RIO DE JANEIRO (CNN) – The specter of rampant, violent crime is also a potential threat to the Rio games. Police say they’re trying to crack down but some tourists and even Olympic athletes are worried.
Gun battles in the Olympic city. A clash between police and gangs in one of Rio de Janeiro’s impoverished favelas with civilians caught in the middle. Urban warfare in densely populated communities where parents struggle to keep their children safe. A woman says two bullets flew into a children’s recreation center. When armored personnel carriers and police Special Forces move in, they trigger more gunfire
It’s not exactly what you’d expect in the host city of the upcoming summer Olympics.
Luisa Cabral in Portuguese said, “Today we live in the middle of a crossfire, caught in a war that isn’t our own.”
Luisa Cabral is a well-respected community activist in one of Rio’s biggest favelas. She says the war between the police and the gangs is getting worse. She argues that the upcoming Olympics won’t make any impact on the violence here. The authorities in Rio insist they have a plan for keeping the games safe, by deploying some 85,000 police and soldiers across the city. But these days, even members of Olympic teams are getting caught up in the violence.
“Actually, I went to the gas station and was just meters away and a gunfight started! So all of the sudden everybody started running at the gas station and hiding behind things. So I thought well, that might be time to just lay flat in the motor boat and hide as well. So that’s what I did and apparently the bullets came down just 20 meters away and hit the walls and the water,” said Max Groy, German Olympic Sailing Team trainer.
Part of the problem is that there are effectively two systems of law and order government in Rio. Police keep control in the affluent, touristic parts of the city but up in the much poorer hilltops, there’s a very different group in charge.
This young drug trafficker is trying to illustrate the complete different set of rules that exists up in the favelas. Brazilians call this the parallel state. There are communities where the gangs control the area, and where the police rarely go in without weapons.
“You don’t want the Olympics?”
“It’s not that I don’t want it. But I don’t see any advantage to corrupt Olympics, where there’s no investment and the rich people use the games to steal from the Brazilian people,” said a trafficker.
A drug dealer’s deep skepticism of the Olympics and a view that’s also shared by many of the ordinary Brazilians we’ve met here. And perhaps it’s understandable given the frightening conditions many residents face in this troubled city, sheer survival, more important than bronze, silver and gold.