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A year since the Rio Olympics, legacy of the games is tattered

Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald on

Published in Olympics

Arenas called Carioca I, II and III are used for occasional competitions, but their schedules are far from full. The handball arena was supposed to be transformed into four schools, but there is no money.

The Barra da Tijuca apartments that housed athletes have been renamed the Ilha Pura (Pure Island) development and are being marketed as condominiums, but so far sales have been sluggish.

"I think the legacy is much less than hoped for because of the timing," said Armando Castelar Pinheiro, an economist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. "The legacy was run over by the state crisis."

In the months before the Olympics, impeachment proceedings began against former President Dilma Rousseff for misusing funds to mask budget deficits and she was finally forced from office last Aug. 31.

When Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup, it was entering a recession and by the time the Olympics came to town, Rio was in economic crisis. The state of Rio de Janeiro gets much of its revenue from oil royalties, and as the price of oil plummeted, the state's fortunes declined rapidly.

Former Gov. Sergio Cabral and associates are in jail for what prosecutors called the systematic collection of bribes related to public works projects. Most Rio state employees haven't been paid in months, and the cash-strapped Organizing Committee for the Rio Olympics still owes various vendors around $38 million for hosting the Paralympics, which followed the Olympics.

And now the military, so visible last August, has returned to Rio to crack down on drug trafficking and a wave of hijackings of cargo-laden trucks. At least one other thing remains the same: Guanabara Bay, which was supposed to be cleaned up for Olympic sailing events, is still filthy.

Even some of the awarded medals are rusting and need to be repaired at Brazil's mint.

But go to Rio's formerly forbidding port area, now rechristened as Porto Maravilha (Marvelous Port), or ride one of Rio's new rapid transit buses or the subway extension from Ipanema to Barra da Tijuca that whisked Olympic fans from Rio's beach neighborhoods to the Olympic Park and Olympic Village and you'll see an entirely different Olympic legacy.

State, local and federal governments used the World Cup and the Olympics as an opportunity to push through transportation projects and redevelopment of the port -- projects that had been talked about for decades, but couldn't get off the ground.

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