Did you catch those violent scenes on the news this past weekend? Sure, there are violent scenes going on at any given time at many places throughout the world, but these were headlined by the spectacular shooting-down of a police helicopter. (Remember the video of that?) At least 16 dead, with many burning vehicles, as heavily-armed police moved against the local drug-mafia in the favelas, or slums, of Rio de Janeiro.
Wait a second . . . isn’t that the same city that just recently was awarded the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games? Indeed it is, as Gerhard Dilger points out in his brief commentary-piece in Berlin’s Tageszeitung or taz: Alarm in the Olympic-city. That sort of bloodshed just won’t do while the Olympics are going on, but at this stage it’s difficult to imagine how it can be stopped: the author cites casualties of 100 people per month at the hands of Rio’s militarized police.
Well, Dilger concludes that it’s simply time for Brazilian politicians, from President Lula da Silva on down, to start imagining harder. A cheap answer is simply to call off the police and let the drug-gangs operate unhindered; while he does not go so far as to advocate that, he does urge thinking hard about how this sort of repression is responsible for making the drug trade so lucrative in the first place. In effect – although he does not state it explicitly – he is advocating drug legalization for Brazil.
At the same time, there needs to be a massive infusion of public investment in those favelas to produce schools, hospitals, public housing, etc. to address the wide gap between rich and poor in Brazilian society that results in the illegal activity that prompts such violence. World cities know anyway when they submit their bids to host the Olympic Games that they need to be ready to make tremendous investments in supporting infrastructure should they succeed in winning them. Dilger asserts here that not only is the same is true for Rio, but that hosting the 2016 Games is a Riesenchance – a gigantic chance – to summon the political will even to go beyond Olympic facility investments to undertake initiatives designed to heal the very real clefts remaining in Brazilian society.