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‘Welcome to Hell’: Rio police greet visitors five weeks before the Olympics

A wave of pessimism about Rio’s Games has been building for months within the context of the country’s worsening economic recession, its acute political crisis, and concerns about the Zika virus.
June 28, 2016, 7:48pm
Screenshot va Twitter

With just five weeks to go until the Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro's first responders are seeking to attract attention to their complaints about late paychecks and poor working conditions with a stark message for visitors.

"Welcome to Hell," read a banner written in English and held up this Monday at the city's airport by police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. "Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro won't be safe."


A similar message was painted across a bridge over the highway into town. "Welcome," it also said in English. "We don't have hospitals."

Rio's governor Francisco Dornelles was no more upbeat when he told the newspaper O Globo this Monday that fuel for police cars will run out by the end of this week if the federal government does not deliver the $860 million it promised for the Games earlier this month.

The extra federal funds were promised a day after Dornelles declared "a state of public calamity" given the lack of money to pay the state's payroll and public services.

Dornelles also highlighted concerns about transporting the expected 500,000 visitors around the city when the proposed subway extension to the main Olympic venue is still not ready.

"I'm optimistic about the Games, but I have to show the reality," Dornelles said in the interview. "We can have a great Olympics, but if some steps aren't taken, it could be a big failure."

The current wave of pessimism about Rio's Games has been building for months within the context of the country's acute and worsening economic recession, and fueled by a series of specific announcements and accidents.

In March, the state government announced a $500 million cut to its security budget, prompting questions about the ability of the authorities to head off any potential terrorist threats to the Olympics.

In April, an elevated coastal bike path specially built for the event partially collapsed into the sea.In May, a group of international experts signed an open letter calling on the World Health Organization to urge the International Olympic Committee to postpone or move the Rio Games because of the threat posed by the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has been rampant in the state.

The country's political crisis is also set to make its presence felt when, three days before the opening ceremony on August 5, the Brazilian senate is due to decide whether to impeach suspended president Dilma Rousseff.

Related: International Health Experts Want Rio's Olympic Games Postponed Because of Zika

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten