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Ambassador: Brazil will be ready for the Olympics

Despite political turmoil, the Games will go on as expected
By Raymond Johnston

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro begin August 5. The ambassador of Brazil to the Czech Republic,  George Monteiro Prata, assured an audience recently that everything would be ready, and there was no cause for concern about the Zika virus. He also touched on the recent political troubles in his country and the upcoming elections in the United States.

“We learned a lot when we organized the [football] World Cup, and even then everyone was saying Brazil would not be ready. We were ready at the very last minute, but we were ready. That taught us how to do things for the Olympics,” Prata said.

“I think that the Olympic committee is very satisfied. The public transportation systems are being completed now. And now the government is working on security plans. Those are not ready because there is new information coming up every day,” he added. “But regarding the Olympic Games, we are ready. You are all welcome to come to Rio,” he said.

The Games should have a lasting impact on the country. “There is a huge diversity in Brazil and there is a very good co-existence between the different types if persons. … The first legacy of the Games has to do with making people know how warm we are, how open we are and how used we are to diversity,” he said.

“And on the other side there is the real concrete legacy of the games,” he said. Prata was part of the team that looked into early preparations, and he visited London to learn from its experience with the 2012 Games. “One of the things we learned was we shouldn't build huge structures that at the end will be used for very few occasions. So regarding the structures, I think they have the right size to be used by the population. The Olympic Village will become a new neighborhood in Rio,” he said. He also said that stories about people being forced out their homes to allow for space for Olympic venues were highly exaggerated in the media. Few families were affected and they all received better housing, he said.

“The biggest legacy has to do with public mobility. The games act as a catalyst of a lot of projects, especially infrastructure and communication that were necessary in the longer term,” he said. This will leave the city in better shape than it was before the Games.

Concerns about the Zika virus were also exaggerated in the media, he said. “The WHO (World Health Organization) said positively that people shouldn't worry about going to Rio. And that is the same position of the Center for Disease Control in the US,” he said.

“I think concerns about the Zika virus are overblown because that is the way media treats those problems,” he said.

“Now regarding Zika, for the vast majority of people the problems that you might have are like from a common virus,” he said. The main concerns are for pregnant woman, where the fetus could suffer from health complications and birth defects. “What the World Health Organization has been saying so far is that if you are a woman and you are pregnant or planning to be pregnant you shouldn't go to Rio. Otherwise there is no problem whatsoever,” he said, adding that there is a huge campaign in Rio right now to eliminate the mosquito and that during the Olympics it will be wintertime in Brazil, when mosquitoes are less active.

When people think of Brazil, one of the first ideas is the loss of the rain forest in the Amazon.  Prata said the situation has gotten better. The country is now urging the use of modern farming techniques and technology to increase agricultural output, rather than the creation of new farmland from the forest areas. “The protection of the Amazon is a concern for all of us. We are aware that the Amazon is a treasure that we should protect it. It is not easy because of the dimensions of the forest,” he said.

“A lot of progress is being made especially because we are working very hard to develop sustainable projects.  What many people don't understand is that there are 20 million Brazilians living in the jungle. You cannot tell them, 'Don't do anything because we have to protect the environment.' You have to provide them with sustainable economic activities,” he added.

“If you compare Brazil now to 25 years ago, 25 years ago there were governmental incentives to increase the agricultural area. … Then we realized it was wrong. We changed the rules completely,” he said. New technology including satellite monitoring is helping to reduce the loss of the rain forest. “The rate of the the destruction of the amazon has fallen dramatically,” he added.

Brazil recently has been in a political crisis, with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. The ambassador said everything was being done in a democratic matter according to the Constitution, and that claims by some politicians and media that it had be a coup were not justified.

“What is going on in Brazil is perfectly legal. It is established in the Constitution,” he said.

“You cannot spend more than the government has without having the express consent of the Congress. But [President Dilma Rousseff] did that. So that is the reason why she was impeached,” he said.

Progress is being made regarding corruption, according to the ambassador. “Many politicians from different parties are involved in corruption. Because it was in power, the former president's party was the one that was accused of more corruption,” he said.

“My message here is regarding corruption, at long last this is being considered a very serious issue. At long last in Brazil we are fighting corruption and we are putting people in jail because of that.

Corruption is a problem everywhere, the difference is in how you fight it,” he said.

The acting president faces some difficulties. “I think the biggest challenge the acting president has to face is solving the economic crisis. The biggest difficulty the new president is facing is to get political consensus. There is a good start, but it is not going to be an easy process,” he said.

He was reluctant to get involved in the upcoming presidential election in the US, but he did have a comment. “The US is the biggest, most powerful and influential country in the world, like it or not, and whatever happens in the US to a certain extent concerns all of us. I sincerely hope that you Americans chose the best candidate. I certainly hope you will chose the one who is less divisive and the one who is more likely to contribute to world peace and to world stability. But it is up to you Americans to decide who is going to do this job,” he said.

He also pointed to some important business ties between the Czech Republic and Brazil. Currently there is a project to built a military transport and cargo plane, based on cooperation between Brazil's Embraer and Czech-based Aero Vodochody. The KC-390 should enter service in 2018.Embraer is the world's third-largest plane maker.

Another Czech connection he mentioned was Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira, the president of Brazil from 1956 to 1961 who had Czech roots on his mother's side. “He is considered one of the most important presidents in Brazilian history,”  Prata said.

Kubitschek transferred the capital to Brasilia from Rio. “In four years managed to build the new capital. Also he is considered one of the politicians who brought Brazil into the modern era. He was very interested in making Brazil a big industrial power. He was very concerned with turning Brazil into a country with a modern outlook to the future,” Prata said.

The ambassador spoke at University of New York in Prague as part of the ongoing Diplomatic Forum organized by networking group Fryday. - Prague, 20.06.2016

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