Rio Olympics Overshadow Economic, Education Protests in Brazil

(Photo: Felipe Dana, AP)

(Photo: Felipe Dana, AP)

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro started during tough times for the Brazilian economy. Shortly before the official ceremony to open the first Olympic Games held in South America, as many as 3,000 locals flooded the streets of Rio and gathered at the luxurious Copacabana Palace to protest against the current government and the billions spent on the big sporting event.

According to Japan Today, demonstrators said that billions of dollars are being spent on the Olympics in times when the country is struggling politically and economically, and the Games will only help the elite, not average Brazilians. The unemployment rate in the country has already reached 8 percent, according to analysts. The economy is set to shrink by more than two percent in 2016, and as Jeff Swicord of VOA News notes, the opening of the Games found the country in the middle of a severe political and economic crisis.

Some people blame increasing debt, a decrease in government spending and the lack of international investments. The sudden drop in oil prices also added to the situation. According to Brazilian economist Rodrigo Magalhaes, those who recently moved up into the middle class were hurt the most by the economic slowdown.

Anna Barros, one of the protesters and an English teacher, commented:

“We love sports in our city, but our city needs other things like better schools, better hospitals, free access to education. We need to invest money in our people.”

A five-month teacher strike ended just last month with brutal police violence. As Dave Zirin of The Nation noted, of 166,000 teachers, 70 percent went out to protest against the police violence in an effort to win a pay raise and more comforting working conditions in the face of student-teacher ratios of 50-1. During past months, students and teachers occupied their schools to raise awareness, with 81 schools in Rio occupied. In the course of occupations while teachers and students were demanding funding, the priorities of the multi-million dollars Games were looming.

Anna Barros was one of the many people supporting Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s suspended president who is accused of hiding a budget deficit to improve her re-election chances for a second mandate in 2014, writes Emmanuelle Saliba of the NBC News.

Fabiola Camargo, another teacher who came to the protest, commented that VOA teachers had not received a pay raise since 2014. According to Camargo, the strikes, and numerous student occupations have helped each other a lot, as both sides want the same thing – serious improvements in education.

Brazilian authorities have been struggling with combating crime and muggings against Olympic delegates and journalists, and the government has deployed 85,000 soldiers and police officers to protect the Games.

Almost everyone in Brazil was hurt by the political and economic crisis, but the people who struggled the most seem to be the ones living in the poor neighborhoods called favellas. Welcoming the Olympics in Rio has lifted the spirits of many, but the economic situation remains difficult and severe problems will remain after the close of the Games.