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Dear Alex Cuadros and New York Magazine,

You bring up some good points in your article “The Worst Predictions About Rio Haven’t Come True. That Tells Us a Few Things About Brazil and the Media.”  

But your own article also “tells us a few things about the media”, mainly its knack for persistently defining certain things as “disasters” (hypothetical ISIS attacks during the Games, for example) while just as persistently ignoring other true disasters in the process.  It’s estimated that at least 70,000 people have lost their homes in Rio in the years the city spent preparing for these Games – is that not a disaster? At least 2,500 people, mostly favela residents, have been killed by the Rio police since the city first learned it would host the Games in 2009 – is that not a disaster?  The governor declared an official state of public calamity and said Rio might have to close some hospitals and delay payments to public servants in order to pay the bills for keeping its promise of security during the Olympics — can you imagine if that disaster happened here in New York?

Just a few hours after your piece went online yesterday morning, residents of at least four different Rio favelas were taking to social media to report they were stranded in their own homes, afraid to leave for work amidst the DAILY SOUNDTRACK of gunfighting they are subjected to.  Even gold medalist Rafaela Silva’s parents were stranded at home the night before she stood at the podium, unable to leave home in safety (thank you, Jonathan Watts, for reporting this).  

For the last several months, friends in Rio have shared with me desperate WhatsApp audios, horrific videos of innocent people being killed in favelas across the cities, pictures of their homes ridden by bullets, and photos of young children lying on the hallway floors of their schools waiting for the shots to subside before being able to return to their classrooms.  All just a few miles from where all the world’s cameras are pointed to as I type this.  THAT is a disaster.

You yourself have shed light on some of this, and I admire the reporting you did for The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and others on some of broken promises of the Rio Olympics legacy. Which is why it was even more shocking to read your words yesterday. I’m in disbelief that a journalist like you would parrot Mayor Eduardo Paes’ line that Rio is “one of the safest places to be right now.”  Did you mean the Rio your Brazillionaires circulate in – Ipanema, Leblon, Barra da Tijuca, and Lagoa?  Because thousands of favela residents are literally under the gun (and if you don’t believe them just look at the alerts Amnesty International Brazil has been putting out, or the petition sent yesterday to the UN by Justiça Global on this theme precisely).

Journalist Leonardo Sakamoto wrote a brilliant piece a few weeks ago challenging readers to take a pop quiz called Who did it, asking a series of questions in which you had to guess if the perpetrators were ISIS or the Brazilian Police.  Please read it.  I hope it will broaden your definition of the word disaster.

Long lines, zika, polluted waters, unkept promises and corruption are certainly all important and valid storylines.  And I understand (and share) the urge to look for the silver lining and find the happy ending in something that should be as joyful as the Olympics.  But please, please, I beg you please, DO NOT ignore or minimize the disastrous violence against favela residents that has been exacerbated by these Games. Just because they’re not a disaster for the sponsors or for the tourists, doesn’t mean they’re not a disaster for thousands of Rio’s citizens. And not just the ones trapped in their homes, but for the public servants that won’t be paid in the coming months, or citizens that depend on already precarious public services for health and education.

If these Olympics were in Paris or Miami and 70,000 people had been forcefully evicted from their homes and 2,500 innocent people killed by police, surely the predominant media narrative would be focusing on this as a true disaster.  I think they might even write in capital letters a la The New York Daily News’ “DISASTER” cover.

This is the media’s big blindspot that your article should’ve focused on. And one you just reinforced, willingly or not.


Priscila Néri
Senior Program Manager, WITNESS

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