How safe is Rio de Janeiro?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

My column last week about the Rio de Janeiro got a lot of positive comments not just because of the ongoing Olympics but also because I mentioned about the beautiful women, the good food, and the fantastic beaches.

The spectacular opening ceremony was also a boost on the ticket sales which have been sluggish earlier. As of this writing there were still a few thousand tickets available for sale in the $10 to $400 range with gymnastic, basketball, and tennis tickets commanding higher prices. The opening and closing ceremonies tickets are in the $400 to $800 range depending on the seat location.

On the safety side in Rio, during the 17 days of the Olympic games and even after the games, there are four relevant issues. There is the Zika mosquito-borne virus which has scared off some athlete participants and spectators and tourists. This has been well-discussed and dangerous to pregnant and potential pregnant women.

Then there is the political problem due to the impeachment of President Rousseff and the corruption scandal that caused it, which may also caused the replacement of the acting President, since it is fuelling the general discontent of the people with their government.

The economic recession have been hurting the poor which in a country of 200 million people, would be some 40 million. They resent the government spending of $2 billion for the Olympics and another $8 billion sprucing up Rio de Janeiro, instead of using the money for social projects.

Along the route of the Olympic torch, thousands have demonstrated that it had to be rerouted in some places.

Rampant criminality is the third safety issue in Rio. Due to the gap between the rich and the poor which is highly contrasted in the visibility of the squatter areas, Favelas from the luxurious condominiums of the rich, and the drug trade that covers almost all Latin American cities, thievery, petty crime, and hooliganism is quite rampant in Rio. The hotels will always advise tourists not to walk in the beach at night and in dark places. You are also advised not to wear expensive jewelries and to keep your passport in the hotel safe.

On the second day of the Olympics some delegations, including from the Philippines, have already complained of thieves, pickpockets, and hold ups.  

The fourth safety issue in Rio now is potential terrorist activity. The Olympics is always a magnet for terrorist activity due to the number of people and the huge propaganda impact. There are 88,000 policemen and military person assigned to all the Olympic venues, so these should be some comfort. Still it pays to be cautious. This particular safety issue will be out after the end of the Olympics on August 22.

I was in Rio just before the onset of their economic recession and it was only the rampant criminality that was the safety issue. But I felt it was just slightly worse than Manila, Bangkok, or Istanbul. At the moment with the additional issues in Rio, I would say, Rio is now much more dangerous than Manila or Bangkok, and maybe the same as Istanbul with the recent "coup de etat" in Turkey. However, you have to weigh these relative dangers in Rio with the beauty of the place and the people of Rio.

Standing at the top level of the "Christ the Redeemer," you have the most beautiful view of the mountains and the seas of Rio. Gazing at the mosaic glass windows of the Church of Sta. Teresita and taking the cable Tram to the Favelas were fantastic experiences. And of course even just walking in the beaches of Rio is already something.

The Brazilians know how to have fun and enjoy life as I surmise there are easily 400,000 people in the seven-kilometer long beach in Copacabana and Ipanema on a sunny weekend. Then there are the clubs and the party places in Rio.

On the whole I would still want to go back to Rio. Maybe not with children , but if you are a healthy adult, it is quite a place. You just have to be careful and mindful but have lots of fun. For some reason, Filipinos do not need a Visa to go to Brazil. We have a reciprocal diplomatic arrangement with them so that Brazilians do not also need a Visa from the Philippines for a certain number of days stay. 

It is quite a long trip to go to Rio. It is either via Los Angeles, USA or via Frankfurt, Germany. The trip will be easily more than 24 hours including stopovers, but it will be worth it.

I caught the interview of the original "girl from Ipanema on TV" a few days ago, and she is now a 65-year old grandmother. She is still gorgeous, tall, slim, and lovely, but no longer tan. They flashed her picture when she was the 19-year old inspiration of the song, "Girl from Ipanema," and I fully agree that she was extremely beautiful.

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