The Olympics and RIO…

RIO jpgWhat will happen when the world watches?

On October 2, 2009 the International Olympic Committee awarded Rio de Janeiro the 2016 Summer Olympics.  World soccer star Pelé convinced the IOC that Rio was ready to be the first country in Latin America to host an Olympic games.  Knowing the forces of money, the games will go on, probably similar to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, although toilets were being installed through the opening ceremonies.

But is the Rio community ready for an Olympics? State and local governments have been clearing out many shantytowns to make way for the Olympic village and event facilities. One sixth of Rio’s population, over one million people have been under the rule of a drug gangs. Why?  Because until recently the government didn’t care about the shacks built up in the hills, known as favelas, except during election times. The poor who live there pay no taxes and return have few streets, no schools, hospitals, or fire departments.

Squatters built on steep, virtually uninhabitable land that the rich never wanted as far back as 1565, preferring instead to live near the glorious beaches that border Rio de Janeiro on the eastern and southern shores. The city was a domain of the Portuguese empire, and in 1763 the colonial capital of Portugal until 1808, when the Portuguese royal family and most of the associated Lisbon nobles, fled from Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and moved to Rio de Janeiro. They remained there until Napoleon was defeated in Waterloo in 1815.  Brazil finally declared its independence in September 7, 1822 ending 322 years of Portugal’s colonial dominance. But as long as the poor remained in the hills, they remained independent from the new government of Brazil as well.

In an odd way, the drug lords have been the only form of government in favelas since the early 1900’s when hundreds of thousands of peasants flocked to Rio in search of employment and slapped together shacks of scrap lumber, mud, stone and corrugated tin roofs up in the hills. Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil, the center of power, until Brazil decided to encourage its population to migrate inland by moving the capital to Brasília in 1960.  This sealed the plight of the poor as unemployment skyrocketed.  Only the upcoming Olympics has prompted Brazil to reclaim the hills it hasn’t wanted for nearly four hundred fifty years.

Imagine the individual stories of gang leaders fighting for what they considered theirs, corrupt policemen who padded income by working for death squad night militia, and the broken families and street kids caught in between. I was compelled to write a fictional thriller about what a street kid would do to protect his little sisters amidst the 2008 onset of Olympic development turmoil. “Rio – Reluctant Ascension to Infamy” will be released soon. In the meantime, I encourage you to subscribe to my weekly newsletter about some compelling human-interest stories from Rio or possibly even your own home city.  Stay tuned. Before you know it, the world will be watching!

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