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(by John Lyons, WSJ.com) SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to deploy federal police and allocate $60 million in aid to Rio de Janeiro after a weekend shootout downed a police helicopter and raised questions about the city’s ability to host safe Olympic Games.
Mr. da Silva made the announcement on a day when a third policeman involved in the helicopter crash died of his wounds and police conducted operations in at least six of the city’s hillside shanty towns, called favelas, where the clashes took place.
Crackdown in Rio Slums
Police officials also said they recovered at least one high-caliber machine gun capable of shooting down a helicopter. Thus far, an estimated 21 people have died, Rio police say, in weekend violence that flared during turf wars between criminal gangs.
Violence isn’t unusual in Rio, where the murder rate places it among the world’s most dangerous cities.
But Rio’s successful campaign to host the 2016 Olympics has brought new urgency to the issue. Proponents of the city’s bid convinced Olympic officials that the city would keep spectators and athletes safe with an increased police presence and other measures.
Rio topped bids from Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo to host the Games. The city will also host key matches when Brazil hosts soccer’s World Cup in 2014.
Just a few weeks ago, while marshaling support for Rio’s Olympic case during a news conference in New York, Mr. da Silva played down concerns about crime. Brazilians will be in such a “state of grace” during the Olympics that crime won’t be an issue, he told reporters.
The weekend deaths underscore just how big a challenge security may prove to be. “It will take time to resolve the problems of the gangs, organized crime and the drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro,” Mr. da Silva told reporters in São Paulo, where he met with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.
Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Sergio Cabral, told reporters that the funds would be delivered over six months, and would be used for an armored helicopter and other security investments.
Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor, speaking at a gathering in London on Monday, sought to allay security concerns. “We still have a lot to do, we have a long way to go and what happened this weekend showed that,” he said, adding, “We are sure by 2016 we will deliver the Games and hopefully in a way that the city will be more peaceful and secure for all our citizens.”
Much of Rio’s violence takes place not in areas where the Olympics will be held but in the 1,000 or so slums overlooking the city. Some are governed by criminal gangs. The population in these areas exploded in recent decades as migrants flocked to cities in search of work.
Violence is an issue throughout the city. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are a concern at Rio’s most celebrated beaches, such as Leblon and Ipanema.
Locals take steps to reduce their risk of being targets, such as removing expensive watches while driving to avoid attracting carjackers. Rio residents, called Cariocas, school visitors in reacting to an assault: Don’t argue with assailants and turn over everything to them.
The weekend violence began when a heavily armed gang from one slum invaded another. The police helicopter was flying over the melee when it was targeted. It landed hard and burst into flames on a soccer field. Police rescuers pulled some crash survivors to safety.
The crash and deaths touched off a series of raids to capture perpetrators. The violence also prompted criticism from relatives of the slain police that the officers aren’t sufficiently armed to deal with the city’s criminal gangs.
Write to John Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.
1. a) Who is the president of Brazil?
b) What is the capital of Brazil?
c) List the countries that border Brazil.
2. a) Where will the 2016 Olympic Games be held?
b) What concerns were raised about the 2016 Games after the past weekend’s violence in Rio?
3. a) How did those promoting Rio’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics convince Olympic officials that the city, one of the world’s most dangerous, could keep spectators and athletes safe?
b) Do you think these measures will be adequate? Explain your answer.
4. In addition to gangs, organized crime and drug traffickers who mainly operate in the slums that overlook Rio, what types of criminals does the average person have to watch out for throughout the city?
5. In addition to taking care of current violence and crime, what other security issues will the Brazilian government need to address for the 2016 Olympics? (Answer not in the article – consider the times in which we live.)
6. Rio de Janeiro is the first South American city to host the Olympics. Considering safety concerns, do you think that another South (or Central) American country should have been chosen instead? Explain your answer.
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Go to online.wsj.com/article/SB125598614951794945.html#articleTabs%3Dslideshow for photos of the police crackdown in Rio.
View more photos of Rio at the British newspaper Times Online at timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/photo_galleries/article6879853.ece?slideshowPopup=true&articleId=6879853§ionName=SportOlympics.
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Brazil.