Brazil Returns to Normalcy, Sort Of
The awe and majesty of the Rio 2016 Olympic games are beginning to fade, and Brazilians are returning to their everyday routines. However, these days it’s impossible to call life in Brazil routine. The country has changed.
Certainly the hosting of the first Olympics in South America has something to do with this. Brazil was buried under an avalanche of bad publicity preceding the Olympics from journalists and social media, warning of potential disasters from numerous angles. Nevertheless, the world’s greatest sporting event proved the country up to the challenge.
Following the Olympics, Rio hosted the Paralympics, which also provided much to cheer about, like Brazil’s Daniel Dias becoming the most decorated male swimmer in Paralympics’ history. Inevitably after great triumphs, there is always a deflation that occurs when everyone returns to their Monday morning work routine.
In Brazil, everyday life now includes continuous arrests and accusations and plea deals in the Lavo Jato/Petrobras investigation. Federal judges such as Sérgio Moro in Curitiba are now in hot pursuit of former president Lula. Meanwhile, two of Lula’s former finance ministers, Guido Mantega and Antonio Palocci, have been arrested.
As a result of the money siphoned from Petrobras by corrupt government officials, the company is facing layoffs and a potential strike by union workers, while it desperately tries to meet its budget restrictions, selling off pieces of its oil empire, such as distribution assets in Chile. A sale of Argentine assets was recently announced with a price of over U$100 million. Petrobras is also selling the Nova Transportadora do Sudeste (NTS) pipeline for U$5 billion. The company announced earlier this year its hopes of selling as much as U$15 billion worth of assets in 2016.
Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company, is not the only giant with financial troubles. South Korea’s Samsung electronics announced last week a total recall of its new product, the Galaxy Note 7. Before the recall was announced, 2.5 million units had already been sold. A defect in the phone poses a risk of it catching fire while recharging. Samsung has offered a full refund to owners whether they’ve had any problems or not. Consumers can also exchange their phones for a new one where the defect has been corrected. On a recent flight in the US, I was asked by the ticket agent before boarding if I was carrying the Samsung 7. Once onboard, an announcement was made that anyone who had a Samsung 7 should immediately turn it off.
In other news from Asia, China announced the opening of the world’s largest radio telescope. It measures 500 meters in diameter, twice the size of the previous largest. Thanks to such large-scale “scopes,” astronomers have changed our understanding of the universe in recent years. For example, not long ago we were taught that Earth was part of the only solar system in the universe, revolving around our sun. Today, however, astronomers believe that most stars like our sun have at least one planet revolving around them. Considering there are between 100 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, that adds up to a lot of previously unknown planets. And that doesn’t take into consideration that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is but one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Theoretically, some of the other planets could have environments adaptable for life.
The biggest news from the US is the presidential election coming up in November, where Donald Trump, the Republican, will face Hillary Clinton, the Democrat. On Monday, September 26, the two will meet in the first of their televised debates. The two candidates are attracting so much attention that 80 percent of voters said they would watch the first debate.
In South America, uplifting news came in a meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a treaty with FARC, the revolutionary group, ending a war between FARC and Colombia’s government that has been ongoing for 52 years with a quarter of a million dead.
In the world of sports, the golfing community lost a great hero when American golfer Arnold Palmer died on September 25 at age 87. Palmer thrilled the golf world in the 1960s and 70s.
Speaking of sports, let’s celebrate the glory of Daniel Dias, the Michael Phelps of the Paralympics. The 28-year-old is a national hero and a thunderous roar went up from the home crowd in Rio when he secured his fourth gold of the Games in the men’s S5 100m freestyle. Brazil’s most successful Paralympic athlete won by more than a body length to capture a hat-trick of titles, having already won in London and Beijing.
The feat eclipsed Australian Matthew Cowdrey’s record but is still way off the astonishing 55 medals for the now-retired US swimmer Trischa Zorn. Surrounded by thousands of fans chanting “Brazil,” Dias said he’d never heard a louder crowd. “The whole place was vibrating. They were the best days of my life. My family, my kids, my parents, my wife all here and this whole crowd – it was unforgettable.” Born in São Paulo state without hands and only one foot, his celebratory laps around the pool deck were a carbon-copy of American legend Phelps last month, down to the over-the-railing kiss of his son.
In other news from the Paralympics, Northern Ireland’s Paralympic swimming sensation Bethany Firth won three gold medals in Rio. Bethany also won a silver medal besides her three golds. She competes in the S14 class for swimmers with an intellectual disability.
During the opening ceremonies, American Amy Purdy won hearts across the planet with a seductive, boundary-pushing samba performed alongside a robot arm. After becoming a double lower leg amputee at the age of 19 when she contracted bacterial meningitis, Amy returned to snowboarding on her prosthetics and won a bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games. She also became a model, actress, and motivational speaker and appeared on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”
At the closing ceremonies for the Paralympics, Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio 2016 organizing committee, said, “The impossible happened. Brazilians never give up.” He wished good luck to Tokyo, who will be the next city to host the games. One of the highlights at the ceremony was Jonathan Bastos, a Brazilian who was born without arms yet is an accomplished musician, playing instruments with his feet.
The ceremony also paid tribute with a minute of silence to Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, who died on Saturday from cardiac arrest during a road race. This was the first tragedy of its kind in Paralympic Games history.
German David Hock was born with a congenital defect that left him without a left arm and with only three fingers on his short right arm, but that didn’t stop him pursuing his dreams. The 19-year-old is now a trainee journalist who, while covering the Games amazed colleagues by typing out articles using his toes. “I always say that my feet are my hands,” he said.
A lack of interest in tickets ahead of the Games had raised fears of failure, but after discounting the prices, officials said they sold 2.1 million tickets, less than in London but more than in Beijing in 2008.
In the Rio Paralympics, China ranked first on the final medal tally with 239 medals. Great Britain was second with 147 medals, followed by Ukraine with 117, United States with 115, and Australia with 81 medals. Brazil stood 8th with 72 medals — 14 gold, 29 silver, and 29 bronze. The Russian team was suspended by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in early August and couldn’t compete in Rio for failure to comply with the organization’s anti-doping rules.