U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
The president of Brazil’s Olympic Public Authority told cadets here April 7 that hosting the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer could be just the catalyst Brazil needs to show the rest of the world that Rio is a progressive, democratic city capable of hosting such a substantial event.
Marcelo Pedroso, the head of the OPA, leads a large group of federal, state and municipal officials across Brazil responsible for making sure the Olympics go down without a hitch in Brazil’s most populous city, home to 6.5 million.
During the hour-long video teleconference, Pedroso took questions with a geopolitical bent from the Portuguese-language students here, and discussed the effects he hopes the Olympics have on the Brazilian economy, its political unrest and infrastructure. Save for the short introduction and conclusion, the conversation occurred in Portuguese, the official language of Brazil, with Pedroso sitting at a desk in Rio 6,000 miles from the Academy.
“The Olympics is the catalyst for a transformation of Rio into a more modern, touristic city with more equality for its people,” he said.
Cadet 2nd Class Vanessa Unseth asked Pedroso how the Olympics, estimated to cost $10 billion, would benefit the lagging Brazilian economy, currently enduring its harshest financial crisis since the 1930s.
Pedroso said big investment funds will be used to improve public services, create jobs, and mend Rio’s infrastructure. He expects the Olympics to be successful despite the country’s political turmoil. These investments will reach beyond the city limits and affect Brazil at all levels of government, he said.
Lt. Col. Saint-Clair Lima da Silva, a Brazilian exchange officer from Rio assigned to the Academy’s Foreign Language Department, said half the cost of the Olympics, about $5 billion, comes from private investors. This money, he said, will directly benefit Rio and to the lesser extent, Brazil as a nation.
“In one of his answers, Mr. Pedroso said, ‘Rio was not chosen for what it had, but for what it could have,’ so most of the investments were not made for structure directly related to the Olympic Games, such as stadiums or swimming pools, but for infrastructure that the city urges for, like a better transportation system, water treatment and reconstruction of its port,” Saint Clair said.
To that purpose, Pedroso said the Authority is focused on the future when it comes to enhancing the city’s infrastructure, and the city hopes to add metro and light rails and lanes to some highways, and renovate various community landmarks in Rio before the Olympics.
“The reconstruction of museums and ports helps the historical and artistic preservation of colonial and modern Rio,” he said. “We will try to create the best in the planet -- not something disposable.”
London hosted the last Olympic Games in 2012 at the cost of $15 billion. Economist Max Nathan, at the UK’s National Institute for Economic and Social Research, said that while historically every city hosting the Olympics promised an economic uptick, those returns are sometimes hard to spot, even years after the games have moved on.
In London’s case, Nathan said the Olympics led to a small increase in job creation, home prices went up and development occurred in East London faster than it would have without the games. When asked in 2014 if the 2012 London Olympics were worth $15 billion, Nathan said, "It will be years before we can see that."
The Olympics will take place in four regions in the capitol city: Barra da Tijuca, Deodoro, Maracana and Copacabana. Marina da Gloria, a pier on the Guanabara Bay, will host the sailing competitions. Lima da Silva said investments in the city’s infrastructure will enhance its legacy.
“Other intangible effects I would like to see are the promotion of Rio and Brazil as an organized and modern city, an increase in tourism in the long run, and also an improvement in the Brazilian people’s mood, currently overwhelmed by the political and economic crisis,” he said.
Cadet 1st Class Dalin Larsen asked Pedroso if the political tumult, including protests and efforts to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on corruption charges, will affect public support for the Olympics.
“The people of Brazil are not satisfied with the government and with many issues,” Pedroso said. “However, this is an internal problem. During the Confederation Cup, an international association football tournament for national teams, and the World Cup, Brazil had many protests and the people were not happy. Even with the dissatisfaction, we never had any incidents that affected the games. We are confident that likewise, the Olympic Games will not be affected by Brazil’s internal problems.”
Cadet 2nd Class Jaime Torres asked Pedroso how Brazil will use the Olympics to spur tourism. Pedroso said Brazilian officials view the Games as a means to dispel the myth that the country revolves around soccer, parties and Carnaval, a famous annual festival.
“The Olympics provides Brazil and Rio [the chance] to show our rich cultural and historical heritage and amplify the image of Brazil,” he said. “We are the fifth largest country in the world, that including amazing ecological wonders like the Amazon, the Pantanal and Iguazu falls. There will be more than 25,000 representatives of the press from different countries, so the Olympics will be a great venue to broaden the image of Brazil for the outside.”
Saint-Clair said the interest Portuguese-language students showed in the Olympics motivated him to contact the Authority.
“We’ve had many discussions involving the problems and promises of the Olympics Games,” he said.
Saint-Clair was surprised when, instead of designating a representative to speak to cadets, Pedroso accepted the invite himself.
“Olympic Public Authority responsibilities are enormous, not only for the budget [and] the effects of all the transformation in the people of Rio’s lives, but also because of the deadline for the Games and the necessary coordination of efforts between the city, state and federal administrations,” Saint-Clair said.
Alexandra Core-Barbosa, a Portugese-Language instructor here since 2012, translated the conversation between cadets and Pedroso for this report.
“[Intercultural exchange events] can be very beneficial for cadets’ understanding that every country faces different problems and chooses to solve them differently,” she said. “As officers, it is and will be their job to be culturally aware and sensitive to know how to approach different people and situations in an effective manner to promote change or negotiate to build relationships.”