Security and Safety at Rio’s Olympics


I’m frequently asked if Rio is dangerous. While understandable, this question always bothers me. I have friends living in Rio who take all sides on the issue of safety. Their positions range from panic to mild paranoia.   Mild is about as good as it gets. It can be thought of as the normal urban dweller’s awareness and caution. People check out their surroundings, do not venture into certain areas, avoid exposing themselves to perceived danger and make sure that everything that might attract a criminal is dealt with in a fairly rational way. For example, people lock their cars and drive with the windows up. Women protect themselves as they see fit given the situation, which might mean not going out alone. On the mild paranoia side, this is standard behavior for any big city.

On the other end of the scale, I know people in Rio (Cariocas) who avoid going out at all costs. When they do go out, they have to engage in very strategic planning to make sure they are safe. This typically involves only using safe transportation, i.e. a personal car (the car may be armored) with a professional driver and advising friends and relatives of their plans and scheduled arrival and departure times in addition to using a cell phone with GPS locations, communication and emergency resources.

What passes for mild paranoia or panic is of course subjective. Some people, especially the young and sometimes the very poorest, have little fear either because they are fool hardy and feel invincible or have absolutely nothing to lose. The rest of us are somewhere in between. Fear often comes from lack of information, information overflow or sensationalism. Here is a link to the sensationalist Daily Mail (UK) that picked up this quite impressive and scary video:

The video is not staged but it is edited for its sensationalist effect. The reality is that yes there is street crime perpetrated typically by minors or young men and that awareness is needed. While bump, rob and run and theft of valuables are common, it is still the exception.

Here are some crime statistics and recommendations:

First, the good news: Intentional homicides per 100,000 are falling. The graph from Rio’s Institute of Public Safety (Instituto de Seguranca Publica) shows a decline in intentional homicides over the past 7 years. This information is for the state of Rio while the city of Rio de Janeiro shows a fairly constant rate of something over 1200 killings a year for the last 4 years.

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The US Department of State has a division dedicated to “Diplomatic Safety” that produces a summary covering different risks in the city of Rio de Janeiro including public safety, cyber crime and road safety. Here is the link:

This report describes Rio’s overall crime rate as “Critical” and further states that “Crime is the principal threat to visitors in Brazil” and “ Low-level criminal activity continues to plague visitors and businesses alike. Drug-dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common.” It also notes that assaults are common in beaches or parks especially after dark.

While the objective statistics and the US government evaluation do not paint an encouraging situation, the actual victimization of tourists during the Olympics may actually be less serious. There are a couple of reasons.

First, there will be enhanced security. Second people are being warned and often will be in groups. Third, many Brazilians will help tourists avoid trouble and have a good time. Obviously, if you want the excitement, it can be found. Here is a Brazilian App that is similar to Waze for crime. It can be downloaded to track crime:

There are a couple of other things to take into account. Zika, Dengue and other mosquito-driven diseases are prevalent and one needs to be educated and informed.

The other great unknown is the possibility in today’s world of a terrorist shooting, bombing or assault of some kind. Brazil’s security apparatus has been collaborating with US and international agencies for a long time and are certainly aware of the potential of terrorism at a major event like the Summer Olympics. I trust nothing will happen and that perhaps as the Brazilian jokes goes: there are too many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that impede business and terror alike.

Safe travels and enjoy the Games!  Hope to see you there.


Photo credit: DelsonSilvaAgnew

US National Team in Brazil: Training Starts with a Loss

The US National Soccer Team has been in Brazil for a couple days and is checking out the training sites and letting a group of players get a taste of Brazil and what the team will face when the World Cup begins in June.  The US is in a difficult group with Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

Yesterday, Klinsman’s team played Sao Paulo Football Club at Morumbi stadium in secret.  Gates were closed and the outcome was not suppose to be announced.  Nevertheless, national teams will find it hard to train in secret and the Brazilian press will certainly have more and better spies than the NSA and CIA combined.  Sao Paulo finished an average 9th place out of 20 first division teams in last year’s national championship series but still beat the US team 2 x 1 yesterday.  The US was not up to full strength as Klinsman took pretty much only players from the MSL.  It is a good experience and a taste of the difficulty the US will face in June.  The team’s debut against Ghana is a must win.

Security was tight and, reportedly, helicopters were policing the training site where the United States will prepare for its future games.

When it rains, it pours….Bad news in Brazil….

This has been a complicated week for Brazil:

Neymar was sold to Barcelona, the Selecao tied England at home, at Maracana 2×2, the economy continues to be on the skids and, I suppose, the bad of the bad: President Dilma had to cozy up with VP Joe Biden.

Topic by topic:

Maracana was made available only at the last minute when a judge’s order had to be overturned so that the unfinished stadium could be released for safe use by spectators.  The game was fun and complaints about the lack of completion were pretty much taken in stride.  Even FIFA had to acquiesce and accept the fact Brazil will have substantial completion of stadiums and infra-structure on its own terms.  By the way, I think a lot of people are hoping to make money with the World Cup but, of course, all of the major tasks have been pretty much allocated.

On to the economy, where Brazil has reversed its interest rate cuts with two quick increases and the SELIC is back to 8% (still historically low by Brazilian standards).  The measures were taken by the Central Bank and with Dilma’s apparent blessing as the polls show her numbers declining as inflation goes up.  Certainly, inflation has been outside the acceptable band and may now come down again to the target range.

The problem is the effect on consumers and producers.  With the cost of money rising, will people continue to consume and will industry recover?  So far the signs are not good.  The weaker real though may help increase some manufactured products on the export market but the Real is at 2.1 and still significantly overvalued.  Brazil’s trade surplus is declining to historic low levels and may even turn into a deficit.  Brazil’s Central Bank predicts GNP will show another decline with growth tagged at 2.9% or less for 2013.  Personally, I think it is going to be less.

Slow growth had to complimented by Joe Biden’s smile (a bit amarelo) as he made the now obligatory visit to the favela and finally brought Obama’s personal invitation to Dilma to the state dinner.  She barely made it in before Putin. I suppose Brazil does still have a better reputation than Russia.

Biden spouted off typical platitudes and hyperbole, saying that trade between Brazil and the US could reach 400 to 500 billion in a couple of years.  Good luck. Brazil has potential (eternal potential) but it only traded a little more than 60 billion with the US last year and the US is still protectionist in the agricultural world, the one area where Brazil has shown brightly in the last couple of years in spite of all the infra-structure problems and custo Brasil.

Biden’s security in the favelas looked worried as did the Brazilian special forces.  Not sure that is a normal or good sign.  Security in Brazil and specifically “na Cidade Maravilhosa” (read: Rio de Janeiro) remains a big concern and the international papers will pick on this issue any time an American woman get raped or a German tourist gets shot as we recently saw.

I don’t want to end on a bad or pessimistic note.  Actually, the clouds perhaps presage a bright future and the Confederations Cup will be a great success as Brazil gradually makes progress in its own way and at its own pace.  Things really are much better than they were during the military governments (1964-1985).  We have a vibrant democracy, a generally free press, economic growth (slow and retarded) and slowly decreasing inequality.