Brazilian activists hold 'torch of shame' relay on eve of Rio Olympics


An impoverished section of Rio de Janeiro held a mock Olympic torch relay over the weekend to protest high crime rates and a government that they claim is neglecting their problems at the expense of Olympic preparations.

The so-called “torch of shame” rally took place in Baixada Fluminense, a working class area to the north of Rio where police registered more than 800 murders during the first five months of this year.

Hundreds of people turned out on Saturday to cheer the fake Olympic flame as it made its way through Baixada’s busy and drab streets. Unlike the real Olympic torch, which is white and decorated with Brazil’s national colors, the “torch of shame” is black and smeared in blood red to symbolize the country’s high murder rates.

“We are not against the Olympics, but we are protesting the way these Olympics have been organized, and how the people of Baixada were abandoned,” said local bishop Luciano Bergamin in a statement.

Community groups in Baixada have complained that while the city increases the number of police officers at Olympic sites and tourists areas in Rio, there seem to be fewer cops providing security in their crime-ridden neighborhoods these days.

Baixada has about 3 million residents and is home to some of Brazil’s biggest drug gangs. Activists complain that efforts to clean up drug violence in Baixada have been slower than in neighborhoods closer to Rio’s center.

“The government forgot about areas on the periphery of the city,” said Douglas Almeida, one of the organizers of Saturday’s torch of shame rally.

The real Olympic torch has also been targeted by protesters as it makes its way through Brazil.  Several people have tried to douse it out with water or fire extinguishers in different cities, and last week one man even managed to wrestle the torch away from the runner, and take off with it in a short dash before security officers caught up to him and got it back.

The official torch will be paraded through several Rio neighborhoods this week in the final days leading up to the Aug. 5 Opening Ceremony. It is scheduled to pass through Baixada Fluminense on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, some Brazilians have designed their own “torches of shame,” like this Batman impersonator on one of Rio’s more touristy beaches.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.

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