As an early-evening rain begins to pour, a family of four peer through the fence at Rio’s darkened Olympic park. Four months after the Games ended, there are few signs of life.
Leonardo Pasta, 40, an IT technician, and his family are Brazilian but live in Stoke-on-Trent, so their experience of the Games – like most people’s – was confined to television. “I thought they were really good,” Pasta says, as he leads his children into a new bus rapid transit line station. “There is always the question of corruption, but they left a good image.” His wife, Danielle Santos, who works in retail, agrees. “With all the worry we had before, the result was more positive than we expected,” she says.
The mood before the games was so gloomy that Brazilians generally had low expectations; for many in Rio, the post-Olympic scenario is even darker. In the months before the Olympics began, an enormous graft scam at the state-run oil company, Petrobras, brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets to call for the impeachment of Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. Although not directly accused, she was ousted for breaking budget laws a week after the Games ended.
The state of Rio declared it was broke and was rescued with a R$2.9bn (£700m) government bailout. To add to that, there was the Zika epidemic, rising crime and Brazil’s worst recession in decades. No wonder Brazilians were hoping things wouldn’t deteriorate to the point that Rio would be shamed in front of the world.
In the end, the Olympics were a success – at least on television, and here in Barra de Tijuca, an upscale west Rio suburb of condominiums, malls and freeways, many saw them as a boon. “The transport works really well,” says Walfredo Heringer, 68, as security buzzes him into the gated condominium opposite the Olympic park, where he lives. “It improved the real-estate market.”
But working-class Brazilians commuting from far-flung, lower-income areas to work in Barra say the Olympics brought them few tangible benefits. Vagner de Santana, 39, waiting for a bus outside the Olympic park, says the construction company he works for is so cash-strapped it hasn’t paid his salary for two months, even though it worked on Olympic contracts. Brazil’s chronic unemployment levels mean its workers are scared to quit, his colleague, Fabio Lobo, says. “That is why we have to accept it.”
The Olympic legacy is also clouded by corruption allegations. Rio state’s former governor Sérgio Cabral is in jail, accused of leading a gang that pocked R$217m in bribes on public works during his eight-year rule, including the renovation of Rio’s Maracanã stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. The companies involved are also embroiled in the Petrobras scandal.
Cabral denies the charges. But the state government is running a R$17bn annual deficit, which his successor, Luiz de Souza, blames on falling oil tax revenues. De Souza is trying to introduce austerity measures that state employees, including firemen, police, teachers and prison guards, have angrily protested against.
On 6 December, these protests descended into violence when riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and percussion grenades at protestors threatening to invade the state assembly. Rio’s city centre was turned into a riot zone as some protestors threw rocks and others burnt barricades, vandalised an empty office block and torched a small digger.
“I have never seen anything like this,” says David Sampaio, a police officer, who took part in the demonstration. Officers say the state’s financial crisis has led to late salaries and shortages of everything from toilet paper to ammunition. Attacks on police bases installed in favelas – low-income, improvised communities – by armed drug gangs have increased. And with them, say some favela residents, so have police abuses.
“It is total chaos. [There is] war between police and drug gangs,” says Eduardo Lima, a PE teacher who lives in Fallet, a favela in central Rio. “Unfortunately we are paying the price.”
Following the murder of an Italian tourist in a neighbouring favela, five people were killed in a police operation in Fallet on 9 November. Fallet is near the Marina da Glória, where Olympic sailing races were held, and Santa Teresa, a district popular with tourists. But there are no resources for the sport classes Lima holds for children who idolise Brazilian gold medallists such as judoka Rafaela Silva and footballer Neymar. “They said they would leave a legacy. They left no legacy at all,” he says.
Aside from the new transport links, Rio does have one other concrete legacy – a renovated port area, where a waterfront walkway leads to the new Museum of Tomorrow and a pedestrianised square. This big, safe public space has proved hugely popular with all social classes.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Jonatan Silva and his young family take pictures in front of the new museum. They say that security, health and education are all precarious in the city, which has seen precious little Olympic benefit. “Just this here,” Silva says. “The rest is all shit.”