The 2016 Olympic Games kicked off in Rio de Janeiro on the weekend without major incidents. That seemed a near miracle after weeks of grim reports about shoddy construction, an unprepared security detail and monstrous traffic jams. Whether the athletes, visitors and Cariocas (as Rio residents are known) can get through the next two weeks without a catastrophe remains an open question.Still more.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Then again, when Rio won the competition in 2009 to host these games, Brazil wasn’t forecast to look like it does today—with a budget deficit equal to some 8% of gross domestic product, inflation near 10%, two years of economic contraction and a cesspool of corruption scandals.
In 2009, President Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) had been at the helm for more than six years and was somewhat of a world rock star. His hip rhetoric denigrated the economic liberalism of the 1990s while hyping a new and improved brand of socialism with a samba twist.
Much of the region bought Lula’s 2.0 version of big government. Concerns about the return of left-wing Latin populism and its potential damage to entrepreneurship and economic growth were met with assurances that this time would be different.
Lula was a man of the left but he wasn’t Hugo Chávez, conventional wisdom explained. A November 2009 Economist magazine cover story was titled “Brazil takes off.” It cited a forecast by the consulting firm PwC that by 2025 São Paulo would be the world’s fifth-wealthiest city. Most of punditry agreed: Brazil was on course to take its rightful place as a world economic superpower.
Lula stepped down after two terms in 2011, handing power to his PT successor, President Dilma Rousseff. The 2016 Olympics were supposed to showcase the socialist paradise he had cultivated: an urban utopia mixing affordable housing, national industrial champions and orderly public-transportation networks to provide a tranquil—and environmentally approved—living experience.
Instead, at the Olympic Village, just weeks before the opening, sinks fell off the walls and there were various other plumbing disasters. The Australian national team fled from its quarters upon arrival because it found, among other things, exposed electrical wires next to indoor puddles of water. Guanabara Bay, the venue for open-water swimming and sailing races, is a giant petri dish of bacteria. A new metro line that was supposed to take visitors to the games ends eight miles short of its promised destination.
The Rio security company that was hired to screen spectators was fired 10 days ago for noncompliance with its contract. Organizers scrambled last week to hire and train a replacement team.
The world seems stunned. It shouldn’t be. Rio is a microcosm of Lula’s Brazil, where bureaucracy runs things from the top down and human beings are an afterthought. The only thing missing in this Rio analogy—so far—is the corruption that flourished at the federal level during 14 years of PT government...
Monday, August 8, 2016
From Mary Anastasia O'Grady, at WSJ: