As the Olympic Games get into full swing and all eyes focus on Rio, the city’s underbelly has its sights firmly set on tourists.
A Brazilian newspaper has reported that an average of 15 foreign tourists are falling victim to violent crimes every day since the Athlete’s Village opened at the end of July. The crimes include:
- Two youths robbing Australian Rowing coaches at knifepoint on Saturday night,
- Two armed gunmen robbing Aussie Paralympian Liesl Tesch,
- A violent gang hijacking a van and stealing $400,000 worth of equipment from a German TV crew,
- Thugs attacking an Australian news team on Copacabana beach, and
- Criminals abducting a New Zealand athlete and forcing him to withdraw and hand over large sums of cash.
And of course a dismembered body was found washed up on the beach.
Tourists as prime targets
International visitors are the preferred targets for Rio-based criminals, with SmartTraveller warning Australians to ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ and pay close attention to ‘personal security’ at all times.
Crime has been on the rise in the city for some years – partly due to a weak economy, high levels of unemployment and poverty, and political unrest.
And while Rio’s shanty towns, or “favelas”, fascinate tourists with their coloured facades and twisty lanes, they are dangerous places controlled by criminal groups.
The city’s most prevalent crimes are burglary and robbery. According to the Brazilian government, Rio recorded 98,038 such crimes in the first six months of 2016, which equates to more than 3,000 cases per year for every 100,000 residents.
Equally alarming is that 31 people were killed during robbery attempts over the same period of time.
Threat of terrorism
All Olympic Games are prime targets for terrorism, and Rio is no exception.
The threat of terrorism is perhaps higher ever before, following recent attacks in France, Germany, America, Turkey and Syria.
Brazil has plenty of experience hosting large scale events such as the annual Carnivale and 2014 Soccer World Cup, and the government regularly secures the services of counter-terrorism experts from around the world.
85,000 police and military personnel are on call throughout the Olympic and Paralympic games, using sensors for bombs, bio-weapons, and chemicals, as well as the old faithful, and highly-effective, sniffer dogs.
The Brazilian armed forces have been conducting training exercises with U.S. and other foreign military personnel in case of a chemical or biological attack, and a special joint-intelligence centre has been established to allow intelligence services from around the world to share information and investigate threats as they emerge.
The cost of the Rio games was estimated to reach around $12 billion, but some say it could eventually hit $20 billion with spending on security being much higher than expected.
Australia has over 400 athletes competing at the games, and despite issues like the Zika virus and violent crime, Brazil is keen to show the world that the International Olympic Committee was justified in entrusting the country with the jewel of sporting events.