By Jenny Barchfield
RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro’s acting governor warned Monday that the Olympic Games could be a “big failure,” because of budget shortfalls that threaten to compromise security and mobility during the games.
In an interview with Rio’s O Globo daily, Francisco Dornelles said the state is still awaiting a 2.9 billion Brazilian real ($860 million) payout from the federal government aimed at shoring up state coffers ahead of the Aug. 5-21 event. The funds were allocated last week, but have not yet reached the state, and Dornelles warned that without them, police patrols may grind to a halt by the end of the week, for lack of gas money.
“How are people going to feel protected in a city without security?” Dornelles was quoted as asking.
“I’m optimistic about the games, but I have to show reality,” he said. “We can have a great Olympics, but if some steps aren’t taken, it can be a big failure.”
Rio has been particularly hard-hit by the recession besetting Brazil, which saw the economy shrink by around 4 percent last year and joblessness spike. The state is highly reliant on sinking oil royalties, and prior governments awarded billions in tax exemptions that resulted in near-empty coffers.
Another worrying issue for Dornelles is the metro line that was meant to ferry tourists to the main Olympic venue in the far-western Rio area of Barra da Tijuca. Promised for late last year, the metro is still not ready. A nearly 1 billion real ($290 million) federal loan aimed at finishing the project has also not yet been released.
“I’ve said that without security and without the metro, there will be difficulties,” Dornelles was quoted as saying.
He also called the situation in the state’s health care system “calamitous,” and said the policy of deferring or paying state workers’ salaries in installments “is a form of slave labor.”
Formerly Rio’s vice governor, 81-year-old Dornelles was thrust into the hot seat after Rio Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and took medical leave earlier this year.
Asked how it’s been to deal with the state’s financial crisis, Dornelles responded, “for me, it’s been a mess.”
“I’d already decided to end my political career,” he said, adding he’d only accepted the offer to become Pezao’s running mate because he thought he’d only have to take over “from time to time.”
“And suddenly this bomb fell into my hands,” he said.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes last week went on a PR offensive, insisting the Olympics were not responsible for the state or federal financial debacles.
In an exhaustive presentation before local and international media, Paes insisted the state and federal governments’ investment in the games were minimal, and that the city — which he said had shouldered the lion’s share of responsibility for the event — was in good financial health.
Asked what he made of Paes’ assertions, Dornelles said, “I’m not a candidate for anything anymore. Therefore, they can throw all the blame my way.”
Meanwhile, Paes’ office announced Monday that the mayor was in the hospital with a kidney stone. Paes has suffered from kidney stones for years, his office said in a statement. It did not provide any details on when Paes is expected to be released.
Dornelles’ comments came on the heels of another bloody weekend in Rio, which saw a police officer who had been serving as a bodyguard for Paes and a 34-year-old doctor killed in muggings-gone-wrong. Officer Denilson Theodoro de Souza, 48, was shot in the northern Rio neighborhood of Pavuna on Sunday. He was the 49th Rio officer killed since the start of the year, according to O Globo.
A day earlier, Gisele Palhares Gouvea was shot in the head in her car as she entered one of Rio’s main expressways on her way to her home in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood.
Asked about Gouvea’s slaying, Dornelles responded, “What a disaster. The security crisis is very serious.”