One year to Rio 2016: Brazil is worse thanks to politics again
In January 2013, a decision in Brasilia impacted dramatically on the World Cup preparations. In an attempt to stem inflation, President Dilma Rousseff asked São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro mayors to delay a transport fare rise that would necessarily come on the following month. That increase was postponed to June, which gave students months to prepare for a wave of nationwide demonstrations. At first they were a few thousands on the streets. As the Confederations Cup unfolded a police violence broke, hundreds of thousands started protests against politicians at all levels, corruption, the expenditure in the World Cup or anything else that sounded potentially controversial. If only that change in the prices of public transportation had taken place when kids were on vacation… Maybe her superpopularity, at about 80%, would not have dropped so much.
In January 2015 another decision in Brasilia impacts dramatically on Rio 2016 preparations. It was made by a highly controversial Congressman that had been looked down on by Rousseff — deservedly, I must say. Eduardo Cunha, a man surrounded by accusations in the last 20 years, was poised to become speaker of the Lower House. Knowing his background, the President gave him a competitor, but Cunha still won. Since then, he has given the opposition the opportunity not only to pressure the President, but also to look for reasons to impeach her only months after she was reelected. His attitude plus mistakes in economic policies crafted by Rousseff have put Brazil closer to the loss of investment grade — although the Senate can work as a counterbalance in all those issues. Still, Brazilians are more interested in the next few months than in the next year. The Olympics seem to be years away.
Truth be said, Brazilians mistakenly believe that the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics and that also counts. They also don’t see Rio 2016 as being as connected to the unpopular federal government as the football tournament is — they would probably be more vocal if they saw the existing link. These are issues that impact the national conversation. But with an economy crisis at full steam, political uncertainty in Brasilia, demonstrations scheduled for later this month and an ongoing corruption scandal at Petrobras involving the ruling coalition, including the speaker himself, how could it be any different? The level of interest and engagement in the Games here is far from gigantic at this point. Rio Olympics still need more volunteers, for example. The recent reports on water pollution and unbelievable police violence have caused little stir among Brazilians.
The atmosphere in Rio 2016 depends on the political arena too. Rousseff’s popularity is very low, at about 10%. That rejection includes many of those who reelected her and saw her turn her administration to the right after winning with a leftist campaign. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the vast majority of Brazilians want to impeach her, despite her being blamed for the fact the country’s GDP being about to lose 2% this year. If Cunha succeeds in a staging a coup with a democratic appearance, Brazil could be in an even bigger turmoil than one year before the World Cup. The mess in politics would drag the economy down, as numerous rating agencies and businessmen have pointed out. It is hard to believe such an environment would be pacified because of a sporting event that Brazilians still don’t get — bear in mind these are the first Olympics held in South America and the continent doesn’t care for it as much as Americans and Europeans do.
There surely are things to celebrate one year before the Olympics. Politicians and businessmen are going to jail as a result of Operation Car Wash and many others are soon to be indicted by the Supreme Court. Prosecutors don’t seem afraid to indict powerful people and companies have already hinted they will adopt better compliance to avoid corruption scandals. But investigators have already said this process will take another two years. That can engulf Rio 2016 when it comes to public support. Or make it a target to those that see the balance of power flip to the opposite side. In Brazil, the Olympics have never had the bonding power that the World Cup has. It might be different for cariocas this time, but not nationwide.
No wonder not many in Brazil are paying much attention to polluted waters, a delay in the construction of the tennis venue or the potential contamination at the equestrian arena. Not even the price tag yet to be published is under discussion. The leftist protesters of 2013 have become conservative Congressmen in 2015. The priority for Brazilians in August is to find out whether Rousseff will be in the Opening Cerimony next year.