcelo Crivella, who enjoys significant call back from past elections, but has high negative ratings with the general public due to his association with the evangelical Igreja Universal. This makes him an unlikely candidate to win a runoff election.

Marcelo Freixo (PSOL) will lead the city's left wing, obscuring even those leftist candidates that do not follow his lead (Jandira-PCdB). His candidacy will once more depend on heavy grass roots movements, rallies, and street campaigning to win votes. In the last election, he made it to the run-off election with Eduardo Paes, obtaining nearly 30 percent of the vote.

Campaign season starts on 15 August, in the middle of the Olympics. Any street based campaign, such as Freixo's, only adds people and movement to the city streets as well as the increases the potential for disruption to traffic. His candidacy also adds to the number of people who might join protests or marches.

 

National Politics

Brazilians are unhappy with their government and politicians. Nobody within the political system is popular: not the interim Temer administration, not Dilma Rousseff, and not the PSDB, Brazil’s largest political party.

Dilma is likely, but not certain, to be impeached this year. She is calling for new elections, which is a smart political play and could gain support, allowing her to avoid impeachment, but lose office in a new election. Either way, new elections are unlikely.

If they do occur, the top contenders for the presidency are Marina Silva, former President Lula da Silva, Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin and Ciro Gomez. If Lula is not arrested or formally charged as part of the Lava Jato investigation, he will be the candidate to beat in these earlier elections, or the scheduled 2018 elections. Lula already leads polls, and as long as he can point to everything that went on in the past two years and call it a scam, his chances of winning the presidency again increase exponentially.