‘Enjoy Olympics, we’re paying high price’: Thousands across Brazil hold pre-Rio rallies

An anti-government demonstrator, with a sticker which reads "boycott" on his mask, attends a protest on the Rio de Janeiro state economic crisis and against 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 6, 2016. © Ricardo Moraes
For Brazilians, the clamor of the imminent Rio Olympics is somewhat overshadowed by rallies protesting the biggest political corruption scandal in decades, as they call for the president’s impeachment and for the former leader to stand trial.

Brazil is just days away from Rio 2016, but already two of its biggest cities have been overrun by tens of thousands of protesters enraged by the state of affairs that sees their country accommodating one of the most expensive events in history, while millions continue living in poverty.

By mid-June it became clear that Brazil was facing Olympics-related financial shortages – something the government referred to as “a state of calamity.”

But just five days before the games kick off, people are out for seemingly opposing reasons, with pockets of pro-government rallies reported in some places, including Sao Paulo.

Amid the poverty and squalor of Rio’s favelas, and rampant crime, former President Dilma Rousseff has been embroiled in a colossal scandal over spending. Protesters want her to be impeached, and for her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to also face charges. As if that wasn’t enough, there are also suspicions that the current interim President Michel Temer may also be corrupt. Thousands clashed with police in early June over this issue. Many believe it was Temer who orchestrated Rousseff’s downfall in order to stifle a corruption probe into Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.

The process to impeach Rousseff could be over within weeks. It is widely suspected to be successful, and be finished by early September.

The ex-president has already said she won’t be attending the games, while Temer, according to Globo TV, will attend, but realizes he may be publicly shamed.

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Currently, Rio and Sao Paulo – two of the largest cities in Brazil – are seeing tens of thousands out on the streets in support of two completely opposing causes.

Rio wears the crown as the host city to the Olympics, while Sao Paulo is Brazil’s business capital. In the former city, protesters gathered along the Copacabana Beach to demand that Rousseff be impeached and da Silva face corruption charges; the latter metropolis witnessed the exact opposite picture – thousands in the streets in support of the more left-leaning Workers Party (PT), to which Rousseff and da Silva belong.

So acute was the awareness that the international community is watching because of the Olympics that, according to McClatchy DC, some of the Rio rally was even conducted in English.

“We welcome all of you and wish you a nice stay in our country,” politician Case Carvalho spoke into a megaphone to the Rio crowds, among them hundreds of foreign tourists. “Enjoy the Olympic Games, because we are paying a high price for it!”

The two-year recession has ignited sharp opposition to lavish spending on the Olympics when more needs to be spent on education, health and social security, protesters believe.

“The PT destroyed Brazilian democracy with this story that they are going to make things better for the poor. It was a lie. They have their pockets full of money,” one Lianne Pinheir said. “We want democracy to return with responsibility, ethics and patriotism. We are a rich country. What is happening shouldn’t be happening. We have to end this corruption.”

Similar protests were held in 10 other states. But there were varying estimates from different agencies: according to Reuters, the Rio crowd only numbered in the hundreds.

"This is a warm-up party, you might say, for us to keep the pressure on the Senate ... to show that the Brazilian people will not accept Dilma Rousseff remaining in power," Carvalho told Reuters.