With less than a week to go before the Rio Olympics kicked off, protesters were nearly constant in Brazil’s two largest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Things got so bad at one point that protesters last week blocked the Olympic procession, grabbed the torch and extinguished the flame. You know, the Olympic Flame, the one representing brotherhood and competition and unity that’s never supposed to go out? Yeah, they snuffed that one. If they were looking for international headlines, they got them.
The moment the torch was grabbed military police contingents stationed in Rio for the duration of the Games rushed in and started dispersing the crowd. Chaos ensued. The crowd, even those just watching the protests and the procession, quickly devolved into a mob, prompting cops to launch tear gas and fire rubber bullets. The mob fired back with bottles,rocks, and bricks.
That’s when the explosions started.
Almost immediately the mob turned and ran, dissipating into side and back streets off the main drag. The Olympic Procession also retreated to the safety of a vehicle trailing their progress.
Protests at international events are nothing new, but most often they deal with international issues looking for a wider audience. This, however, is about internal strife Brazil would prefer not be broadcasted on the BBC and CNN … or even SportsCenter.
Local news in Rio is reporting the unrest is because of frustration from government employees angry that they’re not being paid on time; some saying they have gone more than two months without receiving a check.When the government is protesting the government, things don’t get fixed the “easy way.”
And this is just one example of multiple ongoing protests from residents angry that Brazil, which is clearly hurting for cash, is rolling out the red carpet for the Olympic Games.
Both al-Qaida and the Islamic State have recently kept Brazil’s law enforcement and intelligence community on alert. Indeed, messaging from both terrorist organizations has been issued in Portugese and has called for a multitude of simple attack scenarios, similar to the recent ones we have seen in France and Germany. In fact, between July 21 and 25 Brazilian authorities arrested a dozen Islamic State-inspired individuals who were suspected of plotting attacks at the olympics.
Making matters worse, Brazilian authorities are also dealing with the Zika outbreak and, more recently, reports that the drug testing facility that would be responsible for testing some athletes has been suspended.
With all this going on, Rio officials have struggled to get accommodations ready for athletes and entourages, and many have additional security concerns on top of the lodging issues. Things seem to be coming apart, and some of the very people who Rio needs to help them fix all the issues are rioting in the streets.