Ryan Lochte: the twelve-time Olympic medalist, coiner of the term Jeah, and villain of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Lochte’s scandal this summer during the Rio Olympics quickly became a trending story and overshadowed the last half of the Games. The scandal began with Lochte telling NBC’s Matt Lauer that he and two of his teammates, Gunnar Bentz and James Feigen, had been robbed at gunpoint in their cab while returning from a night of partying in Rio on the morning of August 14th. Bentz and Feigen had their passports confiscated and were held in Brazil for questioning related to the police report. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Lochte had lied about the incident. Video surveillance was released showing Lochte and his teammates destroying a gas station bathroom, which prompted armed security guards to intervene. Lochte was charged by the Brazilian government for falsely reporting a crime and faces up to six months in jail.
Lochte’s accusation came at a bad time for Brazil and played upon cultural and political sensitivities. Brazilians were offended by Lochte’s personification of the “Ugly American” stereotype, characterized by arrogance and displays of perceived American supremacy. Many felt that Lochte fueled a perception of lawlessness in Brazil by creating a false story about being the victim of armed robbery. His actions showed a disregard for Brazilian authority in the way that he reasonably believed he could file a fake police report and that no one would question such an act of violence taking place in Rio.
Brazil had every right to be furious in the face of this scandal. The country has been in economic and political turmoil for a few years and has been working hard to stabilize itself again. In 2009, Rio was chosen to host the 2016 Olympics. At the time, the Brazilian economy was flourishing under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Olympics were meant to be an opportunity for Brazil to proudly show off the achievements of their country. Unfortunately, the Brazilian economy hit a speed bump a few years before the Olympic Games. When Dilma Rousseff came to power in 2011, she inherited a strong Brazilian economy from Lula da Silva which quickly contracted amid falling oil prices and government mismanagement, all leading to high inflation and unemployment. In February 2016, Moody’s Investors Service joined Standard & Poor and Fitch Ratings to downgrade the Brazilian government’s credit rating to junk bond status. In the face of deep financial crisis, Rousseff’s approval ratings remained very poor with the Senate moving for impeachment.
When it came time for the Olympic in August, both the Brazilian government and the people really needed a win in the form of the Games running smoothly. Unfortunately, there were a series of Olympics-related issues including actual armed robberies of athletes, tourists, and foreign government officials; raw sewage in Guanabara Bay; delays in the building of infrastructure due to political corruption; and green pool water. Meanwhile, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was actively on trial for impeachment during the course of the Games, with the country being temporarily led by its vice president, Michel Temer. It was amid all of this political turmoil that Ryan Lochte decided to give a tearful interview concerning a made-up story about being robbed by police officers during the Olympics. It’s no wonder that this incident lead to so much outrage.
Since the end of the Olympics, Brazil has continued to face difficulties. After an eight-month impeachment process, Rousseff was removed from office on August 31st by a vote of 61 to 20 in the Senate. She was charged with violating budget laws, evidenced by financial irregularities during her tenure in office, including issuing spending decrees without first seeking approval from Congress and using money from government banks to temporarily fund social programs. Many Brazilians believe that Rousseff was actually removed because of her low popularity ratings. Brazil is facing a democracy crisis. Rousseff’s impeachment and the indictment of other high-ranking officials on corruption charges create a feeling of distrust surrounding the Brazilian political system. As noted by The Washington Post, “Brazil has now impeached two of the four presidents it has elected since returning to democracy in 1985 after two decades of military dictatorship.” Further exacerbating the political situation in Brazil, charges were recently brought against Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva regarding corruption and money laundering in connection to Operation Car Wash. Lula da Silva denies the allegations, calling the situation a political witch hunt, referencing Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha’s removal from office on similar corruption charges.
The Brazilian people deserve better. They deserve stability, both economic and political. They do not deserve to be ridiculed by Ryan Lochte, a man who did not realize chlorine would turn his bleached hair blue. It is not an easy task to run a country, but hopefully positive change is soon on the way for Brazil.