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SANTA FE — Expect the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to be the most fun ever. Brazilians know how to party. Even if Brazil doesn’t deliver on all the promises it made to win the bid, Rio will show everyone a good time, including television viewers.
I say this after two weeks of travel in Brazil. I realize that doesn’t make me an expert on the subject but it did provide an opportunity to get a taste of the Brazilian way of life.
Sometimes Brazil is long on potential but comes up short on performance. There is a popular saying down there that Brazil is the Land of Promise and always will be.
Brazil began talking about a master-planned capital city around the same time as our founding fathers did. We finished Washington, D.C. in 1800. Brazilia was completed in 1960.
No bridge has yet been built across the Amazon. A bridge was recently started at Menaus, a large city 1,000 miles upstream from the Atlantic. Several pilings have been built out from each shore but the locals say the engineering was wrong and 90 percent of the project will have to be scrapped. There is yet no official confirmation of that claim.
Brazil pledged a $30 billion investment on infrastructure in order to attract the 2016 Olympics. Part of that investment is to be an improved transportation system in Rio de Janeiro. But locals say they’ve been hearing that for 30 years and all they have to show for it is two short subway routes.
Hotels aren’t up to American standards but that is true in much of the world. Handicapped access is extremely limited. And don’t think about driving in Rio. The joke down there is that Brazil has so many great race drivers because they grew up negotiating Rio traffic.
There are few driving rules. Red lights are said to be more decorative than functional. Few people stop for them and no one does after 10 p.m. Pedestrians are warned they are taking their lives in their hands.
Little English is spoken, even among those in the tourism industry. In preparation for the Olympics, English is being taught in the schools. But adults speak as little English as we do Spanish or Portuguese.
In two weeks we seldom encountered tender meat in Brazil and our group of 37 Americans had difficulty finding American whiskey in the country. Scotch whiskey is plentiful. I got the impression Brazilians prefer Europeans to Americans.
Brazil handles poverty and crime basically by ignoring it. The poor and criminals live primarily in “favelas” on the hillsides of cities. There are 960 of them in Rio, some with over 100,000 residents. They are self-policing.
Drug dealers don’t want the cops in the favelas and cops don’t want to go in. They don’t have the firepower. Shortly before our visit, a war broke out between two neighboring favelas. Police helicopters were sent to break up the fight. Two of them were shot down.
There are signs Brazil may be on its way to fulfilling promises. President Lula de Silva has had a successful presidency and isn’t trying to extend his term as several Latin American presidents are.
Brazil hosted the Pan American Games in 2007. The World Cup Soccer matches in 2014 will be a dress rehearsal for hosting the Olympics. And what a beautiful venue it will be.
Sugarloaf Mountain will tower over the boat races, and the magnificent Christ the Redeemer statue is visible from all parts of the city. Beach volleyball will be played on Copacabana Beach and the marathon will be run along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Can you imagine the camera angles for that?
Brazilians did a great job of promoting Rio to the International Olympic Committee. One of their selling points was that South America has never hosted the Olympics. If it is anything like the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, athletes and viewers will have a great time.
E-mail Jay Miller