Acting governor of Rio de Janeiro Francisco Dornelles has issued a decree proclaiming that his state is facing a “public calamity,” as there is not enough money to both fully fund the Summer Olympics scheduled for August and keep necessary public utilities running properly.
“This crisis is preventing the state of Rio de Janeiro from honoring its commitments to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016,” Dornelles wrote in the decree, adding that paying for the construction of Olympic venues and services has “been causing severe difficulties in the provision of essential public services and can even cause a total breakdown in public security, health, education, mobility and environmental management.”
The decree declares an economic state of emergency, which requires the federal government in Brasilia to provide emergency funding for the state. Dornelles is requesting $900 million from federal budget coffers to keep Rio de Janeiro afloat, according to reports which to not confirm whether Brazil’s acting president Michel Temer has approved the measure.
In statements following the proclamation, Dornelles warned that this would be the first in a series of “tough measures” the state would have to take to keep afloat. “The objective [of the decree] is to call attention from all of society to Rio’s problem. Some pretty tough measures will be taken,” he said, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
While this decree will likely have a significant impact on Brazilian taxpayers – both in Rio de Janeiro and nationally – public officials have repeatedly asserted that Rio’s state of emergency will not hurt the Olympics in any way. The International Olympic Commission (IOC) has assured it will have “zero impact” on the games. Eduardo Paes, the mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, assured the international community that his city will be able to deliver all the services necessary to run a proper Olympic Games fortnight. “The Arenas (and the Velodrome) have all been delivered and tested… on time and on cost,” he wrote on Twitter.
Paes described the emergency measure as a way to assure the city has “financial comfort” in having the resources necessary to handle any unexpected expenses.
Brazilian attorneys disagree on whether the move is legal or appropriate. The Brazilian outlet UOL quotes several attorneys describing the decree as “illegal,” with one noting that describing the Olympics as a public economic emergency is “absurd.”
The Associated Press notes that, while politicians assert the Olympics will take place without incident, Rio de Janeiro has struggled to provide proper police services and fund social programs for the poor and elderly, particularly health and retirement programs.
Amnesty International has condemned the move, issuing a statement criticizing the prioritizing of the Olympic Games over the provision of necessary social services. “Major sporting events cannot happen over the suppression of rights,” executive director of Amnesty Atila Roque said in a statement. “The authorities of Rio de Janeiro have a responsibility to ensure security for all. Failing at this responsibility will only create more pain and suffering.”
The “public calamity” facing Rio de Janeiro’s finances is one of a number of alarming factors threatening the successful execution of the Olympic Games in August. The lack of funding of security has led even Brazilian athletes to warn tourists to stay away lest they fall prey to violent crime, while the Islamic State has repeatedly threatened to execute a terrorist attack during the event.
Brazil is currently also facing a health crisis, as it is the epicenter of the region’s Zika epidemic. Thousands of infants in Brazil have been born with birth defects, particularly the neurological disorder microcephaly, as their mothers have contracted the virus while pregnant. Over 150 public health experts have demanded the IOC either postpone or relocate the Olympics to avoid having hundreds of thousands of global tourists exposed to the disease. The IOC, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), has refused to reschedule or move the event.
Brazil is also facing a severe political crisis. President Dilma Rousseff, who negotiated bringing the Olympic Games to Brazil, was recently ousted after both chambers of the Brazilian Congress voted to impeach her. This week, Brazil’s Minister of Tourism Henrique Alves resigned again – he had first resigned under Rousseff in protest of her financial mismanagement of the country; now he has resigned following accusations of corruption.