RIO DE JANEIRO — A month before Rio welcomes thousands of visitors for the 2016 Olympic Games, the city’s mayor has lashed out at state officials over the policing of violent crime.
“This is the most serious issue in Rio and the state is doing a terrible, horrible job,” Eduardo Paes told CNN, during an interview in his downtown office.
“It’s completely failing at its work of policing and taking care of people.”
His comments come after Rio de Janeiro state, which manages the region’s military police force, issued an executive order requesting emergency funds from the federal government in order to pay outstanding bonuses and overtime to police officers.
The 2.9 billion-real bailout (roughly $850 million) was made available last week, after acting governor Francisco Dornelles said Games could be a “big failure” without the funds. It’s believed that the back pay will be distributed this week.
The state’s police officers vented their anger last week with a sign saying “Welcome to Hell” outside Rio airport. “Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe,” the sign said.
Spate of crime
Rio has been rocked by a spate of negative headlines in recent weeks, including an Australian Paralympic athlete who was robbed at gunpoint, reports of 20 armed men breaking into a municipal hospital to free a drug kingpin, and a doctor killed by random gunfire on the main artery connecting the airport to the city.
Several international TV crews, including two German broadcasters, which had a truck with more than US$400,000 worth of equipment hijacked at gunpoint, have also been robbed.
The Justice Ministry said 85,000 additional officers, including police from other states and military personnel, will be arriving to the city in late July and patrolling throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“(During the Games) the army, the navy, everyone is going to be here,” Paes said. “Fortunately the state will not be responsible for security during that period.”
Mayor: Zika threat ‘overestimated’
As far as other problems affecting Brazil, such as the Zika epidemic and the political crisis that temporarily suspended President Dilma Rousseff from office, Paes said people are “overestimating” the effects they could have on the Games.
“At this time, if you are American, please don’t go to Florida. You have more cases of Zika in Florida now than we have in Rio,” he said.
According to health officials, the risk of Zika transmission is much lower during Brazil’s winter, when the Games will be held.
However, the World Health Organization still advises women who are pregnant to limit travel to the region and those traveling there to take special precautions to avoid contact with mosquitoes, including wearing long sleeves and pants and using repellent.