In many ways the timing for hosting the Olympic Games could hardly be worse for Brazil. Not only is the country grappling with the Zika outbreak and an economic recession, it is also in the middle of a political upheaval with the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff and corruption charges levied against many politicians. Consequently, protests and demonstrations have been abundant. Ever since the World Cup two years ago people have regularly been taking to the streets. Social discontent caused by high levels of corruption and slow economic growth has also recently triggered large-scale anti- and pro- government protests.
Social discontent and frequent unrest
The threat of civil unrest during the Olympics in Brazil is definitely high. During recent months, protests of varying sizes have seemed like an almost daily occurrence, and the situation is unlikely to change before the start of the Games.
In addition to the political scandals plaguing the country, things such as widespread poverty, uneven land distribution, high crime levels and dangers to Brazil’s multiple indigenous communities all inspire social protest movements. Meanwhile the nature of law enforcement, exceptional prison overcrowding, and gang controls of penitentiary locations have inspired rioting in some of Brazil’s major cities.
In Rio de Janeiro, large scale protests have occurred on a number of occasions in recent years and the recent political scandals have not improved the situation. The economy is in recession and is expected to shrink during the next two years, leading to projections of increased unemployment.
Delays and underestimations of the costs related to construction and preparation for the Olympic Games also present a destabilizing factor. The risk of further large-scale protests in Rio de Janeiro is significant, both before and during the Olympic Games of 2016.
For those visiting the Games it can however be worth noting that due to a high presence of security forces in the city districts where the Olympic venues are located, it is more likely that protests will instead be held in adjacent parts of the cities.
Previous protest movements in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro include:
- Demonstrations against economic and social issues in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
- Protests against price hikes in public transport and corruption in June to July 2013, which also coincided with the FIFA Confederations Cup and were linked to high government spending on the sporting events.
- Protests in March 2016, gathering several million people in cities across Brazil. The cause were the accusations of significant government corruption along with poor economic development.
- Demonstrations for and against the impeached President Dilma Rousseff during 2016.
Avoid the risks
Even though the most recent protests have largely been peaceful, except for minor scuffles, past events have on several occasions led to violent incidents and clashes between protesters and police.
Taking part in any form of protest or residing in an area where such events are taking place entails a risk of physical injury. During the protests in 2013-14, several foreign journalists were injured during protest-related clashes. You should therefore always try to avoid protests, you never know what might happen.
Social discontent caused by high levels of corruption and slow economic growth has also recently triggered large-scale anti- and pro- government protests.
Protests regularly cause disruption to public transport and local travel. In recent waves of protests, gatherings have occurred at metro stations, bus terminals and on roads, specifically aiming to disrupt local travel. The traffic in Rio de Janeiro is already troubled by overcrowded roads and congestion. Keep this in mind if you notice any protests and consider possible disruption in your time-plan when traveling.