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Pre-Olympic Games

Rio de Janeiro's perennial problems with crime.

11:00 PM, Nov 2, 2009 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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This theory is supported by the subsequent footage from the cameras that showed other police cars passing by the scene and not even bothering to stop or call for a paramedic unit. Silva died on the sidewalk with the entire sequence filmed by the ATM machine.

Then there is the case of Maria Petrúcia Ribeiro da Silva, a 68 year-old Brazilian-American who holds passports from both countries. The woman fell ill while flying from New York to Rio on the Brazilian TAM airlines flight 8079. The airline claims they radioed ahead for an emergency medical team to be at the gate when the flight landed last Saturday. Infraero, the Brazilian airport administration (which makes the equivalent UK organisation, BAA, look positively stellar in performance by comparison), claims the call for emergency assistance came only after the flight had landed.

The predictable then happened. The woman fainted upon exiting the aircraft and by the time a medical team reached her it was too late. Upon hearing of her mother's death, her daughter, Sandra Williams, who lives in New York and words at JFK airport, flew to Rio and was put through a Soviet-style, red tape nightmare of being required to fill out numerous forms and submit to a mindless set of procedures.

"I have asked over 100 thousand times to see her body," she told several reporters. "The first thing I said when I got out the plane was: I wish to see my mother's body. They then took me here, took me there. I told them: I want her things. And they told me: no, we need to do this first. We went there, did all the papers."

When Williams was finally able to view the body and examine the carry-on and checked baggage she had a rather unhappy discovery on her hands. All of the credit cards and all but $10 of the $8,000 in cash that had been in her mother's wallet when she departed New York had disappeared.

In the aftermath of the helicopter shoot-down and street fighting between the PME and the drug gangs Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral told reporters that the city's security challenges that must be addressed before the games can't be cured "by magic in the short term." The city has already hosted one major international sporting event, the Pan American Games in 2007, but keeping the lid on street crime required deploying more than 15,000 military personnel and special SWAT-type PME units.

Although the show of force had the desired effect, most of the rest of the security effort was bungled. Another O Globo report later in the week revealed that some $50 million worth of X-Ray machines and other access control equipment originally purchased for the 2007 games still sits unused and unopened in their original packing crates in a rain-soaked warehouse in Rio's Zona Norte district. Much of the hardware is suspected of being unusable or in need of repair at this point.

With the 2016 Olympics Rio has another more serious challenge. Not only are the leaders of the only organizations having any success in ameliorating the violence in the favelas (which everyone is supposed to want before the 2016 Games kick off) being murdered, but the real high-profile murdering and robbery is not from gun-toting drugland militiamen. It is committed by the PME and other "public servants" who have been entrusted with protecting the citizenry and keeping the peace.

The seven years before the games begin may not be the "short term" as far as law enforcement is concerned. But, it may take more than just the "magic" that Rio's state Gov. claims is not forthcoming to cure the systemic problems of the crimes committed by public-sector employees. Until that happens we are likely to see many more "Carioca baskets."

Reuben F. Johnson is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.