Zona Sul, Rio de Janeiro. Photo credit: ru_boff/Instagram
On my own several trips to Rio de Janeiro (as a one-time tour operator, I offered charter flights there), I confined my visits to the areas around Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach. I had been warned by numerous acquaintances not to venture into downtown Rio, the Tijuca Forest, or any other area outside those two famous beaches. The reason: widespread crime, often directed against tourists, in all parts of the city other than those two heavily-policed tourist districts.
Amazingly enough, those restricted visits were not lacking in excitement or interest. The huge beaches and beach-side boulevards of Rio were places of fascinating shops, nightclubs, restaurants and hotels, and there was no real reason to venture outside them. In a country of horrendous inequality, the people who occupied the further-removed slums and urban districts suffered from immense poverty, heightened by widespread racism. Though Brazil's population of 200 million people was made up of at least 100 million of black, African origin, the tourist had very little contact with the poorer population of dark-skinned residents. They—the latter group of disadvantaged Brazilians—were rarely in evidence in the glamorous confines of Copacabana and Ipanema with their bikini-clad bathing beauties. limousines and splashy nightclubs.
I thought of my own earlier lack of perspective when I read of the current political situation in Brazil. With the country's female president ousted from office, a new and surprisingly-dense and thoughtless extremist has replaced her, at least temporarily, and done everything wrong in his first days in power. He has appointed a cabinet of 25 ministers containing not a single person of color and not a single woman. He has announced an "austerity" program of social cut-backs that will undoubtedly worsen the current poor economy of Brazil, and is apparently hell-bent on turning back recent measures to reduce poverty. Brazil is currently in a severe economic recession.
The prospects for intense social conflict, major public protests, disorder and violence are therefore very possible, and I myself would not want to visit Brazil at this time. That decision is not supplemented by fear of illness, which has been widely announced as reducing attendance at Rio's Olympic games starting on August 5. I would not be concerned about the Zika virus prevalent in Brazil, primarily because our summer is Brazil's "winter" and cool temperatures seem to diminish the prevalence of mosquitos in the coming months. But social problems in Brazil cannot be dismissed.
One can only hope that Brazil will overcome its current political problems. But there is no real assurance of that outcome.