Just days before the August 5 opening of Rio Olympics, protesters in Angra dos Reis, a coastal town about 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, blocked an Olympic procession, seizing and extinguishing the Olympic torch before being driven back by police firing teargas and rubber bullets. Protesters carried banners reading: “Workers of Angra dos Reis will not pay for the crisis” and “Torch of shame.” The protest is emblematic of the conditions of extreme economic and political crisis, as well as rising social unrest, that are wracking Brazil as it prepares to host the first Olympic Games ever held in Latin America. Angra dos Reis is a coastal gateway to expensive resorts and beach mansions of the wealthy from Brazil and around the world. It is also the site of a Petrobras oil refinery and nuclear power plant. The majority of its residents are working class and poor, living in precarious housing on hillsides that have seen repeated disastrous mudslides. The hostility to the Olympic Games, however, is not unique to this one town.
Brazil’s official unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2016 rose to 11.3 percent, a 38.7 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, average wages have also fallen sharply, down 4.2 percent since last year. Growing working class anger over these conditions may impinge on the Olympics themselves. Rio de Janeiro public transport workers have threatened to go on strike on the eve of the games if their demand for a nearly 10 percent wage hike is not met.
Rio de Janeiro has been turned into an armed camp in advance of the Oympic Games, with 88,000 armed troops, military police and other security personnel deployed in its streets. In the run-up to the games, the government has announced a series of “terror” arrests of individuals charged with links to foreign terrorist organizations. The substance of these allegations appears flimsy in the extreme, in some cases consisting of nothing more than having visited a web site. This phony anti-terror campaign has provided the Temer government the opportunity to implement a recently passed draconian anti-terror law.