Are Brazil's bus fare protests another bad sign for Rio Olympics?
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Are Brazil's bus fare protests another bad sign for Rio Olympics?

Brazil’s economy, still struggling to recover from the global financial crisis, has instead continued to widen inequality between the country’s rich and poor.

In early January, authorities announced an 18-cent bus and subway fare hike, spurring a series of protests in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on January 9 and January 16. The first round of protests ended in violence, and during the second, police officers used tear gas to disperse demonstrators. In a country clogged with traffic, public transportation is the best way to get from point A to point B, so increasingly expensive transportation is too heavy a burden for many Brazilians to bear.

The protests are reminiscent of the June 2013 demonstrations that rocked Brazil’s streets. As the football-mad country prepared to host the 2014 World Cup, some ordinary Brazilians denounced the international football event that takes place every four years. Their grievances included bus fare hikes and evictions of the poor. Now in 2015, just a year and a half away from the 2016 Summer Olympics, history is repeating itself.

In the months and years leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazilians took to the streets to protests forced evictions and ballooning expenses that exacerbated the country’s growing economic inequality. The World Cup ultimately cost $15 billion — making it the most expensive World Cup to date. Of course, the nationwide unrest was about more than just the tournament, though.

In October 2009, Rio de Janeiro won its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, which are scheduled for August 5-21, 2016. Just two years after putting on the most expensive World Cup in history, Brazil is set to host yet another international athletic event notorious for getting more expensive each cycle.

The first Olympic Games hosted in South America will cost $14.2 billion with the city forking over $6.8 billion, or nearly half the bill. The Rio Olympics are already suffering from delays with construction projects starting three years late. Have the International Olympic Committee and the government learned any lessons from FIFA and the World Cup?

After an audit raised concerns over the handling of the Summer Olympics, Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, says everything is back on schedule and there are no more problems.

Perhaps the mayor does not consider forcible evictions a problem?

Last year, nearly 3,000 people were evicted from their homes to make way for new roads and buildings for the Olympics. In July 2014, at the end of the World Cup, Rio’s city government evicted 500 families living in a low-to-middle income community to make way for Olympic facilities. The residents, however, argue that the reason for the eviction goes deeper — they say the city government wants to use the land for expensive real estate development. These new forced evictions are a holdover from the World Cup preparation process, when thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes in the months leading up the 2014 event.

In the end, the actual World Cup tournament was a success—despite the bloated budget, protests and thousands of evictions. It is likely that Rio can pull off a similar feat for the Olympics—but in terms of economic equality and justice for those that feel as if the Games have become an economic priority, it looks like Brazil has yet to learn any lessons from its last mega event.

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