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Olympics Begin as Problems Plague Rio

The start of the Olympics in Rio this week has been shadowed by a storm of bad news — not including a Zika outbreak that prompted 150 health officials to recommend moving the games out of the city as a public safety measure.

Demonstrations, violent crime, infrastructure failures and poverty are set to greet spectators this weekend in an event that some economists say could represent upwards of $15 billion in losses for Brazil.

Here's a rundown of some of the issues hanging over the games in Rio:

Political Uncertainty

Brazilians are tangled in a state of political turmoil and economic uncertainty that was not as apparent in 2009, when the decision to host the games in Rio was made.

This year, Brazil's Senate impeached Dilma Rousseff — the country's first female president, who helped bring the games to Rio — over accusations that she doctored accounts in order to portray a more optimistic economic outlook during her re-election bid in 2014. ABC News reported in May that Rouseff compared the pain of being impeached to the torture she suffered under the country's past military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

Michel Temer, Rousseff's Vice President, has stepped in to serve as interim leader.

Other lawmakers, including leaders of Brazil's Congress, have been accused of corruption, and political protests have become a staple of life on the streets of Rio.

Protests with demonstrators numbered in the "tens of thousands" as recently as this weekend, according to McClatchy.

PHOTO: A policeman kicks a tear gas canister as supporters of Brazilian suspended President Dilma Rousseff protest against interim president Michel Temer, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 1, 2016.Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images
A policeman kicks a tear gas canister as supporters of Brazilian suspended President Dilma Rousseff protest against interim president Michel Temer, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 1, 2016.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff Compares Pain of Impeachment to Torture

Fears of Violent Crime

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SLIDESHOW: Rio's Olympic Problems

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Last week, a foot and other body parts appeared on a shore where next week, Olympians will be playing volleyball.

The body parts were a stark reminder that Brazil has a serious problem with murder. An NPR report noted that almost 60,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2014, most with guns, making it what they called "the deadliest place in the world outside Syria."

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), an arm of the U.S. State Department, said that drug gangs play a large role in violence specific to the city of Rio.

"Organized crime in Rio de Janeiro is controlled by major drug gangs," the OSAC reports. "Low-level criminal activity continues to plague visitors and businesses alike. Drug-dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common."

The report goes on to add that, "The crime in Rio’s favelas is certainly a product of organized crime, mostly centered on narcotics trafficking."

The beaches, which will be used for both the games and by vacationing visitors, are not completely safe, the OSAC explains.

"Assaults are common on beaches or in parks after dark," their report notes.

Rights groups have highlighted the rising number of police shootings that have occurred in Rio in the run up to the games, as ABC News reported.

PHOTO: PM paramilitary police personnel man a checkpoint on a bridge in the Cidade de Deus shantytown, 10km from the Olympic Village Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 21, 2016. Tony Barros/AFP/Getty Images
PM paramilitary police personnel man a checkpoint on a bridge in the Cidade de Deus shantytown, 10km from the Olympic Village Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 21, 2016.

Marselha Gonçalves Margerin of Amnesty International told ABC News that Rio police are "cleaning up" ahead of the events, which they believe is sparking the rise in deaths caused by police activity over the past few months.

According to government statistics for this year, she said, 35 police killings were reported in April, 40 in May, and 49 in June.

She said that in some sectors of the city, organized crime had "replaced government."

Police Shootings Haunt Rio's Road to the Olympics, Human Rights Groups Say

Crumbling City

In April of this year, hours after the Olympic torch was lit in Greece as an introduction to the Summer Games in Rio, a massive wave from the city's Atlantic shore reached up and ripped away a 50-metre stretch of the Tim Maia ciclovia, a bike lane created for the games that was estimated to cost more than $12 million.

The incident killed at least two, and raised alarm bells about Rio's readiness to tackle such a massive project. The news since then has been less than ideal.

A survey by the Associated Press indicated that the waterways of Rio were "contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria," putting "some 1,400 athletes at risk of getting violently ill in water competitions."

PHOTO: A man washes himself in the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 30, 2016.Felipe Dana/AP Photo
A man washes himself in the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 30, 2016.

Observers describe unfinished construction projects, the droning sound of jackhammers, and massive traffic jams that don't portend well for a city of over six million people that is about to see an influx of hundreds of thousands more.

Expert to Rio Athletes: 'Don't Put Your Head Underwater'

Losing Investment for a Country in Need

When Brazil's interim President Michel Temer oversaw the delayed opening of a metro line extension this weekend, he helped finalize what has been a large and risky bet for the country, one that economists estimate could leave Brazil with a $15 billion loss.

Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor in economics, estimated that the games will cost Brazil $20 billion and return only somewhere from $4 billion to $4.5 billion — a steep price to pay for a country that is plagued with infrastructure problems and endemic poverty.

Zimbalist described the choice to set the games in a developing country like Brazil as a relatively new phenomenon, and one that might not be.

"The International Olympic Committee sells the games to countries on the promise that it will help them, but scholarly evidence suggests that long term benefits are not forthcoming," Zimbalist said.

Among Brazil's population of roughly 200 million people, about nine percent were living on less than $3.10 per day as of 2013, according to the World Bank.

Zimbalist noted that the decision to host the games in Rio, made in 2009, happened during what appeared to be an upswing for the Brazilian economy, but that the outlook has now become considerably more cloudy.

He said that the investment in the games was unlikely to send the country's economic engine churning in a more positive direction.

Talking about the metro system Temer just christened, Zimbalist described it as something that would have been the "fifth order of priority" had Brazil focused solely on infrastructure for its citizens, because it transports people to and from the games and tourist beaches rather than the north and west of the city, where he said the majority of working people live.

Driving, he said, was "like being in a parking lot," because of the traffic, and that a metro system that helped to reduce some of the burden on cars would be significantly more beneficial to the city.

He described the cable car system that takes people over the city's famous favelas, where the majority of poor citizens live, as allowing people to "gawk" at poverty, and suggested that the money could have been used for better plumbing, sanitation, and sewers.

Another point of contention Zimbalist made with Brazil's spending related to the golf course that was built for the games, noting that the course "wasted land and water," two things that were needed in Rio.

"You're spending over $20 billion to get $2 billion in infrastructure return," he said. "Why not just spend the money directly on things you need?"

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