Following a wave of violence that has left three dead and five injured by stray bullets in 72 hours, Brazil’s Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame implied the problem has no solution less than a month from the Olympic Games: “Historically, unfortunately, that is how Rio de Janeiro is.”
Beltrame’s comments Wednesday occurred after three stray bullet incidents in two days (the two other incidents occurred following his remarks). “Anytime someone is shot there will be concern,” he told reporters, “Historically, unfortunately, that is how Rio de Janeiro is. We have already had more major incidents. With intelligent actions we can reduce this problem.”
The secretary is receiving stern criticism from those who note that the crime rate in Rio de Janeiro appears to be growing as the Summer Olympics approach. The Brazilian magazine Veja criticized Beltrame for offering “the same speech as ever” following the deaths, as well as the fact that the situation in Rio de Janeiro has not improved during his tenure. “Since taking command of the Public Security Secretariat of Rio de Janeiro in January 2007, José Mariano Beltrame has had full political and financial support,” the magazine reports, noting that his secretariat received more funding than the federal offices of health and education.
The victims of stray bullets in the past three days include a man watching out of his window for potential gunshots to protect his child, a writer walking through a favela, a student walking near a shootout with his sister, and an Uber driver dropping off a woman and her two-year-old child. The fifth victim, 25-year-old Vanderson Lessa, was killed in his second encounter with criminals. Lessa had lost the ability to use his legs after being shot in the spine during a robbery when he was 20.
The shootings are the latest in a string of crimes affecting both locals and tourists alike. The newspaper O Globo notes that, this week, a French couple in Brazil to attend the Olympics were apprehended by Brazil’s highway police after having been fraudulently rented a stolen vehicle at a video store. Last month, an Olympian was mugged in broad daylight, while a patient at the hospital designated for the use of Olympic athletes and tourists was shot to death during a siege to help a drug trafficker recovering from gunshot wounds there escape.
In late June, tourists found a human foot and other unidentifiable body parts on Copacabana beach, the designated site for Olympic beach volleyball.
“I am totally calm,” Andrei Rodrigues, the Justice Ministry’s grand events secretary, told reporters this week. Brazil is deploying 40,000 soldiers to Rio de Janeiro to protect the site of the Games, and officials are claiming that most of the violence is relegated to the northern favelas, or slums, of the city, far from the Olympic village.
Rio de Janeiro governor Francisco Dornelles has been more forthcoming with the dire state of Rio, however, declaring a financial emergency last month and asking Brasilia for $900 million in emergency funding. Without the funds, he noted, the government would be unable to pay police their salaries, leaving the city defenseless. Police officers, who had not been paid in months, protested following Dornelles’s announcement at Rio’s international airport, holding signs for tourists reading “Welcome to Hell.” The Olympics, Dornelles has warned, “may be a big failure.