Rio de Janeiro’s new mayor Eduardo Paes handed over a symbolic key to the city to a Carnival king Friday amid banners proclaiming Rio’s 2016 campaign.
Meanwhile Paes told reporters the robberies of foreigners were “very bad for the city’s image, but we aren’t going to focus on that. We’re going to concentrate on what’s good about Rio, which has a great Carnival and street parties”, reports Globo.
The Mayor was determined to minimize the attention given to the news that more than 100 tourists have been robbed, many by armed gangs, which raises questions as to whether Rio is safe enough to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
AFP reports that this week men brandishing knives, a handgun and a grenade trussed up 34 Americans, Britons, Argentines and other foreigners staying in one hostel in the city centre, stealing iPods, money and cameras. A similar pre-dawn assault on another hostel in Copacabana stripped 13 tourists, including 11 Israelis, of their valuables.
Other cases compiled by the city’s Tourist Police service showed at least 94 foreigners have been victims of crime in the city so far this month – 20 per cent more than February 2008 when the last Carnival was held.
Fernando Veloso, chief of the Rio Tourist Police, admitted to AFP that despite his service’s rapid response, “the damage is already done – the image (of the city) is already marred”.
Although nearly a third of the 709,000 visitors in Rio for Carnival came from abroad, most of the crime in Rio is borne by its Brazilian residents.
The U.S. State Department-managed Overseas Security Advisory Council rates the threat of crime in Rio de Janeiro as “critical”.
Still Veloso said he believed Rio’s attributes would outweigh its violent undercurrents if the decision went its way for the Games. He said, “I think Rio will be prepared, very well prepared. One or two cases (of crime) won’t run Rio’s image. There is always a problem of some sort. But every big city has problems”.