By Terrence McCoy
May 13 at 2:12 am
Last month on a traffic-clogged road in Rio de Janeiro, a TV camera flickered to life. In its frame was a squat Brazilian woman wearing a necklace and a flower-pattern blouse. She and the interviewer discussed the increasing numbers of robberies, deteriorating security and inadequate police protection. Then, in the middle of the interview, a slight man materialized in the frame, ripped off her necklace and bolted into traffic as the woman wailed.
Her interviewer chased the robber, yelling at him to come back.
According to Brazil’s police, which are trying to prepare for next month’s World Cup amid a soaring crime rate, the broadcaster did the wrong thing. He shouldn’t have chased the thief.
Not in a country like Brazil. Not in a city like Rio.
Rather than ignore the many problems plaguing the country’s preparations for its games – drought, murder, striking police, ballooning costs, mismanagement and Dengue fever – police are inching toward resignation
. They know Rio de Janeiro state, which saw more than 4,000 murders in 2012, is pretty dangerous. And the 600,000 tourists who are expected to descend upon Rio should know it, too.
So Rio police have compiled a list of tips on navigating the city’s violence, including asking tourists to refrain from screaming if someone robs them.
“Do not react, scream or argue,” says the brochure, which will be disseminated at Brazilian embassies and other consulates, according to the BBC. Police warn tourists against flaunting valuables to check and make sure no one’s following them. Mario Leite, the director of World Cup security in Sao Paulo says “tourists come mainly from Europe and the United States, where they do not see this crime very often. … There is no use crying over spilt milk.”
But there are no shortage of things that are worth crying over concerning Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which one high-ranking Olympic official recently confessed was the “worst I have experienced.”
Topping the list is the crime rate. While the number of homicides in Rio state has fallen dramatically in the last few years, violence has surged in surrounding areas. In 2007, according to U.N. statistics, the homicide rate was 23.5 per 100,000, and nearly 45,000 people were killed that year. In 2012, the rate had risen to 25.2 — and more than 50,000 were killed that year.
This year, crime overall has gotten worse. Rio crime statistics released this week show that street muggings increased 44 percent in the first four months of this year. In Recife, the U.S. State Department released a warning about shopping at a local mall. “We feel afraid even to walk seven blocks from the office to my house,” Flora Pessanha, a woman living in Rio, told the Wall Street Journal. She says her relatives have been mugged and crime is constantly on their mind.
Compounding the problem are police — or the lack of them. Nearly 40 homicides were committed during a recent two-day police strike in the northeastern city of Salvador, and cops are now threatening to strike across the country. They say they’ll sit out the World Cup unless the government improves their pay and working conditions.
Some cops have donned ”SOS federal police” T-shirts, bellowing indignation at protests from Rio to Brasilia to Fortaleza. One cop spokesman told the BBC that “at least 40 percent” of the police force participated. “Federal agents are the only category of workers whose salary has been frozen in the last five years,” the spokesman explained.
Brazil has been less stingy on other World Cup matters. The cost of building Brasilia’s World Cup stadium has tripled to reach $900 million in public funds, just one ballooning figure among many in the country’s $11.5 World Cup tab. In a Sochi Olympics remix, critics have blamed Brazil’s corruption and fraudulent billing for the inflated costs.
Today, the only thing that appears to have stopped climbing is expectations. ”Brazil is scaling back its World Cup ambitions and reining in expectations as officials concede they are running out of time,” The Washington Post’s Dom Phillips reports. “Numerous projects will be left half-finished, delayed until after the tournament or simply abandoned.”
Even after all the billions spent — not to mention Brazil’s affinity with soccer — the World Cup couldn’t be less popular among some. “That’s a monument to national sadness and waste,” said security guard Paulo Rodrigues, explaining Brasilia’s stadium to the Associated Press. “I’m not against the Cup, but I’m frustrated with the spending and the corruption we all know it involves. When politicians build a road, even if there are kickbacks, at least at the end we have a road. With this stadium, we have nothing.”