So we're really doing this? After all of the awful and unfortunate news and advisories emanating from Brazil these days, the entire world is still going to meet up there for sporting reasons? Hell, things have gotten so bad that we don't even have enough headline space to make all of the stories into major news, even if in years past they totally would be. We talk about a few of the lesser-known problems plaguing the 2016 Summer Olympics on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Jeff May and director/producer/professional hype man Chris Black. It's also what I'm talking about here today. Let's pretend the starting gun just went off and get to it!
#5. Customs Workers In Brazil Are Threatening To Strike
Terrorism is a huge concern for everyone involved when it comes to this year's Olympics. However, what little news we've heard about terror threats has been mostly positive. I'm referring to that one story that made headlines on every major news site about how officials in Brazil thwarted a team of ISIS loyalists who were planning to kill a lot of people. Sure, we heard in the days following that the individuals in question were completely disorganized amateurs who probably wouldn't have been able to achieve their goals even if they weren't caught, but still, a win is a win.
What you've probably heard way less about is that, just three weeks prior to the start of the Olympics, customs workers in Brazil went on an indefinite strike. Yes, those customs workers. The ones responsible for making sure no nefarious people or things cross the border into Brazil. Seems like that should be making a few more headlines, yeah?
You can always talk about Toilet Water Bay tomorrow.
The reason for the strike, of course, is money. That's a resource that isn't in long supply in Brazil right now, especially with them having to shoulder the financial burden of hosting the Olympics. That wasn't always the case, though, so at some point in the not-too-distant past, customs workers were promised a raise that would take effect this August. A lot has transpired since then, most notably the impeachment (or ousting by way of a coup, depending on whom you ask) of President Dilma Rousseff. The new administration is reviewing pretty much everything she ever did, and apparently that includes wage agreements signed with customs workers.
Naturally, this along with the financial strain the Olympics are causing has left customs workers feeling a little uneasy about the prospects of that raise actually happening. So they're going on strike to force the government's hand, on the eve of Brazil hosting one of the most inviting terror targets in recent memory.
At least I think that's what they're doing. In a terrifyingly representative example of how the influx of bad Olympics-related news coming out of Brazil these days is far outgrowing the space news outlets have to dedicate to it all, I can't find a single follow-up to this story. It was initially reported back in mid-July, and this story dated July 21 implies that the strike did happen, but I honestly have no idea how a person would know if this is a thing that's still happening, short of rounding up someone who lives in Brazil and asking them.
It certainly isn't being talked about on the major news outlets much. Instead, the headlines are reserved for things like Team USA's heinous Olympic uniforms.
Please tell me they have to compete in those.
Granted, those are indeed a nightmare and the entire nation should be ashamed, but an update from CNN and the like about whether Brazil will actually have customs agents in place to act as the last line of defense between hordes of tourists and would-be terrorists seems like it would make for news we can use as well, you know?
Oh, and speaking of the potential for terror activity ...
#4. A Suspected Terrorist Went Missing For Months
OK, so I'm sure this is nothing, but even so, it's worth noting that, as we speak, a former Guantanamo prisoner and suspected terrorist has gone missing somewhere in Brazil. Not "gone missing" as in his family worries he may have fallen victim to a serial killer, but "gone missing" as in the governments of Brazil and the United States both really want to know where he's gone.
The subject of the manhunt is a Syrian national named Abu Wa'el Dhiab.
Have you seen this man?
He was suspected of having ties to militant groups at the time the U.S. apprehended him. We never formally charged him with any crimes, but we did keep him at Guantanamo for 12 damn years. So if he didn't hate us before, he probably does now.
If nothing else, the fact that either government cares about where he is at all isn't the most promising sign. Nor is the warning issued by a Brazilian airline that he may try to enter Brazil using a false passport. Whether he was ever proven to be a terrorist or not, an active fugitive who may or may not be in the country is reason to worry in a country that's clearly strapped for the resources necessary to ensure anyone's safety, tourists or otherwise.
Update alert! They did actually find this guy. He turned up in Venezuela last week. So I guess this really was nothing, but still, that no one could keep tabs on him at a time when security is supposed to be at the highest level possible isn't good.
The enormity of the security problem in Brazil was documented almost perfectly by journalist Wyre Davies recently over the course of just two tweets. The first shows an intersection near a hotel that will house tourists during the games, absolutely jam-packed with soldiers providing security.
The second tweet shows that same intersection completely empty ...
... after the entire security force went to lunch at the exact same time. Good luck, sports fans!
#3. Brazil's Most-Used Messaging App Might Not Work During The Olympics
In times of crisis, communication is vital. I think it's safe to say the world is expecting a lot of crises to jump off in Brazil over the next few weeks; here's hoping the people who live there will be able to stay in touch while it's all going down. Are you familiar with WhatsApp? Sure you are! Maybe you even use it, you tech-savvy son of a bitch!
You know who else uses it? A whole lot of people in Brazil, where it's the most-used messaging app of all. However, the relationship between WhatsApp and the Brazilian government has become a bit strained recently, and that's putting it very mildly. In fact, on three separate occasions over the last few months, the government has tried to cut off access to the app. The ban was lifted before it could take effect in most of those cases, but one of them did result in the app going down for several hours at one point.
This is what all of America would look like if we lost messaging capabilities for even one hour.
What, you may be wondering, could be so damn important about an app that government officials who are already stretched thin trying to make the Olympics happen in a non-disastrous fashion are still finding time to devote to shutting it down? Well, in December of last year, WhatsApp was ordered by a judge in Brazil to hand over messages exchanged between suspects in a child sex abuse case who'd been communicating using the app (which is owned by Facebook, for the record).
Lawyers for WhatsApp claimed those messages aren't stored on their servers, so they couldn't provide them even if they wanted to. That judge didn't believe them and ordered the service to be shut down until the company complied with the court's request. The ban was ruled to be a violation of the people's right to freely communicate (WhatsApp argued this point also), and it was overturned. That entire process was then repeated two more times.
WhatsApp is working again in Brazil for now, but the fight with the courts hasn't ended. Just last week, Brazil froze $11 million in Facebook assets in relation to the dispute. Yes, I understand that your average Facebook executive could probably spend $11 million on throwing stacks of cash in your face to humiliate you without even noticing it was gone, but still, it's a clear sign the fight isn't over. If the government argues that Facebook's refusal to turn over messages between criminals represents a threat to the public safety that's especially more severe while the Olympics are happening and terrorist attacks are a real possibility, millions of people in Brazil could be without one of their most relied-upon means of communication for weeks.